Universities could be made to declare how much of their teaching will be online when they make offers to students, under plans being considered by the Government.
Vice-chancellors have been warned that they must be open with prospective students about how much face-to-face learning their course will entail.
Ministers are understood to be concerned that universities are continuing to offer lectures digitally rather than in person, despite official guidance stating that there is no longer any need for this.
The Department for Education (DfE) has started drawing up plans which could see universities obliged to state on Ucas, the university admissions service, how extensive their in-person offering will be.
This would mean that when students use the service to choose which course to accept, they will be clearly informed about the mode of teaching they can expect.
DfE officials said that Michelle Donelan, the universities minister, is phoning vice-chancellors personally to follow up on reports that they are failing to deliver the in-person learning that students expect.
The higher education watchdog has also warned that it would be “unacceptable” for institutions to “promise one thing and deliver another”.
Nicola Dandridge, the chief executive of the Office for Students, said that such a move could be in breach of regulatory requirements by failing to have “due regard to guidance around consumer protection law”.
Students face ‘utter confusion and uncertainty’
Paul Wiltshire, a retired accountant from Cornwall who has been campaigning against online learning since last summer, said universities’ stance had led to “utter confusion and uncertainty” for students.
He said: “Last summer, my son received a memo from his university saying they weren’t planning on going back to face-to-face lectures during the autumn term.
“I was absolutely incensed. We have all seen stories about students’ mental health. I thought universities should be moving hell and earth to get back to face-to-face.
“My second son got a similar memo which said ‘you might find a few large lectures are online’. When he arrived, it turned out all the lectures were online and so were all of his friends’.”
‘Minority of universities offering full in-person lectures’
Mr Wiltshire has since surveyed all the UK’s 146 universities and found that only a minority are offering full or almost full in-person lectures while the rest continue to promote a “blended learning” model.
“There is no sign at all that a mass migration back to face-to-face [learning] is imminent, and in fact, I found hardly any statements at all stating with any great certainty that there would likely be any change in teaching delivery from now until the start of the academic year,” he said.
A spokesman for Universities UK said: “Students at universities across the country can expect teaching and activities in person, including small group classes, seminars, practicals and lab work, with many lectures in person and others online.”