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Lockdown sees UK universities target foreign students online

English courses and university preparedness among popular course offerings

At a time when many students are homebound by the Covid-19 pandemic, some universities are looking to online courses as one way to entice prospective international students who are unable to visit in person.

Coventry University is among four UK-based institutions offering distance learning courses “for students affected by the coronavirus travel ban” on the online platform FutureLearn.

Coventry told Research Professional News that its course on English for academic study, which launched on 23 March, saw 6,000 students study in its first week of the course as part of a “two-week free taster that introduces prospective learners to our broader online pre-sessional English programme”.

Reading University, which also uses the platform, did not comment on how many students had taken its course, but said it “has asked staff to embrace and engage with digital learning in new ways that they and the University wouldn’t normally need to do”. The University offers two courses on FutureLearn, including ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Writing in English for University Study’.

The University of East Anglia, Goldsmiths University London and the British Council also list courses on the digital platform such as ‘Preparing for University’ and ‘Understanding IELTS’—for boosting English levels on the widely used proficiency test.

Around the world students are turning to their screens to replace face-to-face instruction, creating a surge in demand for online sites.

The FutureLearn platform told Research Professional News it had seen marked growth in people using its courses across the board, with 50 per cent rise in enrolment since 9 March and a doubling of users from Italy and Spain, two of the countries with the most severe lockdown restrictions during the pandemic.

A spokesperson said FutureLearn had seen particularly “huge spikes in enrolments for topical and timely courses” such as the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine’s course on Covid-19.

Some institutions have already said the heightened use of technology may be here to stay.

“This isn’t a situation any of us would have wanted,” said Vicki Holmes, head of technology enhanced learning at the University of Reading, of the Covid-19 pandemic. “But it is creating a digital revolution and I don’t think people will go back to how they were before—this will bring a significant step change in how we use technology in our teaching, and indeed, more broadly.”

Elsewhere online, Robert Gordon University has launched a portfolio of free short courses to support the skills needs of the workforce across Scotland as it responds to the economic challenges of Covid-19. The university is offering 400 fully-funded places—supported by the Scottish government—across a range of online short courses focused on strengthening businesses.

Karen Watt, Chief Executive of the Scottish Funding Council, said: “these new courses are an investment in the future and I am pleased that we are able to fund them. They will connect key industries with the expertise that exists at Robert Gordon University, helping businesses to keep pace with change.”