Students must be warned of programmes delivered online, says the OfS

Nicola Dandridge has called for “absolute clarity” on how courses will be taught ahead of students submitting their choices in June

Prospective students looking to apply to university must be aware of how programmes will be delivered with “absolute clarity”, says the Office for Students (OfS), and must be informed ahead of submitting their study choices next month.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the OfS, has stressed the danger of education providers penning misleading promises about a “campus experience”, with education sites remaining closed since the COVID-19 lockdown was enforced at the end of March.

Despite the prospect of courses being taught remotely, UK universities have said students will still have to pay the full cost for tuition, after the higher education (HE) sector’s request for a £2bn bail out was rejected.

“We don’t believe students will be entitled to reimbursement if the quality is there,” said universities minister, Michelle Donelan.

But students across the UK are outraged by the decision, with Jake, an accountancy student from Leeds, telling the BBC that the unfairness of being charged full fees for being taught online made him want to drop out.

“There has clearly been no consideration of students with this decision,” he said. “I pay tuition fees to go to my university in person, to be taught at my university in person, to access the facilities of the university – libraries, societies, sports facilities – in person,” he added.

“Expecting students to pay full fees for a service they aren’t receiving is frankly insulting.”

Addressing MPs on the education select committee, Ms Dandridge emphasised clarity as the most important aspect universities must consider as students gear up to accept university offers for a place this Autumn.

“What we don’t want to see are promises that it’s all going to be back to usual – an on-campus experience – when it turns out that’s not the case,” said Dandridge.

In related news: Remote learning could end next month as government deems schools safe to reopen

The OfS has requested that information be presented to students in advance of them confirming their firm choice in June – and “certainly before” the clearing process that follows students receiving their A-Level results in August, the BBC reported.

Should universities alter their plans after students have confirmed their decision, the OfS says HE providers should discharge students from contractual obligations and permit them to “change their minds”.

While applicants wait to find out whether programmes will be offered virtually, on-campus or through a mix of both, as well as whether they will be allowed to reside on-campus and whether they will have to adhere to social distancing restrictions, the OfS continues to stress that it’s imperative students know “what they are getting”.

A spokeswoman for Universities UK told the BBC that universities were “already preparing for a range of scenarios – including periods of online study in the academic year 2020-21”.

“Institutions will be communicating their plans to prospective and current students in the weeks ahead.”

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