To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department plans to take to help support the return of face-to-face learning at universities in the context of the covid-19 outbreak.
15 July 2021
In line with Step 4 of the government’s roadmap, there will be no further restrictions on in-person provision in the autumn term. Higher education (HE) providers are therefore able to shape their courses without restrictions on face-to-face provision. The position will be kept under review considering the latest scientific evidence and public health advice. The latest advice can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/higher-education-reopening-buildings-and-campuses.
Furthermore, my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Education, wrote to education leaders on 8 July 2021, setting out plans as we move towards Step 4. This included the government’s expectation that HE providers offer students a full, enriching and enjoyable experience, whilst staying as safe as possible. The letter is available to read here: https://educationhub.blog.gov.uk/2021/07/08/a-letter-from-the-education-secretary-to-education-leaders/.
HE providers should therefore not be planning to restrict teaching based on COVID-19 restrictions. However, as autonomous institutions it is for providers to determine their own provision, taking account of government guidance. We understand that a number of universities have announced plans on teaching in the next academic year: some will retain an element of blended learning. We know that the COVID-19 outbreak has enabled many providers to identify new and innovative approaches to teaching and learning, and students will continue to benefit from these alongside in person provision. We expect all universities to act in the interest of students and provide them with a full experience and in accordance with Office for Students guidance, which can be found here: https://www.officeforstudents.org.uk/publications/guidance-for-providers-about-student-and-consumer-protection-during-the-pandemic/. HE providers should communicate clearly to their students what they can expect from planned teaching and learning so that they are able to make informed choices.
HE providers are autonomous institutions and are responsible for setting their own fees within maximum fee limits set by the regulations, where applicable. The government has already announced that maximum fees in the 2021/22 academic year will remain at £9,250 for a standard full-time course. We also intend to freeze the maximum tuition fee caps for the 2022/23 academic year to deliver better value for students and to keep the cost of higher education under control – the fifth year in succession that maximum fees have been frozen.
Whether an individual student is entitled to a refund of their tuition fees depends on the specific contractual arrangements between the provider and student. Students do have consumer rights, and it is for them to decide whether to seek to exercise these.
We recognised early on the impact the COVID-19 outbreak could have on students’ mental health and wellbeing, and we asked universities to prioritise support for this. Universities responded positively and have transformed mental health and wellbeing services. There are many examples of good practice in this area. Many universities have been actively reaching out to vulnerable students to proactively offer additional support.
We have worked closely with the OfS, to provide up to £3 million to fund the mental health platform Student Space. We have asked the OfS to allocate an additional £15 million towards student mental health, through proposed reforms to strategic priorities grant funding.
Going forward, HE providers should continue to be innovative in how they identify issues and support their students. This includes identifying appropriate technology to flag potential issues and enable students to engage in a variety of ways. As a government, we will continue to review the situation and our support in this area.