Express & Star comment: Uncertain future for universities

Britain's universities face an uncertain future due to the ongoing impact of the coronavirus.

Universities face an uncertain future.
Universities face an uncertain future.

In the coming months finances in the higher education sector are expected to take a severe hit – due mainly to an expected reduction in enrollments for international students and on postgraduate courses.

Across our region universities have coped admirably with the switch to online learning, which had to be planned out and initiated in a matter of days when lockdown measures were first announced.

The move undoubtedly proved to be a logistical challenge for lecturers and staff, while students will have been forced to get used to a very different style of university life to the one they are accustomed to.

However, no one wants to see such a state of affairs continue for any longer than is necessary.

And the stark fact is that getting students back in the classroom could be the difference between universities surviving or going under.

Many students who are paying more than £9,000 per year in tuition fees will – quite understandably – be considering whether to start courses in September if no on site learning is available.

Universities are acutely aware of the damage that will be caused if significant numbers of them elect to either defer or pursue other options.

For their part, universities in the West Midlands are doing all they can to prepare for the return of students.

Some are reopening campuses for small groups of students from next month, while plans are already in place for "blended" courses – which mix online lectures and on site work – to take place from the autumn onwards.

None have yet taken the route of Cambridge University, which has already cancelled all face-to-face lectures until 2021.

As you would expect, safety is the absolute priority.

A generation of students have seen their A-levels cancelled and now have no idea what their university experience is going to be like.

For the sake of their futures – and the prosperity of our universities – let's hope they can safely return to campuses soon.

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