Several agricultural colleges across the UK have announced plans to continue online teaching into the new 2020-2021 academic year.
Photo: Harper Adams University
Practical elements in courses such as engineering will be delivered on campuses, but across the board, most lectures will continue to be delivered virtually.
Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) said it had already been considering delivering some seminars digitally before the Covid-19 pandemic.
It plans to deliver most modules through virtual seminars once the new academic year begins on September 28.
SRUC runs six campuses across Scotland: Ayr, Barony (near Dumfries), Craibstone (Aberdeen), Edinburgh, Elmwood (near St Andrews in Fife) and Oatridge (West Lothian).
The announcement comes as Scotland enters the first phase of its easing of lockdown restrictions but as plans for pupils to return to primary schools in England before the end of term have been abandoned.
A spokesman for the college said: “To allow high-quality, socially distanced, on-campus delivery of vital practical elements in courses such as agriculture, engineering, horticulture, vet nursing and animal care, seminars and lectures will – as far as possible – take place online during the first semester.”
Coupled with small class sizes, the new arrangements will give SRUC greater ability to adapt to changes in social distancing guidance and ensure the best possible experience for students should restrictions come back into effect in the future.
Prof. Wayne Powell, principal and chief executive of SRUC, said: “Like everything else, the Covid-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on the education sector and – over the past two months – students and staff at SRUC have had to adapt to new ways of learning and new ways of teaching.
“Prior to lockdown, SRUC had seen an increase in the number of applications for next year. We want to reassure potential and new students that we will provide an outstanding, high-quality experience while studying at SRUC. Fortunately, we were already looking to the future by introducing more blended (online and face-to-face) ways of teaching and learning.
“Under this new approach, students are equal partners in SRUC, and we will empower our students to have more choice in how they learn.
“With lockdown measures being gradually eased, now is the perfect time to look ahead and we are excited and working hard to ensure that our students continue to enjoy high-quality, purposeful learning in 2020-2021.”
Harper Adams vice-chancellor, Dr. David Llewellyn said he planned to reopen the university to new students in late September, and for returning students at the start of the autumn term (early October).
“At this stage, we are developing ways in which we can continue to provide your course should Covid-19 measures remain in place, or if there are further Government restrictions needed at any point,” he said.
“These methods are likely to include teaching in small groups where social distancing can be safely applied and the use of online resources and blended teaching, where some provision (primarily large classes) may be online.”
RAU (the Royal Agricultural University) said it plans to open its campus fully to new and returning students in time for the start of the new academic year in September.
Facilities including the library, study areas, catering outlets and sports pitches will be available with the university promising a range of “robust protective measures” in place for the safety and wellbeing of students and staff.
Vice-chancellor Prof. Joanna Price said: “Staff are working very hard to make sure that all necessary arrangements are in place for September.
“Ensuring the safety of the entire RAU community on campus is our top priority, while also maintaining the high quality of our student experience.
We want all our students to have a full and memorable university experience, despite the restrictions imposed by Covid-19.
“We are confident that we can achieve this, as although we are currently undertaking all teaching and assessment online, our students remain highly engaged and their feedback on their experience has been very positive.
“This is helped by our small size, enabling staff to provide individual students with the support and guidance they deserve."