Skip to main content

Universities: Coronavirus

Question for Department for Education

UIN 106508, tabled on 20 October 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps he is taking to ensure that university students receive high quality teaching during the covid-19 outbreak.

Answered on

4 November 2020

This is a difficult and uncertain time for students, but we are working with the sector to make sure that all reasonable efforts are being made to enable students to continue their studies.

As I set out in a letter to MPs on 9 October, the government’s expectation is that, whether providers are delivering face-to-face, online or blended provision, quality and academic standards must be maintained. The Office for Students (OfS) has made it clear that higher education (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 HE providers must continue to provide sufficient and appropriate facilities, learning resources and student support services to deliver a high-quality academic experience.

HE providers must also 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.

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 is taking very seriously the potential impacts of the outbreak on teaching and learning and ensuring that they have a clear picture of what students are receiving. The OfS published a statement on 9 October that sets out how it is actively monitoring the quality of online provision at HE providers that have moved predominantly to online provision as a result of local COVID-19 restrictions.

The OfS is directly engaging with those providers to ensure that they maintain the quantity and quality of their provision that is accessible for all. The government fully supports the OfS’s approach – we believe unequivocally that all students deserve a high-quality HE experience and we will continue to work closely with the OfS and providers to ensure that students receive this.

Providers should make all reasonable efforts to provide alternative teaching and support for students broadly equivalent to the provider’s usual arrangements, in circumstances where face-to-face contact is no longer possible. On 3 November, the department published guidance on how the national COVID-19 restrictions affect HE. This guidance is available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/higher-education-reopening-buildings-and-campuses/higher-education-new-national-restrictions-guidance. We have been clear throughout the COVID-19 outbreak that HE providers must maintain the quality of their tuition at all times, regardless of whether a HE provider is delivering its courses through face-to-face teaching, remote online learning, or a combination of both. We have worked with the OfS, who are regularly reviewing online tuition.

Students have rights under consumer law that they can rely on if they are dissatisfied with their provider’s response to COVID-19. In the first instance, students should speak to their provider to see if they can resolve their issue. We expect student complaints and appeals processes to be operated flexibly, accessibly and sympathetically by providers to resolve any concerns. If a student at a provider in England or Wales is not satisfied with their provider’s response, they can ask the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education to consider their complaint.