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July 9, 2021

Only 12% of UK university students in favour of mostly online learning

UK universities require EdTech to further digitise teaching despite opposing views of students, says Amy Langer of GlobalData Public Sector.

By Tech Monitor

Online learning
Credit: Steven Weirather from Pixabay.

This year’s Student Academic Experience Survey (SAES) from the Higher Education Policy Institute and Advance HE was published on 24th June, providing the most recent insight into the importance of EdTech in the lives of university students.

Recent events have impacted the usage of EdTech in universities, namely forcing students and staff alike to rely almost entirely on technology for all elements of university life, whether teaching, learning, socialising or administration. Just over 10,000 university students took part in the 2021 SAES, of which 66% were ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ with the use of educational technology during the 2020/21 academic year. However, this figure needs to be seen in the context of 44% of students saying they felt they had received ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ value for money regarding their overall university experience, the highest percentage to date.

This does suggest that students feel the technology they use is accessible and useful, despite 57% of students stating they would prefer mostly in-person learning (only 12% said mostly online; 31% would prefer a blended approach). This could be affected by other factors such as the length of the various coronavirus lockdowns or students facing negative experiences at home, but it is significant that 31% of students have clearly had a positive enough experience with educational technology to feel that maintaining the increased usage of tech in their education would benefit them, even if they would also enjoy in-person elements to their courses.

Even more suggestive of increased use of EdTech becoming the norm is the fact that 12% of surveyed students would actively prefer that their teaching was mostly online, a small but not insignificant proportion. There was some notable variation, however, in terms of subjects studied and satisfaction with the use of technology. In general, arts and humanities students were the least satisfied, and students of health-related subjects were the happiest with technology use. This could be explained by a lower usage of technology in the arts and humanities subjects in pre-pandemic circumstances, and therefore more adaptation to EdTech usage required, though most university students will have always relied on technology for research, taking notes, sharing and downloading resources and submitting assignments, regardless of their field of study.

Similar trends are suggested in a recent article on the University of Manchester which recounts that over 3,000 students have signed a petition against keeping lectures online without a reduction in tuition fees. Manchester is the first university to announce an intention to end in-person lectures altogether, though other universities are said to be considering the same policy. The vice-president for teaching, learning and students at the University of Manchester, Professor April McMahon, said in an interview with the Tab that the new blended learning approach would “absolutely not” trigger a reduction in tuition fees, as “it’s more expensive to produce a lot of the material, to make sure it’s inclusive, accessible and high quality”.

If other universities are expected to follow suit, they will require further tech investment in order to produce the high-quality materials which McMahon is suggesting will be the norm. Suggestions of such spending can be seen in recent tenders, such as the University of Warwick’s £250k tender from 2nd July for a real-time video-conferencing product to provide online seminars, lectures, large events and one to one consultations with students. Warwick is also looking to refresh their mobile telephony services with a £1.3m tender for new line rental and a worldwide mobile data package to cover all University of Warwick devices. Similarly, the National University of Ireland, Galway has £220k to spend as of 30th June on the replacement of existing conference interpreting training facilities to support international audio and video feeds.

Pre-tenders also signpost EdTech spending to come. As of 30th June, De Montfort University is looking for a new cloud-based library services platform solution to support the service’s future development. The University of Nottingham is also requesting information on “the right technologies” for its curriculum design and assessment.

Ultimately, it seems that UK university students may not be in full support of their institutions’ plans to go ahead with online teaching, but that those plans will likely increase the need for varying EdTech for many institutions in the near future. If universities want to please their fee-paying students but also keep certain elements of teaching fully online, they will need to work with partners who can produce high-quality teaching resources and efficient online services.

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