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Universities must keep students informed on teaching plans, says regulator

The Office for Students (OfS) has today written to universities and colleges to highlight the importance of communicating changes to how courses are taught during the lockdown amid concerns of inadequate information for students where tougher pandemic restrictions have been introduced.

This comes following the government’s announcement of new national restrictions in England from 5 November, and subsequent guidance published for the Department for Education.

In recent weeks, the OfS has been engaging closely with universities and colleges where they have moved to delivering significant parts of courses online to ensure that they are delivering good quality teaching for all students.

In some cases, universities are not communicating sufficiently clearly with their students. As new national rules come into force, universities and colleges must pay particular attention to providing clear and effective communications with students. As detailed in today’s letter, universities and colleges should:

  • ensure that students understand when and why there may be increased levels of online teaching, and when they may expect a return to aspects of face-to-face delivery
  • explain plans for the remainder of the academic year, as far as is reasonably possible, setting out specifically whether some teaching may be delayed so it may be completed at a later stage
  • ensure that all students are aware of what pastoral and academic support is available to them and how to make complaints through both informal and formal mechanisms.

Susan Lapworth, Director of Regulation at the OfS, said:

‘As universities make changes in response to the developing situation, it is important that they continue to provide suitable academic support to all students and that the quality of education – including online teaching – remains high. A key part of this is ensuring that students clearly understand any new teaching arrangements and how their course will be delivered, both in the short and long term.

‘Universities and colleges have been working hard to deliver a mix of in-person, online and blended learning. Indeed, many have developed innovative and good quality digital provision for their students. However, it is crucial that students are not left in the dark as universities and colleges continue to adapt to public health advice and government guidance. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and engage directly with providers to ensure they are delivering good quality teaching for all students.’

The OfS has previously published guidance on maintaining the quality and standards of courses and consumer protection. The requirements laid out in this guidance still apply to higher education providers in England.

The OfS is actively monitoring the situation, and engaging with 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, 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
  • 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
  • conducting 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 polling will assist us in understanding whether there have been any changes in students views since then.
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