he Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a chaotic start for 2020’s UK Higher Education (HE) intake. The formula used to predict student grades following the cancellation

of final exams like A levels and then the U-turn on predicted grades have led to many UK students missing out on their preferred university choices. Their situation is compounded because the options of taking a gap year or undertaking paid work to build up savings ahead of university are blocked by essential-travel-only restrictions to many countries and limitations on job opportunities as unemployment rises and a recession begins to bite. While the majority of the elite universities will have filled their places by the time term starts, the clearing process still offers quality HE courses and is certainly a worthwhile avenue to explore.

GAINING A UNIVERSITY PLACE University staff are primarily working remotely in team communities, with professional service and academic staff members responding to calls and emails from those seeking a university place. Prospective students and their concerned family members can rest assured that all universities taking part in clearing are seeking to fill places on their courses. The university community is adopting a responsible approach to prospective new student communication to help ensure the choices they make are best for their own position. In these exceptional times, many HE institutions are also opening the doors a little more widely, taking a compassionate approach to grades awarded. Despite the unprecedented array of uncertainties

about how things will progress over the coming weeks given the extraordinary events currently taking place, HE institutions have robust plans in place for tuition delivery. For example, buildings have been made Covid- secure over the summer vacation period with one-way systems, signage, screens, hand-sanitiser stations and adaptation of classroom and public spaces for socially distanced learning. Large lectures will be delivered online, not in lecture halls.

REMOTE SOLUTIONS Many universities are also planning for remote teaching for subjects that can be delivered fully online, leaving socially distanced space for the delivery of subjects that require physical presence for tuition in small groups (such as laboratory-based work). For the remote-delivery subjects, tuition can be supplemented with experience days on campus, Covid rules permitting. Such events might be used for skills training for example, where small groups of students will meet and work with fellow students and their tutors in person. For universities based in city locations (such as

central London) in particular, where the necessity of taking public transport to the site presents a significant problem to accessing Covid-secure tuition delivery, these will adopt a remote delivery approach to ensure as far as possible student and staff safety. In such instances, technology will be used to facilitate student-tutor and student-student discussion and group working to enhance the student experience. Asynchronous online lecture delivery and discussion-board exercises will be supported with synchronous live interactions using technology such as Microsoft Teams. Choosing a university and a specific course will


require potential students to consider their willingness to undertake remote teaching if their chosen institution is, for example, in a central city-based location or if the subject materials are more conducive to online dissemination. International students may even begin their courses of study working remotely from abroad. This raises the issue of digital accessibility.

DIGITAL ACCESSIBILITY New regulations on the accessibility of websites and mobile applications of public sector bodies came into force in the UK in September 2018. By September 2020, when the new term begins, all UK universities will need to ensure compliance across public-facing websites. This includes the digital platforms used to deliver remote teaching. Documents must have accessible content and audio/video resources captioning. While accessibility and inclusivity are different

concepts, there is a very strong connection between them. Inclusive teaching design takes into account, from the outset, the need to make learning experiences readily useful for as wide a range of individuals as possible. In contrast, accessibility is more specifically about making special arrangements for people with a disability. Being digitally accessible should have the same priority as physical accessibility. Lecturers are reworking and reformatting their

teaching materials for the next academic year and are approaching design in both an accessible and an inclusive manner. For example, text files can be made available in mp3 format – essential for someone with sight impairment – while the availability of the audio option will also help students with a preference, for other reasons, to learn through listening rather than reading. Being inclusive is a key strategic priority for

universities. The delivery of an inclusive and accessible education is also a moral imperative for all compassionate, responsible and progressive HE institutions. This leads us to consider support for minorities and how this is being addressed in the HE sector – both in respect of addressing the ethnicity attainment gap and curriculum de-colonialisation.

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