What’s in the new English lockdown for universities?

It's Groundhog day. Again. Lockdown part three has implications for higher education now and for the next academic year, so strap in.

David Kernohan is an Associate Editor of Wonkhe

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The expectation now is that most students will “remain where they are wherever possible, and start their term online“. This state of affairs will continue until mid-February.

The exceptions are for students training and studying on the following courses:

  • Medicine and dentistry
  • Subject allied to medicine/health
  • Veterinary science
  • Education (initial teacher training)
  • Social work
  • Courses that require Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Body (PSRB) assessments or mandatory activity scheduled definitively for January.

Though it is not clear, this appears to be a similar list to the one used by Michelle Donelan in her letters of  30 and 31 December.

There’s an admonishment not to move between your permanent home and university home during term time – with the implication that if a student moved back to rented accommodation early (maybe for a clandestine new year’s party, or just to be with friends) they are stuck there until the February half term.

Applicants

On exams (by which we are thinking A levels) there’s one of those paragraphs in a slightly different font that always suggest to me a late addition:

In the circumstances, we do not think it is possible for all exams in the summer to go ahead as planned. We will accordingly be working with Ofqual to consult rapidly to put in place alternative arrangements that will allow students to progress fairly.

That suggests A levels (and GCSEs) will not (in the main) be assessed via exams, but pending clarification from Ofqual and DfE we don’t know how these courses will be assessed. You would expect a request for teachers to begin gathering evidence of student performance and potential to follow soon – though this of course will be far more difficult than last year because of the sheer amount of in class time the current year 11 and 13 have missed.

It also puts paid to any suggestion that post-qualification admissions will take place in 2021 – the available results are likely to be controversial and contestable.

What we don’t know

  • The assumption is that international students on the courses that will still see face-to-face teaching will not be able to enter the country.
  • There has been no mention of arrangements for accommodation refunds, fee refunds (I’m particularly interested in self-funding postgraduate students here), or other financial measures to support students.
  • Equally, there has been no mention of measures to support universities financially in offering students the support they need.
  • We don’t know what arrangements will be for students on professional/vocational courses with required experience components – these measures will come individually from PSRBs (although hopefully once again the QAA will draw this together)
  • Decisions on no detriment and changes to degree assessment protocols will be made by individual universities, with PSRBs where appropriate.
  • We assume that support for students who need to stay on campus for health or personal reasons will continue – there’s nothing specific in the guidance.
  • We assume once again the OfS will pause consultations and other non-essential work and strip back regulatory burdens.

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