The report – based on a review of digital teaching and learning led by Sir Michael Barber and commissioned by the Secretary of State for Education – recommends that the higher education sector develop systemic and long-term solutions to address digital poverty effectively.

Gravity assist: Propelling higher education towards a brighter future recommends the following six actions that every university or college leader should consider ahead of 2021/22:

  • Assess students’ digital access on a one-to-one basis and address issues before learning is lost.
  • Inform students what digital skills they will need.
  • Involve students in designing teaching and learning.
  • Equip staff with the right skills and resources.
  • Make the digital environment safe for all students.
  • Plan how you will seize the opportunity for the longer-term.

Dr Omar Khan, Director of TASO said:  

“Covid-19 has rapidly pushed digital teaching and learning into the spotlight. While the shift to online learning must be applauded, it has unearthed underlying inequalities that could be exacerbated if not addressed.

“The digital divide between students is real. The report highlights that around 30 per cent of students don’t have good enough internet access, or adequate study space. We know this is particularly true for disadvantaged or underrepresented students, who already face existing barriers to success.                                                                                                                                                                                                                “A concern is that the pandemic has, or will, further widen the education attainment gap that already exists between disadvantaged learners and their peers. That’s why TASO is running a research project to investigate the best way of structuring courses to minimise equality gaps when pure face-to-face learning is not possible.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        The OfS report proposes a definition of digital access which combines the essential things all students need to benefit fully from digital teaching, such as appropriate hardware/software, robust technical infrastructure, and reliable access to the internet. The review involved 52 interviews with digital teaching and learning experts and higher education professionals from around the world, 145 responses from its call for evidence and survey results from 1,285 students and 567 teachers.