Education secretary asks watchdog to exert ‘pressure’ on universities to return to in-person teaching

Gavin Williamson believes institutions that offer only online options should not charge students full fees

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Education secretary Gavin Williamson has claimed universities that offer only remote teaching should not charge students full fees.

Some universities have suggested they would continue offering online lessons when teaching resumes this autumn, despite ministers giving them the “green light” to return to normal.

Thousands of students received A-Level results this week, and are making decisions about where to accept university places. This year’s grades have been teacher-assessed after exams were cancelled as a result of the pandemic, and are expected to be higher than previous yearly averages. 

Several top universities, including University College London, the London School of Economics and Leeds have already confirmed online lectures would continue, while others, including Glasgow and Manchester said they would offered “blended learning”.

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But Williamson said the government had been “clear” with universities that they should return to face-to-face teaching or offer students a reduction in their fees.

“I think if universities are not delivering what students expect, then actually they shouldn’t be charging the full fees,” he told Sky News.  “Our direction is clear and we do expect all universities, unless there’s unprecedented reasons, to be moving back to the situation of actually delivering lessons and lectures face-to-face.”

The education secretary said he had asked the universities regulator to put as “much pressure” on them as possible to scrap online teaching.

“We have been absolutely clear with universities that it is absolutely safe and okay to do face-to-face teaching whether that’s tutorials or lectures,” he told the BBC. “I want to see that happen in universities. I don’t have as many direct powers over universities as we do over schools but the Office for Universities, which is the regulator, is clear that we want to have high-quality teaching.

“For me, an element of high-quality teaching is about being in the lecture theatre, being with your peers, socialising and the discussion that goes on there. Of course, we have all discovered we can do so much of this on Teams and Zoom but there is nothing like being there in person. So, I do want to see that return and I’ll be asking the regulator to put as much pressure [as it can] on universities to bring back full face-to-face teaching.”


Sam Trendall

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