Education in the UK has been severely disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. When the pandemic hit, higher education providers (HEPs) were forced to deliver their content online with minimal time to prepare.

A concern is that the pandemic has, or will, further widen the educational attainment gap that already exists between disadvantaged learners and their peers. This project seeks to investigate what is the best way of structuring HE courses to minimise equality gaps when pure face-to-face learning is not possible.

For the 2020/21 academic year, HE providers have had more time to plan for a blended approach to teaching, including both online and face-to-face elements. Due to this planning time, there is likely considerable variation across faculties and providers, more so than during the immediate response to the pandemic.

We are interested in the response of different providers, and different courses, to the pandemic – the technological choices they’ve made, the way that they’ve adapted their examinations, and the extent to which they have made use of synchronous (live) vs asynchronous (non-live) learning.

What are we doing?

  • We will focus on specific courses for each HEP (as decided by the provider), to have courses that have at least 50 students with at least 20% disadvantaged students.
  • HEPs will provide us with anonymised (non-live) course-level student data for multiple years, up to and including the current year. This will include attainment and retention data for students.
  • A ‘no detriment’ policy has been applied across most providers this year, meaning that students’ grades cannot fall below their average as a result of disruption to their students due to the pandemic. This will potentially mask any attainment gaps and therefore we will ask to obtain raw unadjusted data where possible.
  •  We will also collect detailed information on delivery mode during the pandemic including the platform used, the use of synchronous (live) and asynchronous (non-live) delivery, and the use of online and face-to-face delivery.
  • Having collected these data, we will categorise different sorts of teaching choices to create a series of ‘treatment’ groups that share similar characteristics.
  •  Members of each group will then be matched with members of other groups based on the prior trends in outcomes for both groups, and the trend in the widening participation (WP)/non-WP attainment gap.
  • Once this matching is complete, we will seek to analyse the data using a difference-in-differences approach in which the change in the attainment of students is compared over time.

Download the research protocol for TASO’s teaching and learning project.