Vodafone's schools.connected free SIM card programme is now open to further education colleges, the company has announced.
The scheme was launched earlier this month with the aim of giving 250,000 pupils who find it difficult to access education from home SIMs with 30GB of data for free. At that time, college leaders slammed Vodafone for excluding FE students, many of them among the most deprived, from the scheme.
Today, the business announced it was extending the initiative to reach an additional 100,000 children and young people – and it was now open to further education colleges to provide connectivity to disadvantaged 16- to 18-year-olds.
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Nick Jeffery, chief executive of Vodafone UK, said: “We were stunned with the positive response to our schools.connected programme and the immediate demand for SIMs from schools in every corner of the UK.
"This only serves to highlight the scale of the issue and the vital need to provide connectivity to enable disadvantaged students to access school work from home, catch up on lost learning during school holidays and continue with their education if they are required to isolate. We recognise we can’t solve this problem alone but we are doing what we can and I’m delighted we’ve been able to extend this offer to reach an additional 100,000 children and young people.”
Lisa O’Loughlin, chair of Greater Manchester Colleges’ Group and principal of the Manchester College said: “We are delighted this generous offer from Vodafone has now been extended to include further education colleges. Across Greater Manchester, the 9 FE colleges work in every borough with many of our most digitally excluded young people who lack the necessary connectivity or equipment to study at home.
"The Greater Manchester Colleges’ Group is collectively working on a blended learning project to ensure all its learners benefit fully from online learning, and the support of this initiative will make a significant contribution to their education and future life chances.”
A few weeks ago, the Association of Colleges published research that found around 100,000 students do not have a suitable device to use for their studies or access to the internet.
In the summer, colleges were excluded from the government's funding for laptops for under-16s, and instead were told to use their bursary funds and apply for extra funding if required.
However, an exclusive Tes investigation in August found that 16 colleges asked for extra hardship funding from the DfE. In total, £886,847 was requested – however, only £413,303 was awarded, 54 per cent less than needed.