Westminster Higher Education Forum

Since lockdown, we have been organising our full programme of conferences online. We will continue online until further notice, to ensure we play our part in helping our employees and delegates to remain safe during this time. We are pleased that so many key stakeholders, policymakers and other interested parties - both old friends and new delegates - are taking up the opportunity to discuss public policy issues and network at our impartial seminars. New events are coming on to our conference programme all the time. So there are plenty of opportunities for you to join us if you haven’t already, from wherever you are. For booking-related queries, or information on speaking, please email us at info@forumsupport.co.uk or contact us using one of the following numbers: +44 (0)7951044809 / +44 (0)7503591880 / +44 (0)7538736244.
For delegates already booked on, we will send you the online joining instructions (including links, event numbers and passwords) five working days before your conference. If you cannot find these in your inbox please email delegate.relations@forumsupport.co.uk

Higher education and the pandemic - teaching, learning and the university experience, student rights and expectations, and managing the impact on the HE sector

Morning, Friday, 26th February 2021

***Full-scale policy conference taking place online***

This conference will assess the way forward for serving the needs and expectations of students during their time at university whilst protecting the interests and financial viability of higher education providers.

The issues have been drawn into sharper focus by the impact of disruption to HE provision stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

This conference will be an opportunity to discuss the developing pressures on HEPs and their students, looking at:

  • the impact of safety measures and arrangements for continuity of course provision that have been put in place
  • what they have meant for student experience, rights, learning and wellbeing
  • what can be learned from how HEPs are responding and adapting provision of teaching and other aspects of the university experience
  • the way forward for universities and the support they might need in the context of significant cost and other pressures including challenges in student recruitment and retention as a result of the pandemic, as well as claims for compensation

The agenda:

  • Current student expectations - insights from the makeup of student complaints in the wake of the pandemic
  • Ensuring high standards whilst allowing for flexibility and reasonable expectations - the university experience, blended learning, communication, complaints processes, assessment, re-takes and deferrals, and calls for refunds
  • Supporting the finances of HEIs and capacity to ensure student satisfaction in exceptional circumstances
  • Tackling misleading advertising amongst HEIs and promoting honest and transparent student recruitment
  • Providing value for money for students in the post-COVID-19 labour market - skills acquired from HE degrees, career guidance and mentorship, and fostering effective co-operation between universities and employers
  • Key sector priorities for supporting student consumer rights post-pandemic

The discussion in detail:


  • the challenge - implications of the pandemic for ensuring fairness for students and higher education institutions alike
  • how HEIs have adapted:
    • adjustments to teaching, learning and assessment provision as well as the wider in-person student experience in light of the pandemic
    • examples of best practice in ensuring high standards of provision during the pandemic
  • complaints against universities:
    • their changing nature during the pandemic, including:
      • remote learning - concerns about its quality and that it has not offered value for money or matched expectations of university learning
      • accommodation - continuing to pay rent that is not used during the pandemic
      • lockdowns - the encouragement to students to attend university in person and then being subject to restrictions putting pressure on learning, mental health and wider wellbeing
    • the response - what can be learned from issues experienced and how they have been addressed, assessing timeliness and processes in university action, and latest thinking on best practice
  • the future - how the experience may inform next steps for regulation, legislation and university practice post-pandemic.

Financial sustainability

  • the challenges - the impact of the pandemic, workforce issues, international and domestic student recruitment pressures, and assertion of student consumer rights with requests for financial compensation from HEIs, on the finances and reputations of some institutions and the sector as a whole 
  • the response - assessing how the sector and individual institutions have dealt with student concerns, the way forward for policy and best practice, how demands for compensation can be addressed, and the practicalities of determining eligibility
  • the Petitions Committee intervention - examining the suggestions put forward for addressing the situation, such as:
    • redress - establishing a system for enabling students to easily seek a full or partial refund of tuition fees or put in place alternative arrangements such as repeating a part of their course
    • advice - ensuring university students understand their consumer rights and ways to seek redress should they feel the quality of education they have received to have been inadequate
    • support - providing additional funding to HEIs to aid them to carry out the suggested tuition fee refunds, or alternative arrangements such as reductions of student loans
  • the capacity for redress - discussing the ability of HEIs to ensure student satisfaction and provide adequate, high-quality provision when under financial strain

Student recruitment

  • fair and transparent student recruitment - the future direction of policy and practice, with the OfS ban on conditional unconditional offers made to avoid destabilising the system
  • tackling misleading advertising -  well as the impact of this on student expectations, experience and perceptions of the value for money received from their degrees

Preparing graduates for the post-COVID-19 labour market

  • skills for future employment - latest thinking on options, strategies and best practice for HEIs in ensuring that courses provide students with the necessary grounding for entering the world of work
  • support - how can careers guidance and mentorship be improved to prepare students and graduates when entering the labour market, particularly in the wake of the pandemic
  • government measures - assessing the likely effectiveness for university students of major policy initiatives from Government such as the Plan for Jobs, as well as and the Kickstart Scheme which will provide work placements for unemployed young people aged 16-24
  • best practice and collaboration with employers - how universities have succeeded in equipping students with skills and support networks for gaining employment after graduation and strategies for increasing collaboration and growing partnerships with businesses and other organisations can play an increased role

A scan of relevant developments:

  • Guidance for providers about student and consumer protection during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic - from the OfS
  • The impact of COVID-19 on university students - the Petitions Committee demanding clarity on students’ consumer rights, with a series of online petitions asking higher education institutions to provide tuition fee refunds in light of strike action and the pandemic
  • UUK statement on tuition fee refunds - Universities UK saying students should not expect refunds, a stance echoed by the Universities Minister in University students and COVID-19 FAQ
  • Concern over the financial sustainability of higher education institutions in light of the pandemic, which has led to Government interventions, such as:
    • Government support package for universities and students  -including business loan support and bringing forward £2.6bn worth of tuition fee repayments
    • Higher education restructuring regime - recent policy aiming to improve efficiency and support the finances of the sector, along with Reducing bureaucratic burden in research, innovation and higher education
  • Regulator bans controversial ‘conditional unconditional’ offers during pandemic - the OfS ban, set to be in place until September 2021
  • Influencers are being paid to promote universities they didn’t attend ­- recent media reports, amid concerns about misleading marketing by some institutions
  • £700,000 refunded in the last two years -  a recent survey suggests that students have been successful in challenging universities over various elements of their courses including the quality of facilities, availability of staff and course accreditation and provision

Policy officials attending:

Our forums are known for attracting strong interest from policymakers and stakeholders.

Overall, we expect speakers and attendees to be a senior and informed group including Members of both Houses of Parliament, senior government and regulatory officials involved in this area of policy, as well as from university and college leaders; academics and other higher education professionals; representatives from students’ unions, student support services, university admissions teams and careers centers; EdTech providers; legal and financial experts; think tanks and research institutes; local authorities; businesses and their advisors; and commentators, advocacy groups and charities; together with reporters from the national and specialist media. 

This is a full-scale conference taking place online***

  • full, four-hour programme including comfort breaks - you’ll also get a full recording to refer back to
  • information-rich discussion involving key policymakers and stakeholders
  • conference materials provided in advance, including speaker biographies
  • speakers presenting via webcam, accompanied by slides if they wish, using the Cisco WebEx professional online conference platform (easy for delegates - we’ll provide full details)
  • opportunities for live delegate questions and comments with all speakers
  • a recording of the addresses, all slides cleared by speakers, and further materials, is made available to all delegates afterwards as a permanent record of the proceedings
  • delegates are able to add their own written comments and articles following the conference, to be distributed to all attendees and more widely
  • networking too - there will be opportunities for delegates to e-meet and interact - we’ll tell you how!

Full information and guidance on how to take part will be sent to delegates before the conference


Rami Labib

Senior Associate, Pinsent Masons LLP

Dr Michelle Morgan

Independent HE Consultant and Elected Council Member, UKCGE

Richard Stagg

Publishing Director, Pearson

Rachel Hewitt

Director of Policy and Advocacy, Higher Education Policy Institute

Salman Haqqi

Senior Personal Finance Writer, money.co.uk