Thank you for contacting me about university fees in 2020/21.
I fully understand that many students will be feeling frustrated at paying full tuition fees when learning has been moved to remote provision. Universities are autonomous and so it is up to each university to choose whether they charge up to the Government-set maximum fees cap. However, Ministers and the Office for Students (OfS) have been explicit that whether they are delivering face-to-face, online, or blended provision, universities must continue delivering a high quality academic experience that helps all students achieve qualifications that they and employers value. It is worth remembering that several universities have an existing track record of offering highly regarded online-only courses.
The OfS are taking very seriously the potential impacts on teaching and learning of moving online. They are actively monitoring universities and collecting evidence to ensure that providers maintain the quality of their provision, making all reasonable efforts to ensure online learning is accessible for all students; and that they have been clear in their communications to students about how arrangements for teaching and learning may change throughout this year. If the OfS have any concerns, they will investigate further.
The following principles should apply to online-only provision:
• There is no reason why students should expect to see reduced contact time as a result of a shift to online provision;
• Students should receive regular updates from their provider, with clear and timely information on what is happening to their classes and lectures;
• All students need to be supported to access online provision, noting that the Government has made available £256 million for this academic year towards students hardship funds, including the purchase of IT equipment.
Where a student believes their provider has failed to deliver a high quality academic experience they are entitled to complain, in the first instance to the university and then to the OfS if necessary.
Finally, I would also note that universities are themselves having to bear extra costs this year as they adapt to be able to operate in a COVID-secure way. This will include increased expenditure on setting up remote learning facilities.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Sally-Ann Hart MP