By ignoring university students while helping other disadvantaged learners to study online, the government and telecommunications companies risk creating a ‘lost generation’ of young people who are missing out on their education.
- Half of higher education students are digitally disadvantaged
- Many families are at risk of slipping into poverty and cannot afford the data costs required for online study
- Digital and data poverty is the main issue that prevents effective delivery of online learning
- Demand for hardship funding from universities has doubled
The letter (pdf) says:
“While we welcome the government’s action to support college learners through the Get Help With Technology scheme, there has been little or nothing to support higher education (HE) students in the same way.
“Not only is this unfair, but it causes learners distress, harms their wellbeing and creates inequalities, in particular for disadvantaged students.
“It is critical that the 1.8 million university students who are having to learn remotely have equal access to data and devices.
“In universities, many students cannot access their education due to the cost of data, living in shared accommodation (whether at home or in halls), or in rural areas where connectivity is weak.
“Similarly, many parents of students who are above the poverty line are now borderline due to the pandemic and, while they can support their children to remain in education, they cannot afford the additional cost of subsidising their child’s connectivity - especially for those also paying the bill for broadband bills in unused student housing.”
Indicating that around half of HE students are digitally disadvantaged, the letter cites the learning and teaching reimagined research project conducted by Jisc with sector partners, which found that digital and data poverty is the main issue that prevents delivering online learning effectively.
The letter goes on to highlight that, despite the welcome extra government funding to alleviate hardship for HE students, the demands on hardship funding have doubled, putting significant strain on university resources.
In conclusion, the letter, which calls for an ‘urgent’ meeting with government and telecoms companies, says:
“Universities have moved mountains to provide learning and teaching online since the first lockdown and are now much better equipped to deliver a quality curriculum online.
“However, without urgent action to ensure students can get online affordably, the government is risking creating an even deeper and more long-term digital divide in education.
“We urge you to take action now on behalf of all higher education students experiencing digital poverty, or risk creating a lost generation of young people who are missing out on their education.”