Higher Education: Internet

Department for Education written question – answered on 25th September 2020.

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Photo of Lord Taylor of Warwick Lord Taylor of Warwick Non-affiliated

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to increase access to online learning for all university students.

Photo of Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

The government is aware of the disproportionate impact that the COVID-19 outbreak will have on some students and it has already been working closely with the Office for Students (OfS), the regulator of registered higher education providers in England, so higher education providers can draw upon existing funding to provide hardship funds and to support disadvantaged students affected by COVID-19.

As a result of this flexibility, providers were able to use OfS student premium funding worth around £23 million per month for April to July this year. From August, providers have also been able to use £256 million for the current academic year towards student hardship funds, including for the purchase of IT equipment. We have also allocated £100 million to support remote education, which has enabled the provision of routers and laptops to vulnerable students, prioritising care-leavers, including those at university.

We expect that higher education providers will be open for the autumn term, combining online teaching and in-person tuition in ways that they consider appropriate and in line with public health advice. On 10 September, the government issued updated guidance to the higher education sector on reopening campuses and buildings.

The government’s expectation is that quality and academic standards must be maintained, and the OfS has made it clear that all higher education 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 to secure academic standards and to support student achievement during the COVID-19 outbreak.

My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State of Education, has commissioned Sir Michael Barber, the Chairman of the OfS, to lead a review to consider how to enhance the quality of digital teaching and learning and the opportunities that digital education presents for universities in the medium and long term. The review is expected to report in spring 2021 and will also explore how higher education institutions can ensure that all students have access to a high-quality digital teaching and learning experience.

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