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Third of students unable to access online learning during lockdown – survey

One in three university students were unable to access online learning during the Covid-19 lockdown, according to new research which suggests that disabled students and those from poorer backgrounds were worst affected.

The survey, which was carried out in July by the National Union of Students (NUS), found that disruptions to studies arose from a lack of IT equipment and software, insufficient course materials, and poor internet connections.

Of the 4,178 respondents, 18% said they lacked the support necessary to deal with Covid-19, such as counselling or financial help. Disabled students and those with caring responsibilities were more likely to have not received this support. The survey called for more help with students’ mental health and wellbeing, as well as more targeted, personalised teaching.

Among the students who have struggled with the shift to online learning is Aqsa Rabbani, a third-year midwifery student at Middlesex University. “I found remote learning quite hard,” she said. “I feel like there was a lack of communication from the university and there wasn’t much support online. My classmates would often have technical difficulties and it was hard to get used to. The government could have supplied more grants or reduced fees this year, especially for healthcare students like myself who have been working on placement throughout coronavirus.”

The NUS figures come after a similar poll published last week by the Office for Students (OfS), which highlighted the impact of digital poverty on students. Over half of respondents said they lacked access to online course materials during the pandemic.

Michael Barber, chair of the Office for Students, said: “These findings chime with our own research which shows that a significant number of students were impacted by digital poverty during lockdown. Since the beginning of the pandemic, universities have been working hard to deliver high-quality education in extremely difficult circumstances. But as the new term starts, universities must ensure their digital offering is accessible for all and that no students are left behind, particularly the most disadvantaged.”

Last week, Barber announced a review of digital teaching and learning in English higher education to address the problem. “We want to know about what worked during the pandemic, what didn’t, and opportunities for the future. We cannot risk students being left behind in the rush for online innovation,” he said.

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, NUS vice president for higher education, said: “It’s evident from our research that the demand for academic support by students is going to go up even more than we’ve already seen during the pandemic, with many already turning to their students’ unions which have also been hit hard financially by Covid-19.”

As a new term begins this month, over half (56%) of the students surveyed by the NUS also said they were concerned about contracting the virus on university campuses.

In a recent interview with the Guardian, NUS president Larissa Kennedy said she was worried about a lack of consistency in universities’ safety measures. “[Universities are] committing to in-person teaching, which they haven’t necessarily thought through from a safety perspective because they’re in competition with other institutions,” she said. “Immunocompromised students and disabled students are once again being erased from the conversation, and of course their staff counterparts.”

Read the original article at The Guardian

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