Cambridge cancels in-person lectures for next academic year

20 May 2020

Image: © Pawel/

The University of Cambridge said it will move lectures online for the next academic year, while smaller teaching groups may take place in person if they meet physical distancing requirements.

On Tuesday (19 May), the University of Cambridge announced that it is cancelling face-to-face lectures for the next academic year to limit the potential spread of the coronavirus.

The university plans to move all lectures online, but stated that some smaller teaching groups could take place in person if the meetings can successfully conform to physical distancing requirements.

The announcement makes Cambridge the first university in the UK to set out full plans for the 2020 to 2021 academic year.

Subject to review

In a statement, the University of Cambridge said: “The university is constantly adapting to changing advice as it emerges during this pandemic. Given that it is likely that social distancing will continue to be required, the university has decided there will be no face-to-face lectures during the next academic year.”

It added that the decision has been taken now in order to facilitate planning, but “as ever, will be reviewed should there be changes to official advice on coronavirus”.

The university, like many institutions in the UK and Ireland, moved all of its lectures online in March 2020, and has opted for online exams.

Meanwhile, the UK higher education regulator Office for Students (OfS) has urged universities not to promise students that everything will return to normal in the next term if it is not the case.

Nicola Dandridge, CEO of OfS, said that students need “absolute clarity” on how courses will be taught before they make choices for the autumn, as universities can charge full fees even if courses are taught online. She urged universities not to make misleading promises about a “campus experience” if classes will be taught online.

Universities around the world

In the UK and beyond, current and prospective students have been seeking a better understanding of what to expect in the coming months.

In a recent article examining what could happen if colleges don’t reopen in 2021, journalist Adam Harris wrote in the Atlantic: “When there are tens of thousands of dollars at stake for students and their families, ‘I don’t know’ is not a satisfying answer. Why would students plunge themselves into years of debt for an online education instead of the full college experience they signed up for?”

In Ireland, the Government has released a phased roadmap for the planned easing of coronavirus restrictions. Although it is dependent on maintaining a low level of transmission in the country and will be under constant review, third-level education institutions are set to reopen on a phased basis from 10 August. No individual Irish universities or colleges have announced their plans for the next academic year yet.

In the US, some third-level institutions have made plans to bring students back on campus this autumn, pledging to test them and track infections, according to the New York Times. Others, however, will not hold in-person classes at all.

California State University, which is the largest four-year public university system in the US, said that classes will take place almost exclusively online in the next term. Exceptions will be made for clinical classes in the college’s nursing programme and for certain science labs.

Canada’s McGill University also plans to offer most of its courses online in the next semester.

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic