CAMBRIDGE: Britain’s Cambridge University became one of the first in the world on Wednesday to announce that its lectures would be delivered online over the next academic year because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The university, which had been welcoming students to its cloisters, quadrangles and classrooms for 800 years, shut its campuses in March after the British government introduced a strict lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19.

It said lectures would be delivered virtually until summer of 2021. “All mass lectures — so really big lectures involving a lot of students — will not happen face to face but will be put online,” said Graham Virgo, Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education.

As many students as possible would return to campuses and the ‘supervision’ system of group teaching within the small colleges that make up the university would continue with social distancing regulations in place.

“It’s not going to feel like an online course, because there will be all this other education around it,” Virgo said.

The university said the decision could be reviewed depending on official guidance on dealing with the virus.

A spokeswoman for Universities UK said the Cambridge announcement appeared to be the first in the United Kingdom to apply to the whole year.

California State University decided last week to make fall term classes virtual, one of the first in the United States to do so, amid fears of a second wave of infections.

Some smaller US schools have announced similar plans, and many of the country’s most prestigious universities are undecided. Princeton says it is working on the assumption that classes will remain online this fall, but it won’t have a formal decision until early July. Dozens more American universities, however, say they plan to reopen their campuses in the fall, and some are planning a partial reopening of research labs this month.

Britain’s universities minister said earlier this month that institutions could still charge the full tuition fee of 9,250 pounds ($11,320) as long as they maintained high standards of online teaching.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the university watchdog the Office for Students, told lawmakers on Monday that students needed to know what education they would be offered before they accepted places.

“What we don’t want to see are promises that it’s all going to be back to usual — an on-campus experience — when it turns out that’s not the case,” she said.

Published in Dawn, May 21st, 2020