During the first lockdown in March, 1 in 5 Middlesex students reported having unreliable internet or limited access to mobile data to allow them to successfully study online and, according to the Office for Students, 18% of students in the UK had their ability to study affected by lack of access to the internet during the first term of the academic year.
This is why we are calling on mobile phone and internet providers to work with the Government to extend the offer of free data and unlimited broadband announced yesterday for children at schools and colleges across the UK to students across Further and Higher Education . We believe that this is an important step to address the digital divide that will contribute to worsening social mobility in the UK.
Today, your Student Officers have written to the CEOs of BT, EE, Three and Vodaphone, four of the UK’s largest mobile phone and internet providers, along with Michelle Donelan MP, Minister of State for Universities, to outline why this support is so urgently required for students across all levels of education.
Read the letter in full below and show your support by signing our petition calling on the Government to provide this much needed support for students across the UK.
Dear Mr Finnegan, Mr Read, Mr Jansen and Mr Allera
We were really pleased to see yesterday that you have partnered with the Department for Education to provide free data and unlimited broadband to school children who are learning from home whilst their schools are shut. We believe that this is a very impressive gesture and will make a real difference in tackling the digital divide which risks to make social mobility in the UK worse. It really does show that by working together in partnership the UK can get through this crisis, and could even come out of it a more cohesive and indeed, a more digital country.
It is in that spirit of working together that we are writing to ask that you work with the Department for Education to extend that offer to students in Higher and Further Education who are also now being forced to learn from home and where digital poverty poses an equally severe threat to the ability to learn.
We are writing to you on behalf of the 20,000 students of Middlesex University, and as part of the wider UK student community which they are a part of.
Students are currently being hit by the triple whammy of still needing to pay rent and fees, not being able to work part time and reduced access to hardship funds due to increased demand. These factors further exacerbate the pre-existing attainment gap between disadvantaged and their advantaged counterparts in Higher and Further Education.
Whilst universities have done whatever they can to provide hardship funds, access to laptops and software free of charge there is still a gap between what is required and what is available. Ultimately as with schools this is too big an issue for universities to fix on their own which is why a national partnership is required.
As a result of this many of students simply cannot afford the data and broadband which is now required in order to keep up with their studies.
As four high tech, innovative and UK based companies that have demonstrated a commitment to education you are uniquely positioned to tackle the digital divide that this third lockdown is exacerbating.
According to research by the Office For Students, across the UK in the first term 18% of students had their ability to study affected by a lack of access to the internet, a figure which is higher for students with disabilities, students who are the first in their family to attend university, student parents and students of colour. These are groups which are particularly well represented at Middlesex University, with 53% of our students having been eligible for free school meals, which is why this a particularly acute issue for us.
It is particularly worrying that this third lockdown will disproportionately affect students of colour. Research by UUK shows that they were already 13% less likely to receive a first or a two one before Covid- 19 and are disproportionately likely to have either had Covid- 19 or to have suffered a bereavement because of it.
We would ask that you approach DFE regarding Higher and Further Education to make sure that access to the internet is not a barrier to learning in colleges and universities, as you have done in schools. We will also be writing to the Department for Education to outline why digital support for students is urgently required and would be obliged if you would do the same.
We look forward to hearing your response. Yours Sincerely,
Gagandeep Kaur (MDXSU President)
Tahmina Choudhery (MDXSU Vice President)
Khalid Abumaye (MDXSU Vice President)
Nishtha Relan (MDXSU Vice President)