Students in UK can go to hairdressers, but not to in-person lectures
John Bevir in Bristol

Across the UK, university students are taking exams. But some will finish their studies having never physically attended any lectures or classes.

The spike in COVID-19 infections last autumn meant universities were forced to switch to 100 percent online learning for many subjects.

There are complaints that the quality of teaching has suffered, and that students signed up to expensive tenancy agreements for accommodation near campuses for no reason.

Among them is Ben Bloch. His entire year-long Masters course at the University of Bristol has been virtual. Like thousands of others, the pandemic has completely changed his university experience. He understands why, but he's not happy.



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"There are serious issues the government need to address that haven't been addressed, that have been raised by students up and down the country for more than a year. 

"There are things such as the fees that we're paying, that we're on lockdown, we can't learn on campus and yet we're still paying for accommodation.

"The government told us we would be getting in-person learning. Universities sold a mix of in-person and online learning. Students came and signed tenancy agreements and are paying thousands of pounds – and yet we're not getting the on-campus experience at all."

Many universities are playing it safe. Even though government guidance means they should be allowed this year, the graduation ceremonies that would normally take place at Bristol Cathedral in July have already been postponed until spring 2022.

In terms of teaching, universities are allowed to go back to face-to-face lectures and teaching after May 17, but for many students, that's after their studies finish.


Ben Bloch's Masters course has been entirely online. /CGTN

Ben Bloch's Masters course has been entirely online. /CGTN


Vanessa Wilson is CEO of the University Alliance. She told CGTN Europe she was frustrated by the double standards now in place.

"Campuses have hairdressers, bars, etc," she said. "They can now open, and students can technically visit them, so they can visit the hairdressers on campus or the barbers but they cannot attend a tutorial, which by its very nature would be a small group. 

"Our members have invested millions and millions of pounds, as have all universities, in making sure the campuses are secure."

The government and universities are unmoved, the health of students and staff they say, is paramount. The plans for some in-person learning were dropped as COVID-19 cases rose.

But Bristol, like other major university cities in the UK, is full of international students who in retrospect could have done their studies from anywhere in the world. It means that many students have paid thousands for travel and accommodation that they didn't actually need.

Numerous campaigns are under way to try to get a partial refund for tuition fees – after a very different university experience to the one students were expecting.

In a statement, a University of Bristol spokesperson said: "Our ability to offer in-person teaching is subject to the government’s COVID-19 guidance and safety restrictions.

"Despite the challenging circumstances, we remain committed to delivering the same high-quality learning outcomes for our students this year. Our staff have worked intensively to adapt their teaching to incorporate online provision, and to provide students with a high-quality learning experience."

A return to in-person learning should be possible for students everywhere in the coming weeks, but only if infection rates remain low.

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