Return to face-to-face teaching is students’ priority, poll finds

A survey by the Student Futures Commission also found that 54% received less contact time than expected, and 88% said distance learning had made it difficult to concentrate on studies

A survey suggests nearly six in 10 students want universities to prioritise a return to in-person teaching this September after a markedly disrupted academic year left 78% with noticeably worse mental health.

The poll was commissioned by a new working group – the Student Futures Commission – which will address the impact of the pandemic on students’ learning, jobs prospects and outcomes.

The survey of 2,147 UK university students took place between 14-19 May. The results indicate 59% want universities to prioritise face-to-face teaching when university terms restart in September. More than half (56%) say they missed seeing tutors in person and 38% missed practicals; 54% received less contact time than expected, and 88% said distance learning had made it difficult to concentrate on their studies. It may come as no surprise that 63% believe they are academically below where they would expect to be.

Those surveyed reported missing the social aspects of higher education – 78% said the pandemic had impacted their mental health, 85% struggled to make friends, and 82% struggled to maintain friendships. More than half also said that they haven’t participated in extra-curricular activities, face-to-face or virtual, over the last year – and nearly eight in 10 say this was less than they were expecting to do.

There were some more positive findings within the survey. Just under half (48%) think they haven’t missed any teaching and 72% are content with how their university handled assessments. The most popular model for future learning (supported by 45% of respondents) was for most learning to be delivered in-person, with online delivery once or twice a week. In contrast, 29% wanted online learning to play no part in their education, but 21% said they wanted almost all material to be delivered online, with in-person teaching just once or twice a week. More than six in 10 want recorded lectures to remain the norm, and 29% are happy for one-to-one tutorials to be delivered online.

Everyone wants our students back, and we want them to put the pandemic behind them and get the full benefits of a university education
– Mary Curnock Cook, chair of the Student Futures Commission

The commission is led by Mary Curnock Cook, former chief executive of Ucas. She is joined by 18 commissioners including the chiefs of Universities UK, Queen Mary University, the University of Exeter and the University of Lincoln. Curnock Cook said the commission would look at students’ employment fears, with half reportedly not confident about the strength of the graduate job market.

“These findings point to a need for the whole sector to mobilise to help improve students’ confidence in themselves, in their job prospects and in the richness of the student experience that comes from physically joining the university community,” said Curnock Cook.

“This is the key aim of the Student Futures Commission – everyone wants our students back, and we want them to put the pandemic behind them and get the full benefits of a university education.”

The commission was set up by the UPP Foundation, headed by Richard Brabner, who also serves as one of the 18 commissioners. He said: “More than anything else students want in-person experiences and face-to-face teaching. As university life returns to something like normal in September, this is the least we can do.”

A survey of 2,000 UK university students this month suggested as many as seven in 10 considered dropping out during this academic year, with the majority citing the loss of in-person teaching as the primary reason.


Read more: Lectures are still pedagogically valuable to students, vice-chancellor argues

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