2nd March. 2021

What is the Best Path Towards Tuition Fee Compensation? – Part 1

The plight of students has been filling the news of late. Talk of Parliamentary petitionsOffice for Students position papers, and uncomfortable ministerial interviews abound. In and amongst all this noise, some students may be wondering – why join the Student Group Claim? Why not wait for the government to cave under public pressure? Or take a complaint to my university and on to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA), or sign up to the National Union of Students (NUS) campaign?

These next few posts will discuss what the different options are, and why we think joining the Student Group Claim is something you should do regardless of the other attempts to seek compensation for students.

Before we begin, we should note that the options are not mutually exclusive.

  • You can join the Student Group Claim, and
  • Sign up to any campaigns your Student Union is running, and
  • hold out for a government refund – all at the same time.
The Government

So far, three petitions demanding tuition fee refunds have been put before Parliament (in June and September 2020, and January 2021). The first petition led to a discussion and report published by the Parliamentary Petitions Committee, a response from the government, and a debate on the matter in November 2020 (the second petition, which had by then been submitted, was rolled into this debate too).

In short

The Petitions Committee made a number of recommendations to the government, amongst them that a new, Covid-specific complaints process should be put in place to facilitate the large number of potential student complaints arising out of the pandemic. The government rejected this and the committee’s other suggestions, and instead trotted out what is becoming a tired response, as follows:

  • Universities have worked tirelessly to move education online
  • The question of refunds is one for individual universities and depends on specific contracts
  • If a student is not happy with the service they have received, they should complain to their university, and if unhappy with the response, they can turn to the OIA
At first glance, this might sound reasonable.

However, there are two reasons why it’s not.

  • When you consider the number of students complaining ,potentially in the millions, the nature of the problem (how moving teaching online affects education), and the close relationship of government to the universities (universities are publicly-funded institutions), it’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that the government should be doing more. They have a moral duty to confront the issue head on rather than passing the buck.
  • Turning to the OIA is not a reasonable solution. We will explore why this is in our next post.

January’s petition was met with a similar response, and thus its fair to say that the government are determined to avoid having to dip into their pockets on this. So long as they can maintain that replacing in-person education with an online service does not diminish the standard of education, and even if it does, that it’s not the government’s problem, they will continue to do so.

The prospects of the government stepping up are slim-to-none. Students will have to force a response.

Next up, we will look at why turning to the OIA will not solve the problem.