One in four university students ‘not positive about quality of online lessons’

Nearly one in four university students are not positive about the quality of digital teaching, a survey suggests.

More than one in 10 students (11%) do not feel they have access to online course materials whenever they need them, according to the poll by the education technology not-for-profit organisation Jisc.

The findings come as students return to campus for the start of term after months of remote learning.

Guidance released by the Department for Education (DfE) last week recommended that universities offer a mix of face-to-face tuition and online lessons as the “default position” when campuses reopen.

Universities should move to an increased level of online learning as a “fallback” position in the event of local Covid-19 outbreaks, and face-to-face provision should occur “in as limited number of situations as possible” if stricter measures become necessary, the Government advice says.

But the survey, of more 20,500 university students, suggests that nearly a quarter (23%) are unable to rate the quality of digital teaching and learning on their course as “good”, “excellent” or “best imaginable”.

Only half (51%) said they receive guidance about vital digital skills they needed for their course, while more than two in five (44%) said they never work online with other learners.

Many universities are offering online lectures and virtual freshers’ week events during the autumn term.

Sarah Knight, Jisc’s head of data and digital capability, said: “Universities must do what they can to ensure all students have an equitable experience, whether they’re learning face to face, remotely, or through a blended approach.

“Covid-19 has highlighted the urgent need to address digital poverty.”

In the report, Sir Michael Barber, chairman of the Office for Students (OfS), said: “The academic year ahead will be unlike any that has gone before. Learning is likely to take place both on-site and remotely.

“As the higher education sector continues to adapt, it is crucial that university leaders understand how students are using technology, and what help they need with their digital skills.”

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, vice-president for higher education at the National Union of Students (NUS), said: “This survey data reinforces the need for real resource to be put into the higher education sector, by government, to scale up and improve digital education.

“If this is not addressed, educational inequality will continue to worsen.”

A Universities UK (UUK) spokeswoman said universities have gone to great lengths to support students to study effectively from home during the lockdown.

She said: “Equal opportunity for all, including providing the necessary equipment and resources for those who need additional support at home, is a priority for universities.

“Different students have different needs and some will require greater support with any new methods of provision.

“Universities are fully aware of this and will be mapping out a variety of student circumstances and preferences.”

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