COVID-19: University Fees (2020/21 Academic Year)
As a former student myself (some time ago!), I fully understand that many students are frustrated with their experience during lockdown, and in particular paying full tuition fees when learning has been moved to remote provision. I have publicly called for universities to reduce tuition fees, and have challenged Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, on this point.
The Government has, to its credit, also called on universities that are not providing a full education to reflect any reduced offering in reduced fees. However, universities are autonomous institutions not run by Government, and so it is up to each university to choose whether they charge up to the Government-set maximum fees cap. 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, timely information on what is happening to their classes and lectures; and
• all students need to be supported to access online provision, noting that the Government has made available £256 million for this academic year towards student hardship funds, including the purchase of IT equipment.
Where a student believes their provider has failed to deliver a high-quality academic experience you are entitled to complain, in the first instance to the university and then to the OfS.
Young People's Well-Being
It must be a matter of priority for all of us that we do everything in our power to ensure our children are happy and healthy. I know Ministers share this view and I am reassured that many steps are already being taken towards this goal. I unfortunately cannot attend the Wellbeing Week event due to other pressing Parliamentary duties I must attend to that day, but please know that I am supportive of the cause.
While the coronavirus pandemic poses clear challenges for children and young people's mental health, it is somewhat encouraging that the second annual State of the Nation report found that children and young people aged five to 24 generally responded with resilience to changes in their lives between March and September 2020. Despite indications of challenges to their mental wellbeing they report stable levels of happiness and only slight reduction in satisfaction with their lives. However, the Government has been working hard to ensure the pandemic has a limited impact on the wellbeing of young people in the long run.
An £8 million training programme run by mental health experts was launched in the autumn to help improve how schools and colleges respond to the emotional impact of the coronavirus pandemic on both students and staff, by giving them the knowledge and access to resources they need to support children, young people, teachers and parents affected by the pandemic.
The introduction of the new compulsory Relationships, Sex and Health Education curriculum will be another important step in improving our children’s overall wellbeing. The curriculum is designed to equip children early-on with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions about their wellbeing, health and relationships, as well as preparing them for adult life in a changing world.
I am also pleased that Mental Health Support Teams will be rolled out to schools and colleges. These teams will employ new staff who are being recruited and trained specifically for the programme. The National Health Service is on track to deliver the roll-out of mental health support teams in schools and colleges across 20-25 per cent of areas in England by 2023/24.
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