Polly Jones, your Vice President Academic Experience
Digital Poverty overview
Back in September, I began my long lobbying campaign for Digital Poverty to be addressed for students at BCU. I wanted to give you a bit of background, highlighting the issues, research, and potential solutions.
Origins of the campaign:
Digital Poverty, often referred to as the ‘Digital Divide’, is one of many issues that has been amplified as a result of the Global Pandemic. It is an issue that disproportionately impacts students from a Black, Asian, or Minority Ethnic background, or those who come from lower income households. The effect of continual Digital Poverty with no relief impacts the success, experience, and ability to carry out education. It is severe and incredibly detrimental to all who suffer from it.
What is Digital Poverty defined as?
The Office for Students has proposed that someone is classed as being in Digital Poverty if they are without access to one or more of the following:
- appropriate hardware and / or software
- reliable access to the internet
- technical support and repair when required
- a trained teacher or instructor
- an appropriate study space.
To give you a base overview of just how many BCU students this effects, in our May 2020 heatmap survey, we received report of:
- 30% of our students have flagged wi-fi speed and wi-fi connection as a prominent issue.
- 43% of our students have flagged a lack of a quiet study space
- 18% of our students have identified their home computer as inadequate for their study needs.
- Furthermore, in our April 2020 survey, 3% of our students flagged that they do not have access to a laptop, computer, and / or wi-fi at home.
- To corroborate and add to these statistics, of our student body, 42% come from the poorest backgrounds in Birmingham.
So students are struggling with Digital Poverty – but the real question I needed to understand was to what extent? What were the causes? Were students still able to engage with their studies?
I relied on university resources, I do not have a laptop or wi-fi at home.
Business School Student
Due to Covid-19 Virgin Media will not come out and I'm having to use phone hotspot to access Moodle etc. Data runs out too quick. I'm behind with online study and I'm finding I'm having to do bits and bobs sometimes in my car to lock onto McDonalds Wi-Fi in the carpark.
School of Nursing & Midwifery Student
These two scenarios perfectly illustrate the issues students are facing, and how Digital Poverty can impact learning.
Having then carried out further research into statistics of Digital Poverty to support my campaign, I developed six key solutions to ensure Digital Poverty does not impact on students’ academic achievements more than it already has.
My proposed key solutions are:
- Changing the Hardship Fund criteria to support with laptop repairs or support.
- Creating a fund that would offer students financial support towards the minimum standard computer required to run the software for their course.
- Offering laptop loans for 3/6/12 months that students can remove from university premises and is insured.
- Implementation of use of desktop-as-a-service to enable students to ‘virtually’ use software that would otherwise not run on their own laptop.
- Wi-fi support / wi-fi dongle fund – to support those with little or no access to the internet from home.
- Priority campus access for a study space and use of equipment to alleviate Digital Poverty as much as possible until these other solutions are implemented.
From these solutions, I began lobbying the University to ensure these students were considered. We entered key conversations, that shaped changes and decisions as a direct result of this campaign.