University students should be given tuition fee refunds if their course is disrupted by Covid-19, regulator says

university student walking through campus and wearing a face mask

Unhappy students can speak to their university, the Office of the Independent Adjudicator and the Office for Students

Universities in England should consider refunding students some of their tuition fees if their degree is disrupted by Covid-19, the higher education regulator has said.

Rather than having “a blanket policy that refunds are not available,” universities should “consider the circumstances for each student,” the Office for Students (OfS) chief executive, Nicola Dandridge, has said.

“Students have a right to good quality higher education – whether that is taught online, in-person or a mixture of the two,” Dandridge said.

“Where they feel this is not happening they can raise concerns with their university, escalating complaints to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) where a resolution cannot be found.

“They can also inform the OfS, and we can and will investigate if we believe that universities have not taken all reasonable steps to protect standards or where quality is slipping for groups of students,” Dandridge finished.

This OfS statement follows news of universities across the UK putting students into lockdown to contain local coronavirus outbreaks – and the possibility that students could be asked to stay on campus over the Christmas holidays because of the pandemic.

Where students are put into isolation, universities “have to be clear about how courses will continue to operate in these circumstances and what welfare, resources and support are available,” Dandridge commented.

“Universities should provide information about how testing can be accessed where it is expected by the health authorities and ensure that such students can access food and other essential provisions,” Dandridge added.

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university student working on their laptop

Universities moving more classes online as confirmed cases of coronavirus rise

As well as telling students to self-isolate to contain Covid-19 outbreaks, some universities have stopped face-to-face teaching over coronavirus fears.

On Sunday 27 September, Manchester Metropolitan University announced that all classes would be moved online for the next two weeks for students in their first or foundation years.

Liverpool Hope University and the University of Aberystwyth have also moved teaching online and staff at Birmingham University have asked for in-person classes to be scrapped.

The University and College Union (UCU) has been calling for face-to-face teaching to be cancelled at all universities in favour of online learning.

“Given the rapidly changing situation and the increasing Covid outbreaks, now is the time for swift action and to move the majority of universities' work online. We are not prepared to take chances with the health and safety of students, staff or local communities,” commented Jo Grady, UCU’s general secretary.

Students should be allowed to return to their family homes to study online without having to pay to leave their accommodation contracts early, Grady added.

“We cannot have students forced to quarantine in halls of residence with no familiar support network. Students must be allowed to safely return home if they wish to and without fear of financial penalty for leaving their student accommodation,” Grady said. 

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