The body that represents 140 universities in the UK has assured students that the “vast majority” of teaching will be “face-to-face” next term, after the education secretary hinted at support for tuition fee refunds if in-person education did not return.
Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, said: “Universities are planning to deliver the vast majority of their teaching and learning face-to-face – with most seminars, group study, practical work, extra-curricular activities, social events and sports taking place in-person.
“Universities are following the latest government guidance. Where lectures are being taught online, there will be clear benefits for students’ learning or specific health and safety considerations. Students should look out for communications from their university for more detail on what to expect this autumn.”
I think if universities are not delivering, not delivering what students expect, then actually they shouldn’t be charging the full fees
– Gavin Williamson, education secretary
In interviews on Tuesday 10 August, education secretary Gavin Williamson said that, from the autumn, universities should offer in-person lectures and tutorials again. In a move that could prove seismic, Williamson indicated he might support tuition fees refunds for students that feel they receive too little face-to-face teaching.
Williamson said that universities had the “ability” – following new rules set out by the government – to offer students in-person teaching.
Williamson told Sky News: “Our guidance is clear, our direction is clear, and we do expect all universities, unless there’s unprecedented reasons, to be moving back to the situation of actually delivering lessons, lectures, face to face.”
He added: “I think universities have got to sort of stand up their offer to their own students. I think they have the flexibility and the ability to deliver face-to-face lectures and expect them to be delivering face-to-face lectures.”
Ministers in England told universities earlier this summer: “HE providers should continue to make efforts to reduce the risk of transmission where possible. They should not put in place measures which limit the teaching and learning outcome for students, or significantly limit the wider activities offered by the HE provider.”
Asked about refunds by Kay Burley, Mr Williamson said: “Universities have got to stand up their offers to their students, but we have got the Office for Students, which is targeting universities which have low-quality courses which aren’t doing enough, and we will give the OfS all the power, all the backing, in order to pursue those universities that aren’t delivering enough for students that are paying their fees.
“I think if universities are not delivering, not delivering what students expect, then actually they shouldn’t be charging the full fees.”
The chair of the OfS said online teaching could remain part of a university offering, so long as students “receive a good quality experience of higher education”.
“In making decisions about how provision will be delivered, universities and colleges must ensure that they keep students properly informed. They should take into account the views of their students when making decisions about how courses are taught,” said OfS chair James Wharton.
The Office of the Independent Adjudicator has said that tuition fee refunds may be necessary during the pandemic, but has only recommended this course of action in isolated cases. Last December, during the second lockdown in England, The Office for Students sought to encourage students and students’ unions in England to report poor quality teaching.
Ucas reported that a record number of students secured places on undergraduate courses in the UK on results day, but widening participation has stalled.