How Online Learning Has Affected Higher Education in the UK | Student Reviews & University Rankings EDUopinions

How Online Learning Has Affected Higher Education in the UK


Are you keen on studying in the UK? Wondering about how online learning has affected higher education in the country? In this EDUopinions article, we’ll provide a broad overview of how distanced learning has unfolded in the country and review statistics of online learning in online learning in the UK.

How has COVID affected online learning in the UK?Business Schools Covid

Since the debut of the Covid-19 pandemics, universities around the world have incorporated online learning into their degree programmes. At the start of the pandemic, universities understandably scrambled to be able to offer all their course content online. Since then, universities and students alike have worked to make online learning more enjoyable and effective. At the same time, many students have returned to their courses in person this academic year, only sometimes using online learning at all.

That said, online learning has definitely left an impact on higher education in the UK. Numerous studies have been carried out in recent months to understand how exactly the learning environment and outcomes have changed.

Student social life during the pandemic

Perhaps one of the most obvious effects of the pandemic and the shift to online learning has been on student social life. Obviously, university closures and lockdowns made in-person socialising impossible, which had a particularly harsh impact on students in higher education. For many, the university is not only a place of academic learning, but a place to meet new people, spend time with friends and grow personally.

At the start of the pandemic, many students decided to return home and many students stayed in their term-time housing. For those who returned to the home, adapting to this new learning environment posed challenges related to finding space to focus and broadband connection. For those who stayed in term-time housing, they faced issues of loneliness or being in accommodation with people they didn’t know well.

Value for money

Another major effect of the transition to online learning has been students’ frustration with the value for money of higher education in the UK. International students in the UK, who pay nearly £20,000 in annual tuition fees, petitioned the government to reimburse part of their fees since classes were entirely online and many international students weren’t even in the UK due to travel restrictions.

Even for students paying home fees (around £9,000), the value of their unexpected online education has been called into question. The 2021 Student Academic Experience Survey found that even for students in Scotland, who pay no tuition fees, the perceived value of their education is at an all-time low, suggesting a fundamental shift of higher education experiences in the UK.

That said, the results of this survey are based on the 2020-21 academic year, which was almost entirely online. As well, students opinions voiced in the survey are intended to inform universities in the UK to implement necessary changes that will lead to better experiences. Already, major changes have been made to campus facilities and scheduling to allow for clubs, societies, libraries and social spaces to stay open.


One of the most interesting effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on higher education in the UK has been a new approach to examinations. Because classic sit-down exams in large halls were impossible, universities are in the process of adjusting to new forms of assessment. Many universities in the UK have added more weight to term-time assessments and submitted essays. As well, many students in the past two exam periods have taken online exams or participated in group projects.

At the moment, it is uncertain whether universities will return to previous methods of examination, but online learning has set a powerful precedent. Students will likely play an important role in deciding how the future of exams will look in the UK.

Online learning statistics in the UK

The UK’s Office for National Statistics conducted the Student Covid Insights Survey in part to help understand how online learning affects students’ experiences. In 2020, they found that around 50% of all UK students had at least six hours of online learning per week.

The majority of students in 2020 reported no in-person teaching, unsurprisingly. The main exception to this majority are students whose courses require some form of clinical or laboratory learning.

In December 2020, it was announced that university learning in the UK would be online going forward, a decision that led to 22% of students not returning to their university accommodation for the rest of the academic year.

In terms of satisfaction rates related to online learning in the UK, the numbers are mixed. While nearly 50% of undergraduates reported being satisfied with their academic experience in general, 29% were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied, mostly on account of the quality and format of the education.

Conclusions about online learning in the UK

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While the information presented in this article may not paint the most inspiring picture of studying in the UK, it is important to remember that higher education around the world is transforming to respond to the needs and issues of today.

The sudden rise of online learning in the UK was provoked by the Covid-19 pandemic and came about in a rather rushed manner. What lies before students in the UK is an opportunity to work with university leadership to bring about the necessary changes to improve learning and social outcomes for everyone.

If you want more information on studying in the UK, feel free to reach out to one of EDUopinions free, individual advisors.

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Drew Harper is a recent graduate of University College London, where he studied history, politics and economics. As a content creator at EDUopinions, he is passionate about broadening access to international learning opportunities for students around the world.

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