Staffordshire University is offering access to hundreds of laptops to ensure that disadvantaged students and their families don’t get left behind
In these challenging times it is very important that nobody’s education suffers and those who are learning can continue their studies at home. By providing extra computers the University can help more families learn at home together.
Professor Liz Barnes CBE DL, Vice-Chancellor
The impact of digital poverty has been brought into sharp relief during the coronavirus pandemic with many students across the country unable to work remotely.
In September, a survey from the Office for Students (OfS) found that during the first national lockdown 52% of university students said their learning was impacted by slow or unreliable internet connection and 18% were impacted by lack of access to a computer, laptop or tablet.
Staffordshire University’s Digital Services team have made loan laptops available to students, handing out hundreds of computers since March. Following the recent school closures, laptop computers are also being provided to the children of students to support home schooling.
Vice-Chancellor Professor Liz Barnes CBE DL said: “Students at Staffordshire University are disproportionally affected by digital poverty. About 47% of our student body come from disadvantaged backgrounds and more than 50% are mature learners.
“Digital poverty comes in many forms and has varied consequences. Some students do not have adequate access to a laptop and we have heard instances of families having to share a laptop between an adult trying to work and a child needing to continue their schooling at home.
“In these challenging times it is very important that nobody’s education suffers and those who are learning can continue their studies at home. By providing extra computers the University can help more families learn at home together.”
Former Education Secretary and cofounder of the Social Mobility Pledge, Rt Hon Justine Greening, said: "COVID-19 has had a real levelling-down effect on equality of opportunity in Britain. The pandemic has shown very starkly how much the digital divide matters for learning. Some families have plenty of access to digital devices to learn on and plenty of data to access the internet, but many others do not.
"I am pleased to see many organisations, including Staffordshire University, are rising to the challenge and stepping in to help. Closing gaps such as the digital divide are going to be crucial goals to the long-term recovery from COVID and building a fairer, levelled up Britain."
In addition to laptop loans, essential software has been made available by Staffordshire University to students with more than 2,300 Adobe licences supplied since July, giving students home access to software that has traditionally been accessed on campus.
Students have also been given the opportunity to enhance their digital skills and employability through certified online training in Microsoft Office, Adobe, and AutoDesk software.
This range of support aligns with Staffordshire University’s commitment to improve the regional economy and enhance quality of life in local communities. Its recently launched Opportunity Action Plan, part of the Social Mobility Pledge initiative, also aims to increase access to higher education and career opportunities locally.
Professor Barnes, who is also Co-Chair of the Stoke-on-Trent Opportunity Area Board, added: “Coronavirus has highlighted the scale of the digital divide, which is a symptom of wider socio-economic issues faced in areas of deprivation like North Staffordshire.
“The number of people in Stoke-on-Trent who progress onto university is already significantly lower than the national average and so it is incredibly important that we do not let anyone slip through the gaps during the current crisis.
“We will continue to drive forward the digital agenda, boosting digital skills and access to education in the region. In the meantime, we hope that these steps will go some way to helping families during this difficult time.”