Most current and prospective students have no certainty whether their teaching will be online or face-to-face in the 2022/23 academic year. UsForThem have produced a report on the situation which you can read here.
We are deeply concerned for these students and believe that universities are not delivering a good enough educational experience, with many prospective students up and down the country finding themselves unable to make informed choices about their futures. We must remember that these are students who have spent most of their university careers with restrictions, online learning and limited social interaction, as well as having arrived at university with cancelled A levels, confused algorithms and disrupted education. Recent research, according to the ONS, has found that more than half of students reported that their mental health worsened, and they reported lower levels of life satisfaction and happiness,
Please write, urgently, to your MP using the letter below and copy in:
Find your MP’s email address
Dear [name of MP],
I am writing to you today to ask that you engage with the Secretary of State for Education to get urgent clarity on what is expected of UK universities now that the pandemic is coming to an end. Recent figures estimate that two-thirds of our universities are still not providing fully face-to-face teaching, despite the removal of Covid restrictions, with online lectures remaining prevalent for thousands of students. The Times has reported that over 100 UK universities are offering what has become known as ‘blended learning’. This is typically a mix of mostly online lectures and face-to-face seminars, and it appears that most current and prospective students have no certainty whether their teaching will be online or face-to-face in the 2022/23 academic year. UsForThem have produced a full report which you can find here. In addition, many universities are still demanding that students wear face masks despite the end of the mask mandates in wider society. As stated by Department of Education Minister for Children and Families Will Quince, there is very limited evidence as to the effectiveness of masks in educational settings. In addition, the risk-benefit has to be considered for this unevaluated measure, which is particularly harmful for students with hearing problems and those with autism or sensory issues. Our young people should not be treated as second-c;ass citizens or disease vectors in this regard.
I call on you to remember that these are students who have spent most of their university careers with restrictions, online learning and limited social interaction – young people who arrived at university with cancelled A levels, confused algorithms and disrupted education.
Their experiences have not been easy – the stress of moving away from home whilst managing life changes and the usual demands of academia has been added to by the unsettling experiences of restrictions including being isolated in their rooms, limited to only seeing their immediate flatmates and being policed to a greater extent than the wider population. According to the ONS, more than half of students reported that their mental health worsened, and they reported lower levels of life satisfaction, life and happiness, and higher levels of anxiety, compared with the general population and their academic experience has been as impacted as their social experience. The National Student Survey (2021) shows steep declines in satisfaction with learning resources and learning community.
Many prospective students up and down the country now find themselves unable to make informed choices about their futures. We should remember that these students have already suffered so much disruption – their GCSEs were cancelled and A Level education severely disrupted. It is imperative that we now treat our young people with the respect that they deserve and do all we can to help support them as we come out of the pandemic. As the Minister for Universities, Michelle Donelan, said “young people have already sacrificed enough during this pandemic and students should be able to enjoy the full university experience they deserve.” The proposed review by the Office for Students does not report until Summer 2022 – this is too late for students accepting offers now.
I am calling on you to hold the Secretary of State for Education good on his statement, as quoted in The Times on January 29th 2022, where he said that he was going to “ask to publish the breakdown of the proportion of face-to-face learning,” so that a student can access this information before they make the decision to go to a university. After two years of disruption, we need universities to clearly communicate to students about what they can expect from planned teaching and learning, and this is in line with the Office for Students guidance. They state that students need to be made aware of “different scenarios; one based on the current circumstances, and one based on changes that would be made in response to changing health advice, so that they are able to make informed choices”.
Further to the above I am calling on you to support following approach.
● all universities are clear on how they will teach courses, with the details of face-to-face hours and online hours clearly specified in their course literature;
● terminology is standardised across the university sector, with clear definitions designed to avoid any ambiguity or confusion amongst the student and prospective student population of this country (confusing terminology such as ‘Mixed Mode’, ‘Hybrid’, and ‘Face-to-Face Plus’ needs to be discouraged across university publications);
● all learning style choices for a course come with an explanation as to how they will benefit the student and why they best suit the course of study;
● 2022/23 offer holders must be given the opportunity to switch offers from their ‘Firm’ or ‘Insurance’ choice should the proportion of face-to-face learning not meet their expectations; and finally that
● UCAS implements improved search and sort functions that enable prospective 2022/23 students (and beyond) to make informed choices.In addition to the above I ask that you review the process for students to complain and work with your colleagues to reform this. Currently there is a lengthy, complicated complaints process via the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIAHE) that is not fit for purpose to protect consumer (student) rights. We need to empower students to be able to request and receive a refund if universities are not delivering upon their promises. Students must be offered refunds if the delivery of the course is significantly different from the prospectus. The Competition and Market Authority must be charged with investigating what universities are saying they are offering students and what the actual offer is – those universities who do not deliver what they advertise should be penalised.
I look forward to your response and ask that you engage with the Secretary of State for Education and encourage him to raise this with UCAS and all UK universities as a matter of urgency.
[Name AND Address]