What to expect from universities this year

University life will look different this September, although the majority of UK universities are preparing to provide in-person teaching this autumn, for many students, the bulk of their first term will be online.

  • How much learning will be online?

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, NUS UK's Vice-President Higher Education told ITV News that it's impossible to give exact percentages as ''there hasn't been any central guidance on this, so lots of institutions have taken different approaches based off their own local context."

Cambridge University announced they will be moving all their lectures online until 2021, but institutions like the University of East Anglia have said they would guarantee at least two hours of face-to-face education per week.

Professor Richard Harvey, Academic Director of Admissions at UEA, said: "We're promising at least two hours physical if the regulations allow it, but I suspect it will be quite a lot more."

  • Will Freshers' Week happen?

Aside from education, the social elements of uni life have been a big draw for students over the years. But whilst student club nights and packed SU bars might be out of the question, around 87% of universities will still be offering face-to-face social activities where possible, including outside events and sporting activities.

  • Will universities charge full tuition fees?

Yes the government says university students in England will still have to pay full tuition fees, even if their course is taught online this year, despite student petitions to change this.

  • Will student finances adapt to changing circumstances?

Student loans are calculated on household earnings, but if the income of a parent drops by more than 15% then a student can qualify for a bigger loan.

Professor Harvey said that there will also be new schemes to ensure all students have access to broadband and IT technology "because that's going to be more critical than it has".

  • How will student accommodation work this year?

Some universities plan to create student social bubbles, grouping fewer students in a flat shares and with people in their subjects - where possible.

Student bodies, like the NUS are also advising students to enquire about rent reductions and tenancy agreements.

  • Will exams still take place?

It will be dependent on individual universities, but Professor Harvey doesn't believe the technology for moderating online exams is sufficient, instead a different approach is required this term.

He said: "With Covid, you need to be ready for the possibility that you don't take physical exams and the way you get ready is you write down all your learning objectives, which we do now and you make sure you can assess them by coursework and exam."

A record amount of 18-year-olds applied for university this year. Credit: PA

  • What will campuses look like?

Expect lots of hand sanitiser and one-way systems. Some universities will also provide face masks and thermometer readings.

  • Should students defer this year?

Professor Harvey believes deferral is a bad option for students; firstly because he believes it'll be difficult for students to travel or get a job in their gap year, and secondly because those who defer to 2021 will be joining when the demographic deficit comes back up again and believes it might more competitive to get into some universities.

However, Ms Gyebi-Ababio believes it's very important for any students, returning or starting this year, to get clarity from their university, so they can understand what exactly their timetable will will look like.

"I think going forward universities have to be really flexible to have that choice in deferring if they so wish to," she said. "It's important that universities don't pressure students into thinking that they have to come back to university, despite all of these changes and just be okay with it.

"Students have a right to want the student experience that they wanted and that they signed up for."

Despite the pandemic this year, a record amount of 18-year-olds - four in 10 - applied for university and whilst packed lectures and packed SU bars might not be on the cards, Covid-19 restrictions and safety procedures will hopefully only be in place for a small period of time during a student’s entire degree.