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, 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.’
For further information contact Richard Foord on 0117 905 7676 or [email protected].
- We have statutory powers to take enforcement action if we consider there to be a breach of our conditions of registration. We are able to impose additional requirements on a provider to remedy any breach we find. We are also able to impose a monetary penalty or restrict a provider’s access to sources of funding.
- We are actively following-up on reportable events and notifications. Where we have significant concerns, we may investigate further, for example, by calling in evidence from a provider, or commissioning expert onsite investigations or reviews. We may also commission polling targeted at the students of a particular provider where our monitoring activity suggests there may be concerns.
- The OfS does not regulate student accommodation or the provision of pastoral support. Our role is to ensure universities are doing all they can continue to provide high quality teaching and learning for all students, whether that provision is face-to-face, blended, or online.
- Last week our student panel released a statement about its expectations of universities in relation to the support they are providing to students who are self-isolating.