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‘No need’ for students to defer university entry, says Williamson

Image: Chris McAndrew [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Education secretary adds to calls for universities to give clear picture of next academic year

Vice-chancellors have promised to give students clarity over what to expect from their courses in the next academic year following a meeting with education secretary Gavin Williamson.

In a statement issued on 10 June, which followed a meeting on 9 June with about 10 vice-chancellors from Universities UK, the education secretary said that while it was “a difficult time for students”, there was “absolutely no need” for them to defer entry this year unless they wished to. He urged students “to think carefully about their options and make informed decisions which best serve their futures”.

He added that it was “crucial” for institutions to be “transparent about how they will deliver their courses in the next academic year”. There have been big question marks about how institutions will opt to deliver teaching in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have already seen some fantastic and innovative examples of online learning delivered across the country, and I am confident that universities will continue to make every effort to continue this provision from September where required, and also provide excellent support for students joining university,” Williamson said.

Universities UK also published a statement on 10 June, with chief executive Alistair Jarvis saying that while students “may feel uncertain about what to expect this autumn”, universities would “provide a high-quality, engaging and positive experience”.

“As much learning and wider activity will be delivered face to face on campus as public health guidance will support,” Jarvis said, citing socially distanced practical lessons, online learning and “innovative approaches” to student support and extracurricular activities.

Jarvis said universities were “working hard on detailed plans for the autumn and will be communicating further details with current and prospective students over the coming weeks”. 

It comes as the Office for Students publishes guidance urging universities to give current and prospective students clarity about how the next academic year will look.

Meanwhile, on 9 June in the House of Commons, during a debate on the wider reopening of educational institutions, Williamson said the government would “continue to work with the universities sector, including on how it can support us in our response to Covid”.

“We have seen brilliant work on testing and the development of vaccines as well as supporting NHS workers with the provision of accommodation,” he said. “That is why we brought out the stabilisation package for universities just a few weeks ago. We continue to work with the sector on how we can do more and continue to support them.”

Elsewhere in the debate, he acknowledged the importance of ensuring that universities take practical steps towards delivering lectures “not just virtually” and “opening up research facilities”.

“That is what we are working with Universities UK on, to ensure that they are able to return to normal as rapidly as possible, so that not only do students get the best but the wider community of the UK gets the best from all universities being open,” he said.