UCU: No one should be left behind by digital poverty

The union is calling on the education secretary to match the commitment on digital support he made to schools today
6th January 2021, 3:43pm
Kate Parker

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UCU: No one should be left behind by digital poverty

https://www.tes.com/magazine/news/general/ucu-no-one-should-be-left-behind-digital-poverty
Coronavirus: The Ucu Is Calling For Support For College Students In Digital Poverty

The government must step up to ensure that post-16 students can access remote learning during lockdown, the University and College Union (UCU) has said. 

In the House of Commons today, education secretary Gavin Williamson told MPs that measures would be put in place so disadvantaged school students could continue to learn off-site, including providing laptops and internet data. He did not specify how FE students would be supported.

Mr Williamson told Parliament that the government was setting up a partnership with mobile networks to increase data allowances on mobile devices to support disadvantaged students. 


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However, the Department for Education told Tes that college students were currently not eligible for the scheme - but it would be extended out to 16- to 18-year-olds in the spring term.

Coronavirus: Call for more support for disadvantaged college students

It added that colleges could use their 16-19 bursary funding to support students with devices and connectivity - and that colleges and other FE institutions will be invited to order laptops and tables to provide further support. 

In November, exclusive Tes data showed that colleges in England were estimating a £2 million overspend on 16-19 bursary funding, with 36 per cent of the total 16-19 bursary funding pot having already been spent or allocated by 20 October 2020. 

And Tes data published in August last year showed that during the first lockdown, less than half of applications by colleges for hardship funding for digital poverty were successful - £886,847 was requested and £413,303 was rewarded. 

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: "The government urgently needs to increase its support for students in post-16 education so that everyone is able to learn remotely. The last lockdown hit the least affluent hardest, with too many students unable to learn online due to the digital divide. After failing so miserably to support students last year, ministers now need to make sure no student is left behind. 

"Staff in colleges, prisons, universities and adult education have worked tirelessly to support their students throughout this pandemic. The least the government can do is match this commitment by providing all students with the tools they need to learn remotely. Unfortunately, from free school meals to exam results, this looks like a government that has to be shamed into doing anything to help those who struggle the most."

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