Durham University reconsiders online teaching plans

The university’s vice-chancellor said senior leaders would rethink plans after criticism from staff and students

Durham University will revise its plans for online teaching after criticism from staff and students.

The Palatine reported that a senate vote on the plans did not go ahead after opposition was raised by senate members.

The university’s senate was expected to vote on the proposals developed by deputy vice-chancellor and provost Prof Antony Long and vice-provost Prof Alan Houston.

Prof Long and Prof Houston told senior leaders at a meeting of the university’s executive committee on Tuesday 31 March that Durham University needed to catch up with competitors and move modules online in order to offer offsite teaching next year if the coronavirus lockdown continues.

The plans were part of Durham University’s 2027 strategy to become more online-facing, but the University and College Union accused the provider of using the “opportunity” of the Covid-19 pandemic to “swiftly implement radical change”.

Following the senate meeting, vice-chancellor Stuart Corbridge told student newspaper Palatinate: “Today (Wednesday 22 April), the university’s senate has considered a paper titled ‘Unbound Education: Creating a Sustainable Future for Durham University’.

“We welcome the feedback we have received on these proposals, both from senate today and others in the past week. We will continue to listen to our staff and students and look forward next to hearing from the university council.

“The university continues to plan for a full residential teaching offer in October while also ensuring that teaching can go online if there is a lockdown later in the year. We look forward to working together as a community to secure the continuing success of the university as a whole.”

The proposed changes include reducing the number of modules by 25% for the 2020/21 academic year. The university aimed to have all key postgraduate taught (PGT) and undergraduate (UG) programmes online by October 2020, then to have fully migrated all undergraduate and postgraduate modules to the online sphere in the next 18 months.

More than 1,000 current and prospective Durham students signed a petition opposing the plans and nearly 500 academics signed a letter opposing the proposals.

Prof Stuart Corbridge told the BBC: “On the worst-case assumption that nobody is here [in the autumn], our original idea was to say it might be a bit ambitious to get all 100% of our modules ready by October.

“So, we did initially say perhaps you would care to think about not putting on 25%. That was done to try and acknowledge the fact it is a difficult time for people and workload pressures.

“I am happy to say that I think we misjudged our academics. It is very clear that most academics do not want to let go of their courses.

“What we are now saying is it is up to you if you want to put on 100% of courses in your department and if you feel you can do that that’s great.”

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