The universities of Oxford and Warwick are facing a backlash after it emerged that they are renting lecture halls for corporate events despite holding online conferences for students.
Several lecture halls and amphitheatres are announced for rent in Oxford, although the university said it has yet to make a final decision on whether returning students will be taught fully in person.
The lecture halls and conference rooms are advertised on the university’s website as being available to corporate clients during the academic year, in addition to public holidays.
“Universities should be open for business”
Conservative MP Robert Halfon, chairman of the Commons Education Committee, told the Telegraph: “If university officials think their campuses are safe enough for large corporate events, then they should be safe enough for students.
“After all, it’s the students who take out these huge loans to pay for classes. Universities should be open for business – the business of educating students, not just corporate clients. “
Conservative MP Christian Wakeford, who also sits on the Special Education Committee, added: “If you can’t have students, you can’t have corporate events.
At St Anne’s College, one of Oxford’s largest colleges for graduates and undergraduates, the Tsuzuki and Mary Ogilvie amphitheatres are available for hire during and outside of school term. The facilities have a common capacity of up to 250 people.
The Saskatchewan Lecture Theater at Exeter College is billed as a “purpose-built amphitheater” with full wireless and broadband internet access and space for up to 120 guests.
Despite the offer of amphitheatres for rent, a letter was sent by Oxford bosses to mathematics students in July, stating that it is “uncertain” if or when there will be a full return to teaching in nobody during the quarter of Saint-Michel.
Meanwhile, the University of Warwick is announcing the rental of its 1,200-seat Butterworth Hall, which is used for many conferences, as corporate conference space during the summer months. This despite the fact that all conferences involving more than 50 students will be put online for the next academic year.
Students starting at Warwick next month are promised “excellent teaching, both face-to-face and online,” meaning some conference rooms will remain empty as virtual lectures and seminars continue.
The university told the Telegraph it will remain “cautious, adaptable and resilient” in hosting corporate events secured by Covid outside of school time.
Students “rightly expect learning to be a priority”
Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Students’ Office, said students “rightly expect their learning to be a priority” over corporate events and other uses of the facilities.
“Where some universities provide for a mix of in-person and online learning, the primary concern of the OfS will remain the quality of the courses and we are clear that no matter how the education is delivered, students should benefit from a good quality higher education experience, ”she said. noted.
“In making decisions about how courses will be delivered, universities and colleges need to ensure that they keep students properly informed.
This sentiment was echoed by the Ministry of Education, which noted that universities “should not limit face-to-face learning based on coronavirus restrictions.”
It comes after Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said higher education providers should either resume face-to-face lessons or reduce their course fees.
Mr Williamson told Sky News universities should “stand up for their offering to their own students” and they should lecture face to face “unless there is an unprecedented situation”.
A spokesperson for the University of Oxford said: “We can confirm that the use of teaching venues will remain our priority – the academic need always comes before any commercial rental.
“The University always ensures that places used for teaching and assessment are given priority for teaching and assessment, so that there is no conflict of interest.
“Venues operating at full capacity have no impact on teaching or assessment, as availability for events is only possible at affected venues (not all venues are teaching spaces) a after all teaching and assessment commitments have been fulfilled. “
A spokesperson for the University of Warwick said: ‘No student teaching facilities are available for external hire during the academic term and Warwick Conferences facilities have been made available to support teaching in nobody in the next quarter.
“All surplus revenue generated by the Warwick conferences is reinvested in teaching, learning and research. “