On 25 April 2020 the Guardian reported that UK universities may need to spend hundreds of millions of pounds to deliver degrees online, with warnings that many are unprepared to deal with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on students’ education, and very few have a digital strategy in place to deliver online education. Only around 20 universities are in a good position to provide a range of high-quality online courses by the start of the new academic year in September, according to Professor Sir Tim O’Shea, the former vice-chancellor of Edinburgh University. The warning comes as the sector seeks to expand online education in a bid to offset huge losses from tens of thousands of international students cancelling their studies due to Covid-19. Prolonged social distancing also mean freshers could face a radically different university experience, with no lectures on campus and bars closed.
Most universities would face costs of at least £10m to create five or six new online degrees in different faculties, said O’Shea, a leading expert on computer-based learning. This would total well over £1bn across the sector. The costs will add to the financial pressures facing universities, with a report from the University and College Union (UCU) forecasting that the sector could lose around £2.5bn next year in tuition fees alone if the pandemic continues. Private education firms said they have been inundated with requests from universities to help them deliver online education next year. Online learning platform Coursera has received at least 29,000 inquiries from more than 6,000 universities in 120 countries since the pandemic began.
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