Universities that do not return to face-to-face teaching this coming academic year should not be charging full fees, the education secretary has told Sky News.
Speaking to Kay Burley, Gavin Williamson said: “I think if universities are not delivering what students expect, then actually they shouldn’t be charging the full fees.”
He said the government has made it “clear” that “all universities can move back to face-to-face teaching”.
“That’s what we want to see,” Mr Williamson added.
Pressed on what the government could do if some institutions do not go back to in-person lectures and seminars, the education secretary acknowledged that universities were “autonomous”.
But he stressed: “Our direction is clear and we do expect all universities, unless there’s unprecedented reasons, to be moving back to the situation of actually delivering lessons and lectures face-to-face.”
Mr Williamson said ministers would give the Office for Students – the independent regulator of higher education in England – “all the power and all the backing” in pursuing universities “that aren’t delivering enough for students that are paying their fees”.
The education secretary’s comments come on the day hundreds of thousands of students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland receive their A-level results.
Mr Williamson said employers “can have real confidence” in the grades that will be awarded, with a “rigorous system of grading and awarding” in place.
“People have been awarded this grade on the basis of evidence,” he continued.
“We took a difficult decision, and that decision was children were to be assessed on what they had been taught. We have seen various amounts of disruption around the country and children’s experiences have been different.
“But still, you have a very clear grading system, you still see children who are achieving A*s, As, Bs, Cs, have really achieved so very, very much, and I think employers can have real confidence in the grades that they get. Let’s not forget this is an unprecedented year.”
Mr Williamson said that while the government will consult on a contingency plan “largely based around” teacher-assessed grades for next year, he hopes exams will be able to be held as normal.
He said: “We very much hope that we will be moving to a system of where we are able to move into the more normal pattern of examinations from next year, but always conscious that [in] this pandemic, we have not always been able to predict the course of it, it has continuously changed, and it’s absolutely right that we have contingencies there, as we always do.”
Asked if he was ruling out having to scrap exams once again, the education secretary replied: “We are very much planning to move back to examinations as a form of assessment, but we always have to have a contingency plan in place, and that’s why we will be consulting in the next academic year on those plans.”