Quarter of UK students ‘unable to properly access online learning’

Latest NUS survey finds satisfaction with digital learning provision has decreased since beginning of lockdown

September 8, 2020
Source: iStock

One in four UK students do not feel they have the right access to online learning to complete their studies, according to a survey.

The survey of nearly 4,200 students, carried out by the National Union of Students in July, found that two-thirds of respondents agreed that they were able to access online learning satisfactorily, such as being able to access the necessary equipment, while studying.

This was a decrease from an earlier NUS survey of students in March, at the beginning of the coronavirus lockdown, when 78 per cent of students agreed with that statement. In the latest survey, 27 per cent of students either disagreed, or neither agreed nor disagreed.

Most students who said they did not feel that they had what was needed to complete their studies online said it was because of being unable to access appropriate equipment or study space or not being able to access physical resources, such as library books.

Others also cited insufficient contact with lecturers, absent or poor wi-fi, and having no or limited online lectures.

The survey also showed that students’ belief that they are receiving good quality online teaching has wavered: just over half – 55 per cent – of the respondents to the July survey agreed that online provision was of a good standard, compared with 65 per cent of respondents to the March survey.

The July survey found that students who had been assessed since the pandemic began were mostly – 69 per cent – happy with the way it had been carried out and two in three students said that they got the marks they expected to get in those assessments.

The survey also showed that, of those who receive learning support, 19 per cent did not feel that they had received adequate support to enable them to continue their work to the best of their ability.

The majority of students – 68 per cent – agreed or strongly agreed that their institution had kept them up to date with the latest news and developments, with only 14 per cent disagreeing or strongly disagreeing.

However, only half of the students surveyed felt that they had received “helpful support” from their institution.

It showed that 46 per cent of students said they had received clear information about how to continue their studies remotely, compared with 19 per cent who said that they had not.

Students on Tier 4 international visas also did not seem to agree that they had received much news about their visas: only 38 per cent agreed with the statement “I have received information in relation to my Tier 4 visa”.

The survey found that four in five students intend to start or continue their studies as planned when their courses open. Only 4 per cent say that they will defer their studies and only 2 per cent say they no longer plan on studying.

The main concern for students about returning to their university studies was the lack of experiences they will have, while the second biggest concern was quality of online teaching and learning.

Larissa Kennedy, the NUS president, said it was “unacceptable” that so many students have been unable to engage with their learning during this pandemic.

“These figures must act as a wake-up call to the government and the entire education sector so that all students have the resources they need for their learning before the start of next term. Students who have not been able to receive the teaching that they were entitled to last term must be given the option to redo the term, or have their fees written off or reimbursed,” she said.

“Coronavirus has entrenched the disadvantages that students of colour, disabled students and working-class students experience, and this should be of concern to all of us. If we are to ensure that education is accessible for all we must eradicate injustice as quickly as we can, such as by providing students with the resources and technology that they need to learn.”


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Reader's comments (1)

The link heading is slightly misleading. It's not simply Internet issues. There are environmental matters, too. If, in the event, young people are predominantly required to learn at home, there will be a multitude of young people in flats and homes where it is not conducive for study - and public libraries have very short opening hours at the moment. The basic context is true, however: CoVID will exacerbate existing inequalities and HEIs should consider deeply how these inequalities can be ameliorated. That's not to contradict the UCU preference for non-return to campus, but to request some adequate response to the problems for a sector of the young people.