When lockdown began, higher education providers reacted rapidly to move provision online (in many cases within 24 hours), to ensure that students were able to access teaching and assessment. The vast majority of providers are currently planning to move to blended or dual provision for the next academic year. They have redesigned courses and timetables to be suitable for these new styles of delivery, front-loaded the next academic year with more online friendly provision and moved areas which require practical, face-to-face teaching or assessment to the back of the academic year.
The Office for Students (OfS) has published information and guidance for providers and students, including frequently asked questions on a broad range of issues. The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education has also published a series of guides to support higher education providers to secure academic standards and to support student achievement during the outbreak.
The government is aware of the disproportionate impact that the COVID-19 outbreak will have on some students. Officials are working with the sector to identify what further steps may be necessary. The government has already worked closely with the OfS to help clarify that providers can draw upon existing funding to provide hardship funds and to support disadvantaged students impacted by COVID-19. Providers are able to use the funding, worth around £23 million per month for June and July, towards student hardship funds, including the purchase of IT equipment and mental health support as well as to support providers’ access and participation plans.
Using this facility, providers have been supporting those with practical access issues through the provision of IT equipment including laptops and Wi-Fi dongles to ensure that they are able to continue their studies online.