British universities are ending in-person lectures in an effort to arrest the spread of Covid-19, saying they will switch to remote learning and even online exams for students within weeks.
The London School of Economics, King’s College London, the University of Durham and Manchester Metropolitan University said they would soon end face-to-face teaching in favour of digital delivery, including video lectures and online seminars.
The announcements came as several universities said they planned to curtail public events, with Cambridge University’s medical school and others looking to pause teaching and clinical exams because of the pressures on the NHS.
The LSE announced the most ambitious plans, saying all undergraduate and postgraduate courses will be “delivered online” by 23 March for the rest of the academic year, with many of its overseas students wanting to return home immediately.
King’s College London and the LSE also plan to stop in-person examinations, with the LSE saying that all undergraduate and taught postgraduate exams and assessments this summer would be taken online or graded using alternative methods.
“LSE has been preparing for a range of scenarios and, given the exceptional circumstances, we believe the best decision is to move to online assessments now, to give you as much notice as possible,” the LSE’s director, Minouche Shafik, told students.
“Whilst we are changing our mode of teaching and learning and taking measures to be responsive to an evolving situation, LSE’s campus will remain open. We have had no indication from Public Health England that we should close, and buildings, services and facilities will run as usual.
“Staff and students can be on campus and our LSE Library and halls of residence are also open to you.”
The decisions to stop students congregating in lecture halls are at odds with the UK government’s position that schools and colleges should remain open where possible. The universities’ stance follows that of US institutions, such as Harvard, which have kept campuses open but ended lectures and seminars in favour of remote learning.
Durham University said all forms of campus teaching, including field trips and one-to-one tutorials, would be replaced with remote learning from next Monday for the final week of term before the Easter holidays.
“Please do not turn up to classrooms next week,” Claire O’Malley, Durham’s pro-vice-chancellor, told students in an email.
“We know that this may be not be your preferred method of learning and that being in classrooms is an important part of your university experience. However, moving to online learning will help limit exposure to Covid-19 by reducing group activities. This will help all of us as the coronavirus spreads.”
Malcolm Press, Manchester Metropolitan University’s vice-chancellor, warned students that the university “is also planning how best to deliver assessments, exams and credits, should we need to change our usual processes for the summer term”.
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Cambridge University confirmed that its medical school is among those that are planning to halt clinical teaching for its trainee doctors.
“In the light of the Covid-19 outbreak and the pressure this is putting on the NHS, the University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine has cancelled its final clinical examinations, subject to approval from the General Medical Council,” the university said.
“The exams would have involved students interacting with large numbers of NHS patients and they require over 200 examiners, all hospital doctors or GPs, over a two-week period.
“The students have already completed their final written examinations and been assessed on clinical competence in previous examinations and on placements in a range of clinical environments.”
An email to Cambridge medical students from the school said: “We have had to make some extremely difficult decisions based on the principle that students going in and out of clinical environments could be an unnecessary source of virus transmission, they may be putting their patients and themselves at greater risk and there may be too few staff available to deliver formal clinical teaching, either through pressure of work or illness.”