A DORSET company which is the UK’s leading supplier of digital textbooks is offering thousands of them for free to university students during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Bournemouth-based Kortext has offered all universities in the UK and Ireland free access to critical content for their 2.7million students.

It says the scheme will give the UK’s 75,000 underprivileged higher education students equal access to texts.

The Free Student eTextbook Programme (FSTP) is a partnership with Microsoft, the not-for-profit student support company Jisc and a host of publishers.

Anthony Salcito, vice-president for education at Microsoft – which supports the initiative through its Azure cloud platform – said: “At this time of campus closures due to the Covid 19 pandemic, the most disadvantaged students are the ones that suffer the most from being unable to access their university library. As such, moving key learning content online through Kortext and supporting an entire sector in this way is directly aligned to Microsoft’s Vision of empowering every student on the planet to achieve more.”

James Gray, chief executive and founder of Kortext, said; “The scale of the FSTP is truly ground-breaking. Only by pulling together as a sector has the programme been made possible and ensured we are able to support all UK students with an unprecedented amount of content on a single, customisable digital bookshelf for free, thus ensuring they can continue to study at this crucial time of year.”

Kortext says the scheme will especially benefit the country’s underprivileged students, who reply heavily upon libraries. Last year saw the highest number of young people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds confirm a place at university or college, accounting for more than a fifth of all places.

The universities of Liverpool and Manchester were among the first to go live with campus-wide access to electronic textbooks.

Jane Cooke, of University of Liverpool Library, said: “Kortext has provided an invaluable service to the HE sector in stepping up with the Free Student eTextbook Programme at this time of uncertainty and rapidly changing circumstances. It has provided us and our university community with extremely useful teaching tools in a very timely fashion.”

The textbook programme includes thousands of titles from publishers including Pearson Education, McGraw Hill, Cengage, Taylor & Francis, Wiley, Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press and SAGE Publishing.