Tackling the Digital Divide with Free Laptops

19 February 2021

Student engagement with digital learning at University Centre Rotherham (part of RNN Group alongside Rotherham College, North Notts College and Dearne Valley College) has been boosted by the University providing hundreds of free laptops to its students.

The laptops were funded by UCR to help provide students access to online learning throughout the pandemic.

To date, the Group has distributed 592 laptops alongside 200 sim cards with hotspots to ensure those who don’t have access to Wi-Fi can access the internet. Staff are also in constant communication with tutors to ensure the needs of all learners experiencing digital poverty are addressed.

RNN Group Head of Quality and Learner Experience Rebecca Blackburn says throughout the pandemic the Group has worked extremely hard to ensure all students are able to access blended and fully remote, online learning.

“Last summer we took proactive steps to make an investment and support those in digital poverty. We placed an order for 600 laptops via Dell (one of our partners); it was a bit of a risk as we weren’t sure at that time exactly how many students needed a laptop, but we wanted to be able to provide equipment quickly and at the time there was delay in supply because demand was so great.”

Rebecca continued: “To succeed at blended learning – and more recently for many students, completing fully remote online learning – we have to make sure that all students have access to the right resources to be able to participate in and complete work that meets the needs of their course. That might involve Google Meets, webinars, videoing assessments and writing assignments, but if a student doesn’t have access to the right equipment to be able do those things, it can put them at a disadvantage. We strongly believe that every student should be able to access a high-quality education regardless of their situation.”

The initiative has had a huge impact on students who were previously struggling to access learning and engage in blended delivery activities, such as UCR Professional Practice in Health and Social Care student Faith Jacobs. She says receiving the laptop has made learning much easier.

Faith said: “I was really struggling; it was so difficult trying to look at PowerPoint and be on video call as part of the class. Using a laptop is really beneficial to me because I’m Dyslexic and I learn visually, through imagery and through colour.

“If there are any students who don’t have a laptop it’s definitely worth checking if they are eligible to get one. It has helped me so much and it is a really good quality laptop and has a decent size screen too.”

As well as ensuring all students have access to their course learning materials the laptops are also an important step to ensuring that students are developing much needed digital skills.

Rebecca says: “The impact COVID-19 has had on businesses is huge. Their response to pandemic has seen a major shift towards higher-level digital skills and knowledge and as result, this is something we need to prepare our learners to respond to. Many organisations have accelerated processes towards automation and it’s reported that 50% of the entire workforce will need reskilling by 2025. We were fortunate as a Group that we could respond quickly and had a good foundation of digital skills across the Group already being developed.”

If you are a student that needs a laptop or access to Wi-Fi please contact your Tutor.


Can you help support our students?

We are always looking to work with companies who can help students expand their digital skill sets, please get in touch with Rebecca Blackburn at if you would like to discuss how you can support.


Are you a parent or adult looking to upskill?

For those aged 19 or over who need help with developing their skills to help them apply for new jobs or change careers, don’t forget, Rotherham College has a range of Employability courses – many of which are completely free – to help you get where you need to be.


Find out more about the full range of support available to students.

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