Be clear to students on how courses will be taught, regulator says

The OfS has published new guidance on student and consumer protection during the coronavirus pandemic.

Student sat at a desk with laptop

Universities and colleges must give students clear and timely information about how the delivery of their courses will change next year – including the extent to which they will be delivered online – as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Office for Students (OfS) said in new guidance published today.

According to the guidance, current students should be made aware of what teaching will be delivered in what way. They should also be told whether any adjustments to their courses and teaching might need to be made to reflect different scenarios and changes to public health advice. Prospective students should receive enough information to be able to make an informed decision about starting that course, choosing a different course or deferring.

The guidance says that:

'providers will need to ensure that prospective students have information that is clear and timely (including any information about changes to the courses for which they have applied). Prospective students will need to understand what a provider is committing to deliver in the current circumstances and in different scenarios, how this will be achieved, and the changes that might need to be made in response to changing public health advice, so that they are able to make informed choices. Existing students also need clear information about any adjustments to their courses and assessment that may take place in the next academic year.'

As part of this information, universities and colleges should be clear on:

'the extent to which the course will now be delivered online rather than face-to-face and how the balance between, lectures, seminars and self-learning has changed. Prospective students will be particularly interested in the volume and arrangements of contact hours and support and resources for learning if this is now taking place online and virtually.'

Other information that universities should make available to students includes:

  • content of the course, including if components such as placements and field trips have been changed or reduced
  • length of the course
  • cost of the course, including making clear if any discounts have been offered for the year in which adjustments will be made, and if the cost will increase to a ‘normal’ level thereafter
  • how the course will be assessed.

Universities should also ensure that terms and conditions are fair and transparent, and that complaints processes are accessible and fair.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the OfS said:

'These are exceptionally challenging times for both students and universities, but students must be told clearly how their courses will be taught next year. Where it is likely that arrangements may need to change, that should also be made clear. Choosing when and where to go to university are important decisions at the best of times, but now more than ever prospective students must be given clear guidance and information to make the decision that is right for them.

'While many universities and colleges have responded to the crisis with innovation and ingenuity, all current students have had their studies disrupted. Any adjustments that continue into next year must be clearly communicated, and students must have access to a transparent and flexible complaints process should they feel that suitable changes have not been made.

'In the coming weeks, and certainly before Clearing commences, we expect universities to set out the extent to which they plan to start courses online or face to face, and what students might expect online teaching to involve. Each university will need to take their own decisions based on their own circumstances and in line with Public Health England guidance. Nonetheless, we expect universities and colleges to make all reasonable efforts to maintain the quality of teaching and support on offer.'

For more information please contact Richard Foord on 0117 931 7317 or email [email protected].

Read the guidance
  1. The Office for Students website has a student FAQ page which is regularly reviewed and updated.
  2. In our guidance on quality and standards during the pandemic we stated that providers were likely to continue to satisfy the requirements for quality and standards if all reasonable efforts were made to ensure that students could complete their study and that awards were still made securely. We also asked providers to consider giving students options, where this was possible and ensuring that they have access to clear information about any changes and the possible impact of these.
  3. It is important that all providers consider how their approaches to the current situation will affect all students, and in particular those who might be most vulnerable to disruption. This includes students suffering from coronavirus or who need to self-isolate, international students, and students unable or less able to access and effectively participate in remote learning for whatever reason, together with care leavers, those estranged from their families, and students with disabilities.
  4. The guidance issued by the OfS sets out its approach to regulating consumer protection issues in higher education providers. It does not in any way affect the rights or remedies that may apply to existing and prospective students under consumer protection law.
Published 10 June 2020

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