The sudden closure of university campuses across China and elsewhere has necessitated the virtual delivery of vast numbers of courses. And while there have been inevitable teething problems, observers are wondering whether the future might just have become the present.

When Times Higher Education surveyed leaders of prominent global universities in 2018, the 200 respondents – from 45 countries across six continents – were emphatic on one point: online higher education would never match the real thing.

Although 63 per cent expected established, prestigious universities to be offering full degrees online by 2030, only 24 per cent thought that the electronic versions would be more popular than traditional campus-based degrees

Lino Guzzella, president of ETH Zurich, asserted that “meeting people, interacting with peers, students and supervisors – in short, a real university environment – is the key to deep understanding”.

An Australian vice-chancellor said that “face-to-face interaction will never be matched in quality by other modes of communication” – even if current “fads temporarily appear to be tilting the balance towards non-human interaction”.

Read more : Joyce Lau, Bin Yang and Rudrani Dasgupta : Times Higher Education : 12 March 2020