Union says current system leaves students with “less rights than if we’d booked an Airbnb”
The National Union of Students (NUS) is launching a campaign to try to get government-funded debt relief and compensation for university students who have struggled to access education this term.
University campuses have been closed since March because of the Covid-19 pandemic and all learning moved online – which the NUS said has left “thousands of students” feeling like they have not “had adequate education”.
The Department for Education (DfE) has previously said that students will not be entitled to compensation for the campus closures, as long as they are getting “adequate online learning and support”.
If students felt that their university’s online provisions were not good enough, the DfE said that the first step would be to speak to the university to resolve the issue and, if that doesn’t work, to go to the Office for the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA).
NUS president Zamzam Ibrahaim described this process as leaving students with “less rights than if we’d booked an Airbnb”.
With its campaign, the NUS is hoping to get government funding for reimbursements, a debt write-off or the chance to redo this year at no extra cost. The core of the campaign will involve “building the case for a mass complaint action,” and to do this it has asked for students to share how their studies have been affected by coronavirus.
“In order to achieve this win, we need you to come forward about your experience over the past few months. When lots of students sign up to join our massive complaint action, this will put huge pressure on the government, urging them to act nationally,” the NUS said.
At the moment, the NUS plans to work with universities and the government to find a solution, but if that doesn’t work it is not “ruling out a more formal action if necessary”.
In its call for students to join the mass action, the NUS highlighted a handful of particular types of students who might have struggled to access education this term.
These included those on a vocational course, students training on a programme that can’t be delivered remotely, students who can’t use the facilities for studio or lab-based learning, as well as those who have disabilities that make online working difficult and students who are also key workers.
“The scale of the disruption has been so vast that we need a national sector-wide response from government for this, including funding from Westminster,” commented Claire Sosienski Smith, NUS vice-president (higher education).
“Even if students complain to their individual institutions, how will universities afford it when the UK government hasn’t announced a single penny of additional funding to support them?
“Our plea to the UK government is clear – you must offer tangible help to students who can’t access education right now,” Sosienski Smith finished.
TSR members talk about fee refunds for campus closures
TSR members have been discussing whether they think the coronavirus campus closures should entitle students to compensation.
Speaking about the DfE’s previous announcement that students would not be getting refunds, username4867806 said “I'm not surprised but it clearly isn't worth the money. Students aren't getting the service that they have paid for through no fault of their own.”
MrMusician95 asked, “if your university is still giving you online courses and alternative assessments, why would you get a refund?”
“There is a lot more to universities than just lectures. We have libraries, computer and printing services and other practical, lab-based resources that are essential to many, if not all, programmes,” commented Pinkisk.
“Our fees include access to all of these services and much, much more. We are denied access to these things yet we are still paying the same tuition fees. This is not right,” they finished.
And BlitzList shared that, “I’m also concerned about 2020/21 students who may be starting online at some universities, as well as for students who have had their years cut short; there should be a reduction in fees for all students, so they're not accruing debt for facilities they don't have actual access to.”