Yorkshire university leaders open up about future plans and priorities for next term

Higher education leaders across the region have revealed plans at Yorkshire’s universities in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic to help support students amid major frustrations over the impact of the Covid-19 on studies.

Pictured, a University of Hull student at the institute's mass testing centre in January this year. Higher education leaders across the region have disclosed plans at Yorkshire’s universities in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic to help support students amid major frustrations over the impact of the Covid-19 on studies. Photo credit: JPIMedia

Many Vice-Chancellors in the region said there will be an influx in investment to the digital landscape in the future, but the immediate challenge is prioritising student mental health and welcoming them back on campus.

It comes as new research shows fewer university and college students are positive about their educational experience amid the coronavirus crisis.

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Professor Chris Husbands, the Vice-Chancellor for Sheffield Hallam University said it was “vital” to have in-person face-to-face learning and for institutes to invest in physical campuses for the future to combat a key concern for students who have felt short-changed by the lack of in-person teaching. Photo credit: JPIMedia

The latest National Student Survey (NSS) which was published this week found that less than half of students in the UK believe their university or college took steps to support their mental well-being during the pandemic.

The survey, which received 332,500 responses, found that, overall, 75 per cent agreed they were satisfied with the quality of their course - down from 83 per cent the previous year.

This means overall student satisfaction has dropped to its lowest ever level recorded by the survey, with the previous lowest in 2006 at 80 per cent - although there have been changes to the questionnaire since it was introduced.

Professor Chris Husbands, the Vice-Chancellor for Sheffield Hallam University said it was “vital” to have in-person face-to-face learning and for institutes to invest in physical campuses for the future to combat a key concern for students who have felt short-changed by the lack of in-person teaching.

Professor Shirley Congdon, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bradford, said that institutes are “still learning” what permanent change the pandemic has brought, but a “digitally-enhanced” experience would be adopted by the university on campus for September. Photo credit: JPIMedia

He told The Yorkshire Post: “We know students don’t just learn by teaching, they learn by doing and collaborating in specialist laboratories, studios and workshops.

“They also value places to come together to combine socialising and studying, which is an important part of the university experience. Therefore, it is vital to continue to invest in our physical campus alongside our digital estate.”

Professor Shirley Congdon, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bradford, said that institutes are “still learning” what permanent change the pandemic has brought, but a “digitally-enhanced” experience would be adopted by the university on campus for September.

She said: “One of the things we’ve learned over the past 18 months is that technology, properly used, can be a really positive addition to the resources we have to deliver effective teaching.

Universities minister Michelle Donelan. She said the past 18 months have been “uniquely difficult” for students, but stressed the Government has set out “clear expectations that the quality and quantity of tuition should be maintained”.

“No doubt we will all continue to develop with experience and universities will adopt different approaches that best suit them. What we will do though is make sure that our students remain at the heart of everything.”

Both the University of Hull and Leeds Trinity University will also adopt an “on campus” approach to supporting students directly.

Professor Charles Egbu, the Vice-Chancellor at Leeds Trinity University, added: “Student mental health and wellbeing has been a priority before, but even more so during the pandemic.”

Universities minister Michelle Donelan claimed the past 18 months have been “uniquely difficult” for students, but stressed the Government has set out “clear expectations that the quality and quantity of tuition should be maintained”.

She added: "Whilst there is still more to be done, our universities have shown real innovation and resilience in adapting to this pandemic, which is shown by the majority of students rating their overall experience of their courses positively."

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