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Higher Education: Coronavirus

Question for Department for Education

UIN HL3362, tabled on 23 April 2020

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to encourage the promotion of distance learning courses at universities and colleges in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Answered on

6 May 2020

Despite the significant disruption being felt across the higher education sector, students deserve appropriate support and recognition for their hard work and dedication. I welcome the way in which many universities and colleges have moved rapidly to develop new ways of delivering courses through online teaching and alternatives to traditional end-of-course exams.

We expect providers to consider how their response to the current situation will affect all students and those who might be most vulnerable to disruption. This includes students suffering from COVID-19 or who need to self-isolate, international students, and students unable or less able to access remote learning for whatever reason, together with care leavers, those estranged from their families, and students with disabilities.

The Office for Students (OfS) has recently published guidance setting out the actions it will take to support providers to maintain standards and teaching quality. The guidance highlights flexible models for teaching, learning, assessment that will most likely satisfy OfS quality and standards conditions. The clear expectation is that providers should make all reasonable efforts to enable students to complete their studies, for achievement to be reliably assessed, for qualifications to be awarded securely. Providers are already be making these arrangements. On 23 March, the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education published the first in a series of good practice guidance notes that are available to all UK higher education providers. We know higher education providers take their responsibilities seriously and are best placed to identify the needs of their student body, as well as how to develop the services needed to support it.

The government recognises the Open University plays an important role as the largest provider of part-time higher education in this country and has brought opportunities to engage in higher education to people across the country who would not have had that chance otherwise. The Higher Education and Research Act 2017 placed a duty on OfS to have regard for part time study, and to promote choice and opportunity in the provision of higher education. The OfS targets an element of the Teaching Grant to recognise the additional costs of part-time study and the Open University receives funding through this.