Students: Coronavirus

Department for Education written question – answered on 19 October 2020.

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Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Shadow Minister (International Development)

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps he is taking to ensure university students have access to digital and online learning during the covid-19 outbreak.

Photo of Michelle Donelan Michelle Donelan Minister of State (Education)

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

As a result of this flexibility, providers were able to use OfS student premium funding worth around £23 million per month between 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 invested over £100 million to help provide laptops and devices for disadvantaged children and young people so they can access education and social care services remotely. As part of this, we have provided devices for care leavers, including those who are studying at university.

As I set out in a letter to MPs on 9 October, the government’s expectation is that quality and academic standards must be maintained. 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. They have also set out that HE providers must continue to provide sufficient and appropriate facilities, learning resources and student support services to deliver a high-quality academic experience.

The OfS has published information and guidance for HE providers and students. The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education has also published a series of guides to support HE providers to secure academic standards and to support student achievement during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The OfS are taking very seriously the potential impacts on teaching and learning, and ensuring they have a clear picture of what students are receiving. They published a statement on 9 October about how they are monitoring the quality of online provision given by HE providers.

My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State of Education, has also commissioned Sir Michael Barber, the Chair 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, which is expected to report in spring 2021, will also explore how HE providers can ensure that all students have access to a high-quality digital teaching and learning experience.

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