The UK government has approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, and the start of the end of this pandemic is one of the expectations. However, its impact on all spheres of life, including social, medical, and financial, has been dramatic. The Higher Education sector has also experienced that impact, and the providers (Universities and Colleges) have faced many challenges, including the delivery, progression, and meeting the quality and standards.
The industry regulator, Office for Students (OfS) has slimmed down the regulatory requirements and has given some freedom to the providers to minimise the disruptions. It expects the providers to make all ‘reasonable efforts’ to enable students to complete their education. It also expects to assess the learners’ achievements reliably so that the qualifications hold their value, and the providers comply with consumer protection requirements. (OfS, 2020).
While making the said ‘reasonable efforts,’ the providers are expected not to dilute the minimum standards and quality. What these reasonable efforts are, and can they lead to any misunderstandings? Though these reasonable efforts are not prescribed anywhere, the providers need to be transparent in what they do to maintain the teaching quality and reliable assessment. According to OfS (2020), providers are expected to:
- Take steps to ensure that the learners are supported and taught broadly equivalent normal standards;
- Be flexible in the assessments without compromising on the required quality and standards. This flexibility can be in the shape of a reduced number of evaluations, deferred assessments, etc.
- Care about the students with disabilities so that they keep on getting the same level of support as they were getting before the pandemic;
- Communicate clearly and regularly with the students to explain the delivery and assessment.
It can be observed from the above that the regulator focuses more on the providers taking the required steps to support the learners in such a way that the teaching leads to the submissions, which are fit for purpose.
Role of the Providers
The providers are expected to maintain the quality of their courses and the standard of the qualifications for all groups of students they teach and should not take students’ disadvantaged backgrounds as an excuse for poor performance. OfS is focusing on the number of learners who successfully complete their courses and progress either to managerial or professional jobs or to higher studies. (Holland, 2020)
Only quality teaching and stringent assessments can achieve this. Providers are expected to offer all the help to the students, including online teaching, one-to-one virtual sessions, tutorials, timely feedback, reasonable adjustments in case of disabled students, and relaxation in attendance to those who are going through challenging circumstances, etc. This help will reduce the hardship the students face and help them produce the evidence, which meets the required standards for the assessments.
Hey! While doing all this, a provider has to take care of health and safety (especially mental well-being) of its students and staff.
Role of an assessor/teacher
The reasonable efforts to support a student do not mean that while assessing a submission/presentation, an assessor is allowed to accept a work that does not meet the required criteria or has a plagiarism issue. The requirements need to be met, the command verbs need to be answered even if the learner was self-isolating or was under any other kind of distress, whether it was pandemic related or not. Yes, if the situation permits, the assessor has the freedom to follow the required procedure and to defer such an assessment, but in no case, the quality can be compromised.
Another area a teacher can focus on is to guide the learners about the assessments to help the learners. Experience says that some learners are not even aware of their current situation about their learning and expected achievement. A teacher’s role becomes pivotal here, especially so in the given circumstances. They explain the expectations in detail and in such a manner that every student understands is the key here.
Moreover, it does not cost much to be kind to all students. One never knows what they are going through.
These are abnormal times looking for unorthodox efforts. The providers need to care for all the students. While providing all the help, they need to ensure that the quality and standards are maintained, and the teaching and assessments are fit for purpose.
A small effort at the right time and place can make someone’s life. Slight negligence or error can lead to failure/missed career opportunities for the student and a regulatory issue for the provider, proving costly.