A number of edtech companies and universities have sent a letter urging UK government ministers to commit to further funding to support the digitisation of higher education.
On top of calling for the financial support required for universities to improve their digital offerings and support full digital integration, signatories have asked for the government to ensure that the digital tools used across the sector are fit for purpose, and do not compromise UK higher education’s global competitiveness following the remote working revolution.
Authors of the letter span the education, business and technology sectors, including: learning platform BibliU; student accommodation booking platform Housemates; software company Headchannel; note-taking software company NotetakingExpress; student and graduate experience platform VirtualInternships; the South East Digital Skills Partnership; and the University of East London.
Dave Sherwood, CEO of BibliU, commented: “The future of the nation will be determined by the quality of its education. Faculties have been operating under truly exceptional circumstances, and it is only through their diligent action that there has been any education at all.”
The CEO added that the gaps in the nation’s digital learning infrastructure have been exacerbated by the pandemic, which has had a knock-on effect on student outcomes. “By supporting investment in technology designed to facilitate blended learning,” he said, “we can ensure that the UK is on the path to a prosperous future and provides a universal learning experience for all students that is unrestricted by personal background, physical abilities and more.”
“The future of the nation will be determined by the quality of its education” – Dave Sherwood, BibliU
Signatories argue that COVID-19 has exposed the inadequacy of digital resources in higher education, which, they argue, are largely unfit for purpose or non-existent. For example, recent data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that nearly a third of students were concerned about their ability to engage with online learning; while according to the Office for Students (OfS), more than half have been unable to access key online materials required for their programme.
The letter, addressed to secretary of state for education Gavin Williamson, also claims that a lack of sufficient digital resources in UK universities has resulted in the needs of students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) not being met. A recent report by the Association of Non Medical Help Providers, for instance, found that 81% of disabled students had been negatively impacted by changes to their academic work during lockdown, while 73% said they had experienced issues with access to academic resources such as libraries and workshops.
“There are 332,300 students in higher education with a disability,” notes the letter, “which means a significant number will require additional technology to help meet their learning needs in an online or hybrid environment.”
The letter concludes: “COVID-19 placed the UK into a situation of enforced digital learning. We now have an opportunity to modernise our learning practices. We mist make investments now to ensure that we do not hinder our future growth.”