Responding to COVID-19 – University of London and Recognised Teaching Centres
University of London distance learning courses are designed to be studied independently. The necessary learning activities, study guidance, and access to content through the UoL’s online library, are all provided. However, over half of students on London distance learning courses choose also to study with one of 120 UoL Recognised Teaching Centres (RTCs) around the world. RTCs have met London-defined quality standards. They may provide in-person lectures and seminars, libraries, computer facilities, online support and discussion groups, extra study materials such as audio and video lectures, as well as clubs or special interest groups.
How have the Recognised Teaching Centres responded to the COVID-19 pandemic?
In a UoL survey, the great majority report that they are locked down, largely in response to government requirements. More than half have moved all of their teaching online, and expect to be teaching online, at least partly, for some months. The situation remains fluid.
In response to questions, RTCs have been assured that their recognised status will not be brought into risk by their shift online. UoL’s Associate Director (Governance) Inger-Lise Moen said:
We greatly appreciate and value all the work that the Recognised Teaching Centres are doing to support University of London students in these very difficult times.
A-level examinations, International Baccalaureate and other school-leaving examinations for (typically) 18-year-olds around the world provide the basis for admission to University of London programmes, and often also to RTCs. Because of COVID-19, many of these examinations have not been held this year. Harry Evans, University of London Head of Admissions, said:
Qualifications and standards authorities, as well as Universities including London, have striven to find equivalents to these examinations. UK and most overseas examination boards will still be issuing GCSE and A Level results. These will be based on data including coursework, continuous assessment and mock exams. However, in some instances where examinations have been cancelled, results will not be issued. In such cases we are adopting a flexible admissions approach. This means that we can we consider factors such as previous academic performance, predicted grades or entrance tests which have been administered by a Recognised Teaching Centre.
The standards of UoL degrees remain secure. The standards are demonstrated by University of London assessment processes, and not at admissions. (Work to move University of London examinations online in 2020 are described in a series of CDE blogs.) However, UoL regards it as essential to maintain standards at admission; in order to meet formal admissions requirements, and also to ensure that students who do join have the capabilities and knowledge to give them a good chance of studying successfully. Inger-Lise Moen said:
Any COVID-related changes to UoL provision, including processes for considering entry qualifications, are aligned with guidance and requirements of national bodies including the Office for Students (OfS), Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) as well as relevant disciplinary and professional associations.
The University of London Centre for Online and Distance Education (CODE) has given RTCs access to the many COVID-response sources and materials that CODE has produced, collated and provided.
In July 2020, CDE will run a series of webinars, for the Recognised Teaching Centres only, under the general heading of Flexible Learning in Uncertain Times. Topics include Strategic Planning and Management, Approaches to Interactive and Distributed Online Learning, and Supporting the Student Learning Experience. Future webinars will be provided in response to RTC requests. Dr Linda Amrane-Cooper, Director of Strategic Projects and Head of the Centre for Distance Education, said:
The RTCs will want to maintain what they have previously offered successfully face-to-face – contact, lectures and classes, maybe feedback on student work, perhaps above all a sense of local community for students. They will be doing this both online and by a combination of in-person and online, in forms of blended learning. We will support them to achieve this important goal in any way that we can.