Students: Coronavirus

Department for Education written question – answered on 22nd October 2020.

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Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Conservative, Chesham and Amersham

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what training is being made available to university students to help them to access their online tuition at university.

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

English higher education (HE) providers are autonomous institutions, which means that 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) must ensure that all students, from admission through to completion, have the support that they need to succeed in and benefit from HE. The OfS has the powers to act if there are concerns.

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. The OfS have also set out that providers must continue to provide sufficient and appropriate facilities, learning resources and student support services to deliver a high-quality academic experience. Providers must continue to comply with their legal obligations under the Equality Act (2010), ensuring that education and learning is accessible to all students. When making changes to the delivery of their courses, providers need to consider how they support all students, particularly the most vulnerable, to achieve successful academic and professional outcomes. We recognise that the move to increased online provision may result in the support needs of some students with disabilities changing, in which case suitable alternative arrangements should be made for them.

The OfS has published information and guidance for providers and students. 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. The guidance is available here: https://www.qaa.ac.uk/news-events/support-and-guidance-covid-19.

The OfS are taking very seriously the potential impacts on teaching and learning, 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.

My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for 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 is expected to report in spring 2021 and 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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