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Regulator monitoring digital teaching quality at universities

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the OfS

England’s higher education regulator, the Office for Students, has today assured students that it is actively monitoring universities with significant numbers of students being required to take all their courses online as a result of local coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions.

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of the OfS, said today:

‘Our universities and colleges have been working hard and in unprecedented circumstances to deliver a mix of in-person, online and blended learning this term. They are often making rapid changes to how they deliver their courses as a result of changing public health advice – taking necessary steps to deliver good quality, properly resourced, online learning. But in doing so it is vital that they honour the promises they made to students when they applied and that the quality of what is on offer online remains high.

‘We are actively monitoring the situation – and engaging with a number of universities to ensure that they are delivering good quality teaching for all students. We are:

  • directly engaging with universities, colleges and other higher education providers that have moved to Public Health England’s Tier 3, to ensure that they are communicating changed arrangements for teaching and learning clearly, and to ensure that they will maintain the quality of their provision that is accessible for all
  • engaging in this way with any university or college which moves to Tier 3 or Tier 4
  • following up directly with individual universities and colleges where we receive notifications from students, parents or others raising concerns about the quality of teaching on offer
  • requiring universities and colleges to report to us when they are not able to deliver a course or award a qualification
  • monitoring data on universities and colleges’ performance which may indicate issues with the quality of provision, for example drop-out rates
  • planning to conduct additional student polling to understand students’ experience of teaching and learning. In September, we commissioned a poll of over 1,400 students to find out how teaching, learning and assessment were affected during lockdown. The planned polling will assist us in understanding whether there have been any changes in students views since then.

‘We issued guidance in April making it clear that we expect universities and colleges to ensure that the quality of provision is maintained, and to make all reasonable efforts to provide alternative teaching and support for students that are broadly equivalent to their usual arrangements, where face to face contact is no longer possible. That guidance continues to be relevant and important.

‘We also regulate consumer protection issues, and in June we published further guidance saying that we expect universities and colleges to make all reasonable efforts to fulfil their contracts with students to deliver higher education that is broadly equivalent to that which was originally advertised, even if that is being delivered online. We also stressed the importance of being clear with first year students about how courses would be delivered this year, including changes that might occur if there were a lockdown.

‘With the rapid changes in course delivery as a result of public health advice, we are actively seeking assurances from individual universities and colleges about the quality of their online and blended offers, and that the course will be delivered as promised during the current academic year even if changes are required for public health reasons. Indeed, while online teaching is of course different to face-to-face teaching, many universities and colleges have developed innovative and good quality digital provision for their students. Where we believe universities and colleges are not delivering on this, we can investigate and take action if the quality of courses falls below our minimum requirements.’

Michelle Donelan 100x100Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said:

“From the start of this pandemic, we have been clear that universities must continue delivering a high quality academic experience.

“We all know the benefits of face-to-face teaching but if universities move all teaching online, students should be assured that certain standards must be met.

“Both the Government and the Office for Students expect universities to be as open and transparent as possible with students regarding their lectures and classes, and I can see no reason why students should see a reduction in contact hours. If there are concerns, the OfS has the powers to take action.

“It is also vital that every single student has access to the resources they need to study remotely, regardless of their background, and we have worked closely with the Office for Students to enable universities to draw upon existing funding of £256 million to help students in financial hardship and to ensure this happens.”

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