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Talk to students about Covid-19 course changes, says OfS

England’s regulator urges universities to be clear on what students can expect

Universities in England must ensure that they are communicating clearly with students about any changes to how courses will be taught during lockdown, the Office for Students has said.

The OfS’s missive comes on the eve of a month-long national lockdown, during which university campuses will be able to remain open to students. According to official government guidance published on 3 November, universities should work with local public health teams to implement an “appropriate balance of online and in-person teaching”.

Under existing guidance, universities can operate under one of four ‘tiered’ approaches, ranging from a blend of online and in-person learning to an entirely online approach.

In a letter to institutions sent on 4 November, Susan Lapworth, director of regulation at the OfS, said that providers should “make students aware of situations that are likely to trigger a decision to move up or down through the four tiers”.

“This will enable students to understand when and why you may choose to move more of your teaching online, and when you may return some aspects to face-to-face delivery,” she wrote.

Institutions must also “explain your plans for the remainder of the academic year, as far as is reasonably possible”, Lapworth said. This should “set out whether you intend to delay some teaching so that it can be done face to face at a later stage, and what this may mean for students”.

In a statement accompanying the letter, Lapworth said that universities must continue to provide “suitable academic support to all students” and ensure that the quality of education “remains high”.

“Universities and colleges have been working hard to deliver a mix of in-person, online and blended learning,” she said. “Indeed, many have developed innovative and good-quality digital provision for their students.

“However, it is crucial that students are not left in the dark as universities and colleges continue to adapt to public health advice and government guidance. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and engage directly with providers to ensure they are delivering good-quality teaching for all students.”

In her letter, Lapworth said the OfS was “unlikely to take regulatory action where a provider has acted in response to public health guidance and where it has made all reasonable efforts to protect the interests of students”.