Gavin Williamson has said that universities which don’t return to face-to-face teaching should not charge full fees.
The Education Secretary was speaking on the day that hundreds of thousands of students discovered their results, with 44.8% of pupils getting A and A* grades.
At-a-glance: 5 key points
- Gavin Williamson said the Government expects all universities to be moving back to face-to-face teaching, “unless there’s unprecedented reasons” not to.
- He suggested that those institutions which do not do so should not be charging students full fees.
- The education secretary said that the Office for Students (OfS) - the independent regulator of higher education in England - would “pursue” universities which “delivering enough for students”.
- A record number of students have been accepted on to UK degree courses this year, Ucas figures show. In total, 435,430 students have had places confirmed on an undergraduate course in the UK, up 5% on the same point last year, according to data published by the university admissions service.
What did Gavin Williamson say?
Gavin Williamson told Sky News: “Universities are autonomous institutions. 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.”
Asked if refunds should be given if that is not the case, Mr Williamson said: “I think universities have got to sort of stand up their offer to their own students. I think that they have the flexibility and the ability to deliver face-to-face lectures, and expect them to be delivering face-to-face lectures.”
Pressed on the question, he added: “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.”
He added: “I think if universities are not delivering, not delivering what students expect, then actually they shouldn’t be charging the full fees.”
What is the government’s guidance to universities?
Guidance issued by the Department for Education with regards to universities states: "As higher education providers are autonomous institutions, they should identify and put in place appropriate plans, in line with this guidance and any other relevant government guidance, based on their individual circumstances.
"In accordance with the OfS guidance, providers should communicate clearly to their students on what they can expect from planned teaching and learning.
"This should include 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."
What are Labour saying?
Labour’s shadow schools minister Peter Kyle also appeared on Sky News and said that Williamson himself is to blame for the “chaos” in higher education.
"Up until now the reason why there’s been such chaos and ambiguity about the way things are taught in universities is because of the policies of Gavin Williamson," he said.
"There’s still a lot of uncertainty going into this term. If class sizes and the way that classes are taught in universities is disrupted going into the autumn because of government policy, then if there is a financial cost to universities then Gavin Williamson should be stumping up for it."
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