Jisc identifies digital divide among university students

Written by Gill Hitchcock on 10 September 2021 in News
News

Survey finds poor connectivity and costs of mobile data hamper online learning

Credit: PA Images

A survey has uncovered a deep digital divide among university students, with 63% of students encountering problems with poor wi-fi connections, 30% having problems accessing online platforms and services, and 24% struggling to pay mobile data charges.

Students from black African and Caribbean backgrounds were more likely to say they had no access to a suitable computer or device, according to Jisc’s survey of the digital experience of 38,917 university students in 2020/21.

Jisc, the official body which provides digital support to the UK’s universities and research bodies, says the results show the continuing importance of collaboration between higher education, government, and industry to break down the digital divide and provide high-quality learning to all students.

Liam Earney, managing director for higher education at Jisc, said: “Technology plays a key role in the government’s ‘levelling up' agenda, which aims to improve opportunity and boost livelihoods across the country as we recover from the pandemic.

“A positive collaboration between education, telecommunications, and government is crucial so that no one is digitally excluded as the sector heads towards a blended and flexible future.”

With the need for digital skills accelerating dramatically as a result of the pandemic, for learning and future employment, Jisc also found that many students need better support with digital skills.

Just over half of students (51%) agreed they received support for learning online or away from campus. Meanwhile, 41% had guidance about the digital skills needed for their course, and only 26% had an assessment of their digital skills and training needs. Only 9% reported they did not need any support at all.

In addition, only 33% of students felt their concerns were being heard, and 35% agreed they were given the chance to be involved in decisions about online learning.

More positively, the survey commended staff for making an “inspiring start” at the beginning of 2020 by transitioning to teaching online and working hard to provide students with the best learning experience possible.

Jisc says their hard work paid off. Sixty-seven per cent of students rated the overall quality of online and digital learning highly, from "good" through to "best imaginable". In addition, 68% felt their online learning environment was safe and secure, and more than half (53%) felt online learning materials were well designed.

Earney added: “It’s my hope that, as the dust begins to settle, universities take stock. Now is the time to learn from our experiences of what worked and what didn’t and give all students the best technologically enhanced university experience possible."

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