To ask the Secretary of State for Education, if he will ensure that university students receive high-quality teaching following the reduction in their average direct contact time and limited online teaching.
26 November 2020
My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State of Education, and I hold regular meetings with the Office for Students (OfS) leadership. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, these meetings have also involved regularly reviewing and monitoring the impact of COVID-19 on teaching and assessment, including the level of in-person teaching provided by universities and the value for money that students are receiving. I have consistently made it clear to the OfS that quality and standards must be maintained.
As I set out in a letter to MPs on 9 October and in a letter to Vice-Chancellors on 2 November, the government’s clear and stated expectation is that, whether higher education providers are delivering face-to-face, online or blended provision, they must continue delivering a high quality academic experience that helps all students achieve qualifications that they and employers value. If there are concerns, the OfS has the powers to act. The OfS has made it clear that 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.
HE 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, HE 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 for HE providers, providing practical guidance on how best to ensure students continue to receive a high quality academic experience. The OfS will keep this guidance under review to ensure it remains relevant to the developing circumstances of the COVID-19 outbreak. 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 OfS is taking very seriously the potential impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak on teaching and learning and is regularly engaging with all registered HE providers. It is actively monitoring those providers which have moved provision predominantly online due to COVID-19 restrictions to ensure that they maintain the quality of their provision, that it is accessible for all and that they have been clear in their communications with students about how arrangements for teaching and learning may change throughout the year.
The OfS is also following up directly with HE providers where they receive notifications from students, parents or others raising concerns about the quality of teaching on offer. The OfS is also requiring HE providers to report to them when they are not able to deliver a course or award a qualification. If the OfS has concerns, it will investigate further.
Students have rights under consumer law that they can rely on if they are dissatisfied with their HE 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 final response, they should go to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education, which has published guidance on this issue.