Image Credit: University Fees used under Creative Commons courtesy of Raisin.co.uk

Over 320,000 University Students have signed an online petition calling for their fees to be reimbursed in light of the closure of Universities and the switch to online learning amidst the #Coronvirus pandemic.

Their case, quite simply, is this:

"All students should be reimbursed of this years tuition fees as universities are now online only due to COVID-19, with only powerpoints online for learning materials which is not worthy of up to £9,250. Furthermore, all assessments are being reconsidered to ‘make do’ and build up credits."

It's very easy to understand the frustration of these students, whose personal expense is high despite a very much disrupted year of education. On top of the university fees themselves, there's the cost of accommodation students have often pre-paid. Even those who have not prepaid are likely stuck in contracts for property they simply do not need.

There have been widespread complaints about the quality of the online learning materials provided too.

So should students be reimbursed? Let's look at the pros and cons.

Yes: Why Students Should be Reimbursed

With costs of over £9000 per year for many university students, it’s a significant cost to attend to University, even if these are not repaid until later.

In most areas of life, you’d be entitled to a refund if you paid for something you didn’t get, right? You’d be entitled to a refund if something wasn’t quite as described after you bought it on the Internet. And if you paid for a service that wasn’t provided in the way it was described, you might equally expect to be able to get a refund.

Student university fees contribute towards, not just physical lectures and seminars, but the facilities on campuses, like laboratories, libraries and so forth. With the closures, these are typically now unavailable to students for the foreseeable future.

In addition, while Universities have made the shift as well as they can to online learning, this is something plagued with difficulties. Complaints of poor quality learning materials are rife and one university was criticised for a lack of understanding for students who don’t have access to Internet or a laptop at home.

Reimbursing students either in part of full appears, on the surface, like the right thing to do when it’s easy to see that those not on distance learning courses are not getting what they believed they were signing up for.

The Problem with Reimbursing Students

Universities still have costs. Teaching staff are still being paid to support distance learning, to grade assignments and support their students the best they can. And although many facilities are now closed, their costs are still incredibly high.

And let’s be honest, this situation isn’t the fault of the Universities any more than it’s the fault of the students impacted by a difficult situation.

Reimbursing students would likely have to be a Government funded venture and then there’s an argument over the fairness to International Students (who are ineligible for the Student Loans and who pay higher fees). Can we afford to do it?

And would that in turn meaning accepting that students would largely have to repeat the year? If this is the case, what happens to next year’s intake?

Universities could have never anticipated the disruption to this year’s courses and in many cases, it’s evident they’re making the strides to ensure student can still learn and be graded remotely.

So, all things considered, what do we do?

A Universities UK spokesperson is concurred that the missed face to face teaching could be “unsettling” but that the shift to online classes and remote learning means students should still be getting the education they paid for. Their advice is this:

 "We appreciate these solutions are not perfect for students but in this is an unprecedented situation. Students who are not satisfied with the support they are getting should make this known to their university in the first instance.”

So if you’re affected by this, your first port of call is to speak to your university and aim to address the shortcomings you’re experiencing in terms of getting what you need out of your course.

One thing’s for sure. No university nor student could have anticipated the level of disruption learning (and society as a whole) would experience this academic year and the only to really move forward is to keep pulling together and making the best out of the current situation.

Sarah Smith

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