College leaders and staff have slammed phone company Vodafone for excluding college students from their free connectivity initiative.
Yesterday, Vodafone announced that it would be giving 250,000 pupils who find it difficult to access education from home SIMs with 30GB of data for free.
In a statement, Nick Jeffery, chief executive of Vodafone UK, said: “Our focus throughout this crisis has been keeping the UK connected. We know many hundreds of thousands of children in the UK can’t access education from home because they don’t have the right connectivity – this means children already at a disadvantage could fall further behind.
“We want to help and so have created this emergency support package for 250,000 children and young people. We encourage schools to apply to the Vodafone schools.connected programme as soon as possible. Together, we can ensure no child is left behind.”
However, the exclusion of college students has been met with disappointment from the further education sector.
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The Association of Colleges chief executive David Hughes tweeted: “OMG how many times do we need to say #andcolleges? Come on @VodafoneUK do the right thing please”.
Phil Sayles, principal of Selby College, said: “Every time a company doesn't think to include our 2.2m students. Every time media outlets leave college students confused as to whether the news applies to them. Every time any organisation forgets 200+ vital institutions. Until they remember #andcolleges.”
Such a shame @VodafoneUK hasn’t included young people studying in colleges in this campaign 😢, particularly as we serve a higher proportion of disadvantaged students aged 16-18 @AoC_info @AoCDavidH pic.twitter.com/FNHo9L19Ug— Karen Spencer MBE (@KarenPrincipal) November 19, 2020
Really disappointed in @VodafoneUK - our recent survey of colleges indicates huge numbers of college students suffering from digital poverty and unable to properly engage with online learning #andcolleges https://t.co/GOJtYdgO5U pic.twitter.com/GEL1tfJw4H— Marguerite Hogg (@MargueriteHogg) November 20, 2020
I'm sure @VodafoneUK & CEO Nick Jeffery haven't deliberately decided to discriminate against some of the most disadvantaged young people by excluding colleges from their generous data scheme for schools, so I assume this will be fixed tomorrow?— Ian Pryce CBE (@ipryce) November 19, 2020
Last week, the AoC 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.
This is not the first time that the college sector has been left out of free giveaways – just last month, supermarket Morrisons caused uproar when the supermarket chain excluded college staff from a 10 per cent teacher discount. The supermarket quickly U-turned on this decision.
Vodafone has been contacted for comment.