Tuesday 23-02-2021 - 15:56
The following is a policy passed by NUS National Conference in 2021
What is the issue?
The Government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has meant Universities were and continue to be underprepared for the 2020/2021 academic year. Students from across the world descended on UK universities on the promise of an in person, on campus experience. Students arrived at universities and immediately faced tightening restrictions and a fleeting experience.
The landscape of higher education in the UK has been exposed in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the educational experience has not been good enough, certainly not worth the thousands of pounds being spent on tuition fees. Where other industries have been assisted in providing appropriate refunds for lost services, universities have been abandoned.
Students have not been able to study, socialise or engage in the university experience as in other years, campuses have closed and the learning environment has been left completely compromised. Dependent on your ‘home’ learning environment, pre-existing inequalities faced by students have widened.
Students at all levels of education have been ignored, forgotten, neglected, bullied, scapegoated, mis-led, lied to, robbed, and treated with utter contempt by government, universities, and the media.
The Global Pandemic has left us all distraught, tore apart many important bonds, one of the effects of COVID-19 was a major toll on students' experience, whereby majority of students experienced a drop in the number of contact hours leaving them questioning the value of the experience in comparison to the economic value.
Tuition fees are one of the many ways in which students have been forgotten and the conversation on fees regularly gets ignored or pushed aside.
The delivery standards of education provided by academic bodies was subpar to expectations. With the delivery being limited to virtual experience and restricted to no access to key services such as academic writing support, practical workspace and other vital face-to-face activities. Furthermore, students have suffered financially to support their education, especially with the loss of on-campus part-time jobs, and lack of family financial support. Hence, it is unfair for students to pay full tuition fees for an incomplete experience, thereby rendering the net amount, the economic and social return on investment, unjustifiable.
COVID-19 is affecting the business sector and the entire countries’ economy. The income of international students’ families (who support their tuition fees) is decreasing, hence it is harder to pay the same amount of money during pandemics. Especially, due to the lack of the use of the university facilities it is unfair to pay twice as much as the local students pay but not get the face-to-face interaction and study from out home country. Many part-time students have been fired from their workplace due to the COVID-19 pandemic, hence they cannot fully support their tuition fees and the living costs. Therefore, the tuition fees should be decreased for the part-time students as well. Postgraduate students and PhD students are studying from online (from their home country) which means that they cannot use the facilities, experience the culture, attend the educational conferences. Hence, the tuition fees are much higher for them compared to what they do, and these types of students usually pay on their own without any type of help from the government or from their families
Students have felt that current tuition fees are inappropriate considering the lack of services they are receiving in comparison to what was offered when they took up the offer of the course. This has led to mistrust from to the student body towards to the university. This is damaging student experience and the academic reputation of the institutes.
Secondly, a major aspect of the students’ experience, which is employability development, was weakened. The university advertises access to various equipment, workshops and networking sessions, and other career building programs. Majority of which has been on hold ever since the lockdown. The equipment which is core for students’ skill development that employers seek, equipment that is covered under the tuition fees, remains inaccessible. Other facilities that are vital for skill and career development remain, till this day, inaccessible. Additionally, the reduced student social contact has a loss of cultural exchange and integration. Furthermore, exposure to international, multicultural, leisure and networking-based activities and other nonacademic skills which constitute a core part of the advertised campus experience, had negatively impacted the academic and professional life of a student.
We believe that universities have done the best that they could to facilitate a meaningful educational experience for their students, however the government’s failed handling of the pandemic has made it impossible for them to succeed.
We believe that a UK wide approach should be taken by the Government to implement in the English sector and provide funding to the devolved Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland governments to implement within their sectors, as appropriate.
Why is this important to the student movement?
The most crucial issue at this time faced by the students is that despite the inability to return to campus, students continue to pay the full amount of fee whilst not being able to utilize the fee in complete form. Hence, reduction of tuition fee/ some rebate or refund is what the students would like to request and advocate for.
This issue is crucial to the movement to do justice to the finances of the students. Having this issue solved, discussed and fee rebates/reduction granted in tuition fee would help students with financial problems, and uphold the integrity and reputation of universities.
There is decreasing confidence from students in NUS as a union that can affect meaningful change.
What would the world look like if we solved it?
In isolation, calls for fee compensation could bankrupt many universities. We believe that compensation should come from the Government. As we continue to fight together to demarketise HE and make education free, we must demand that the Government ensures students are treated fairly - that students are rightly compensated for their fees.
The government is in a position to support universities financially so that they can provide this for students and rejects the notion that refunds and protecting university funding must come into conflict.
We propose a multi-option solution This is in the hope that the financial stress is relieved on all parties involved, international students, home students, and academic bodies.
We must lobby for and display unity against a government which has shown no care for the position of students throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
Fighting for financial relief on the education received since the start of the pandemic does not signal a support of marketisation. Free education remains a priority, with the goal of investing in an educated community, which will lead to a better society. In the short-term, the Government should provide a full fee rebate for this academic year. This should be followed by a plan to scrap tuition fees, and fully fund education going forward. Within this, there may be negotiation around year-on-year fee reductions. International students must be considered separately and equally to home students – a refund given as a percentage of the total fee paid ensures equity of compensation.
Flexibility may be possible surrounding timelines and staggered rollouts of these refunds, but this can be determined in the consultations.
The government should take responsibility for its failures by compensating students and supporting the sector. This would include making funds available to universities for the purpose of compensating students on their tuition fees, and underwriting the debt of universities that are in danger of bankruptcy.
We would also like to see the following:
Reduction on academic continuation
Provided as a financial support option for continuing students within the same university or college. This option aims to encourage students to pursue further education, which in turn leads to contributions towards higher education, research and an increase in the level of academic achievement of the future workforce.
Voucher scheme for new starters
Students would still have to incur expenses on services across campus, such as food, beverages, printing, etc. Hence the voucher scheme would provide students with monetary benefits when enrolling on campus. This option is also advantageous to the institute's social reputation.
The government should also reevaluate the marketisation of HE as it is clearly not working - only 3% of students fully repay their loans.
In the short-term, the Government should provide a flat sum of money to reflect the hardship and exploitation students have faced.
Ideas for implementation
We believe the NUS and its associated unions and universities have a responsibility to address this and present viable solutions for the sake of their members.
NUS must embody the spirit and intention of the 2010 Tuition Fees protests in standing firmly in opposition to the financial exploitation of students, and that the pandemic has exacerbated this long-term issue.
We must ensure our actions are radical and strategically impactful, as campaigning alone can often risk being viewed as performative.
a) NUS must organise a national tuition fee strike campaign for the year 2021/2022 if the government fails to meet these demands, to model that of the rent strike nationally, involving:
b) Calling for returning students or students with confirmed places for the year 2021/22 to sign up to a strike on paying their tuition fees until the government and universities commit to guaranteeing tuition fee refunds.
c) Seeking legal advice on the best mechanism to do this – either through students refusing SFE paying loans in their name to the universities or through other means.
d) Organising a robust strategy to maximise the number of students that sign up to ensure the efficacy of the strike and minimising the risk for students being penalised individually.
e) NUS to hold a day/s of action and protest in response to the treatment of students during the Covid-19 pandemic in order to radically reinforce this action and position:
This action would only take place when it is legal to hold mass protest action, and when the NUS deems it responsible and safe to hold such an event.
Organisation for this would be led and planned by a committee of elected delegates, who would plan the event, terms and actions as well as galvanise.
The protest would be held in the name of expansive higher education reform from tuition fees, student welfare, housing rights and the general degrading manner that students have been treated through the course of the pandemic.
This motion seeks to build a coalition between the NUS, universities and unions to apply pressure on the Government to compensate students and support the HE sector.
Work collaboratively with the Students United Against Fees campaign to put pressure on Parliament to ensure students are fairly refunded for this academic year.