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Written Question
Universities: Remote Education
25 May 2021

Questioner: Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-affiliated - Life peer)

Question

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many universities are continuing to use predominantly remote learning; what assessment they have made of reports of complaints by students that they are being discouraged from returning to campus; and what plans they have to reinforce the guidance that graduate and post-graduate students are entitled to face-to-face teaching.

Answered by Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay

From the start of the pandemic, the higher education (HE) sector has put in significant resources and worked hard to provide learning materials and minimise the disruption to students. There have been some innovative and resourceful approaches to deliver high-quality learning online, and we welcome the huge amount of time and resources universities and other HE providers have devoted to ensuring that online teaching is of the high quality expected by students, Her Majesty's Government, and the Office for Students (OfS). Since early January, we estimate that 19% of students were on courses in scope for a return to face-to-face learning, and from 8 March 2021 this proportion increased to 49%. From 17 May 2021, all students have been able to return to in-person learning.

As autonomous institutions with a range of specific circumstances, we expect HE providers to make their own judgments to facilitate the return of students for face-to-face teaching, whilst following the latest public health guidance. We expect providers to continue work alongside local authorities and other agencies to put appropriate plans in place to control and manage any local outbreaks and to minimise transmission of COVID-19.

If students have concerns about their tuition, including the return to in-person teaching, there is a process in place. They should first raise their concerns with their university. If their concerns remain unresolved, students at providers in England or Wales can ask the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education to consider their complaint. We expect providers to ensure that continuing and prospective students receive the clear, accurate, and timely information they need to make informed decisions. Whilst the OfS does not get involved in student complaints, students can notify it of issues which may be of regulatory interest to it. The OfS uses this information as part of its regulatory monitoring activity and keeps HE providers under review to ensure that they comply with the ongoing conditions of registration. The OfS has produced a guide for students to support them in this process. This is available here: https://www.officeforstudents.org.uk/for-students/ofs-and-students/notifications/.