To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what discussions officials in his Department have had with representatives of universities that are not planning to return to face-to-face learning from the autumn 2021 term, after the relaxation of covid-19 restrictions.
22 July 2021
From July 19, there are no further restrictions on in-person provision in the autumn term. Higher education (HE) providers can 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.
HE providers should therefore not be planning to restrict teaching based on COVID-19 restrictions. However, universities are autonomous institutions, and it is for providers to determine their own provision, taking account of government guidance. We understand that several universities have announced plans on teaching in the next academic year and 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. The department therefore has no plans to publish the names of, or reduce funding for, individual institutions which are not returning to face-to-face provision in the autumn term.
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.
The Office for Students has also made it clear that all HE providers must continue to comply with registration conditions relating to quality and standards. This means ensuring that courses provide a high-quality academic experience, that students are supported and achieve good outcomes, and that standards are protected, regardless of whether a provider is delivering its courses through in-person teaching, remote online learning or a combination of both.
There are no plans to publish names of institutions which are offering fee reductions to their students, as HE providers are autonomous 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 HE under control. This will be 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. If students have concerns, there is a process in place. They should first raise their concerns with their university. If their concerns remain unresolved, students at providers in England or Wales can ask the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education to consider their complaint.
We routinely meet with the Student Loans Company on a range of matters and will continue to do so as we move forward through the COVID-19 outbreak. However, we have not had discussions with the Student Loans Company on a reduction in university fees for universities that are not planning to resume face-to-face teaching for the autumn term.