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COVID-19: Support for higher education providers

Date: March 16 - 2020

It’s rapidly becoming axiomatic that the COVID-19 outbreak is the most significant challenge we’ve faced in at least a generation. The advice from the Government and health officials is fast-moving, and it’s difficult for leaders in the higher education sector to balance that advice with the needs and concerns of our students, our staff and our wider communities.

A growing number of institutions are cancelling face-to-face activity and moving to an exclusively online provision. QAA is working hard to establish guidance and best practice models to ensure that quality, standards and student outcomes can be maintained through this challenging period.

We have published QAA Member guidance for providers with TNE provision. This was written last month, when the Chinese lockdown began; it had China very much in mind. Since then, of course, many countries have closed educational facilities from nursery school through to university, and the implications for UK HE are evolving steadily.

What is clear is that in the short term we need to work hard to ensure that our students and colleagues are given good advice, and supported to remain safe and well. Where provision moves online, we will need to ensure that outcomes don’t suffer. Institutions will all have regulations and contingencies to cover the eventuality of students missing teaching or assessment through illness; that pathway is well developed and understood. Significant reductions in staff numbers may pose more of a challenge, and moving the mode of teaching to a virtual environment on a wholesale basis provides fresh challenges again.

QAA has pulled together a task group to look at these issues. Over the coming days we will be working closely with student bodies, regulators, funding bodies, and sector-wide organisations throughout the UK. We will provide advice about ongoing and scheduled review processes, as well as guidance on maintaining quality and standards in the coming weeks and months.

Over a slightly longer horizon, we will be looking to produce guidance on the foreseeable impacts of this health crisis on next academic year, and future years. Among other things, we will look at the implications for assessment, progression and graduation; the quality implications of teaching larger cohorts if some of those issues can’t be resolved; the differential approaches between classroom-based and laboratory-based courses. We will also support institutions’ engagement with students, to ensure that enhancement of quality and standards remains a collaborative endeavour.

This guidance will be publicly available – in light of the exceptional nature of these challenges, we are committed to supporting the entire sector, not simply our membership. Our current aim is to publish something as soon as possible, with the first release likely to be early in the week beginning 23 March.

Further information for Access to HE providers, students and Access Validating Agencies is available on our Access to HE website.

Vicki Stott, Executive Director of Operations and Deputy CEO, QAA