Question to the Department for Education:
To ask Her Majesty's Government what measures they are planning to ensure that students registered at universities for the 2020–21 academic year who undertake courses through remote learning have (1) sufficient contact hours with tutors, and (2) effective learning support.
English higher education (HE) providers are autonomous institutions – this means they have the freedom to determine the way their courses are taught, supervised, and assessed. However, providers that are registered with the Office for Students (OfS), the regulator of registered HE providers in England, must ensure that all students, from admission through to completion, have the support that they need to succeed in and benefit from HE. The government’s expectation is that quality and academic standards must be maintained, and the OfS has made it clear that all HE providers must continue to comply with registration conditions relating to quality and standards, which set out requirements to ensure that courses are high quality, that students are supported and achieve good outcomes, and that standards are protected.
The OfS has published information and guidance for providers and students, and the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education has also published a series of guides to support providers in securing academic standards and supporting student achievement during the COVID-19 pandemic.
HE providers have indicated that they will deliver a blend of online teaching and in-person tuition in the autumn term that they consider appropriate and which is in line with public health advice. If students have concerns, there is a process in place for them to pursue them. 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. Notwithstanding the ongoing uncertainty, we expect providers to ensure that continuing and prospective students receive the clear, accurate, and timely information they need to make informed decisions. This includes making them aware of any potential for changes at the earliest opportunity.
The government is aware of the disproportionate impact that the pandemic will have on some students. We have already worked closely with the OfS to help clarify that providers can draw upon existing funding within the current academic year to provide hardship funds and support disadvantaged students affected by COVID-19, including the purchase of IT equipment and mental health support. We have also allocated £100 million to support remote education, including to provide routers and laptops to vulnerable students, prioritising care leavers, including those at university.