As a mother of a university student, I totally understand the frustration many are feeling about paying full tuition fees this year when teaching may in some cases be online only.
However, universities are autonomous and responsible for setting their own fees, with the Government only setting a maximum cap. However, Ministers and the Office for Students (OfS) have been explicit that whether they are delivering face-to-face, online, or blended provision, universities must continue delivering a high quality academic experience that helps all students achieve qualifications that they and employers value. It is worth remembering that several universities have an existing track record of offering highly regarded online-only courses.
The OfS are taking very seriously the potential impacts on teaching and learning of moving predominantly online. They are already actively monitoring universities and collecting evidence to ensure that those providers which have moved to predominantly online provision will maintain the quality of their provision, making all reasonable efforts to ensure online learning is accessible for all students; and that they have been clear in their communications to students about how arrangements for teaching and learning may change throughout this year. If the OfS have any concerns, they will investigate further.
The following principles should apply where providers move to online-only provision:
- there is no reason why students should expect to see reduced contact time as a result of a shift to online provision;
- students should receive regular updates from their provider, with clear, timely information on what is happening to their classes and lectures; and all students need to be supported to access online provision, noting that the Government has made available £256 million for this academic year towards students
- hardship funds, including the purchase of IT equipment.
Where a student believes their provider has failed to deliver a high quality academic experience they are entitled to complain, in the first instance to the university and then to the OfS.
I would also note that universities are themselves having to bear extra costs this year, as they adapt to be able to operate in a COVID-secure way. This will include increased expenditure on setting up remote learning facilities.