Funding Policy

Policy passed at National Conference 2021

Fees and Finance

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

Policy passed at National Conference 2021

Fight For Funds

What is the issue facing students?

1.    Accessibility to education is vital in a world that is asking increasingly more of individuals for even entry-level positions.
2.    In an increasingly marketised education sector, and with the UK facing unprecedented rises in the cost of living, all learners are overlooked; burdened with frozen loan repayment thresholds, increased loan interest rates, fixed student loan entitlements and poverty wages that barely scratch the surface of the true cost of living, learners are being priced out of their own education.
3.    Learners have felt the financial burdens of modern-day society.  This has accelerated throughout the pandemic, and students will be highly vulnerable to the cost of living increases that are ongoing.
4.    Learners struggling financially have limited options in terms of seeking support; hardship fund requests have increased drastically across Higher and Further Education Institutions within the UK and the pandemic has slashed the ‘gig’ economy often relied upon to part-fund their studies and experience.
5.    Mature students, student parents, care leavers and students with caring responsibilities (MPC learners) are among the groups most dramatically impacted by poor availability of financial support; while childcare and having dependents is frequently a significant additional expense, caring responsibilities also restrict the freedom of MPC learners in undertaking part-time work alongside their studies.  On top of this, access to benefits is restricted whilst undertaking study as a result of ‘student’ status, or delays to “in-work” benefits that impact apprentice and part-time workers.
6.    The minimum wage for apprentices will be £4.81 from April 2022, which represents half of the living wage.  This represents a culture of apprentices working for ‘value of experience’, as opposed to working to earn a liveable wage whilst undertaking qualifications. This undervaluing flies in the face of government-stated aims to increase access to vocational education and in-work learning as a priority.
7.    The legality of paying apprentices half of what is deemed ‘liveable’ represents significant undervaluing of their work, particularly given:
a)    There is no ‘apprentice rate’ for food
b)    There is no ‘apprentice rate’ for bills 
c)    There is no ‘apprentice rate’ for rent & taxes
8.    The introduction of a Masters’ loan scheme by the UK Government in June 2016 strived to make Postgraduate study more accessible to UK Graduates, however accessibility is inconsistent across the nations and demographics of students.  
a)    In England, prospective Masters’ students are entitled to a maximum loan of £11,570 (2021-22) to cover their course fees and living costs from Student Finance England.
b)    In Scotland, SAAS (Student Awards Agency for Scotland) split loans, offering up to £5,500 towards tuition fees, and £4,500 towards living costs for those ordinarily resident in Scotland.
c)    In Northern Ireland, students can apply for up to £5,500 towards the cost of Postgraduate study, depending on the length and cost of their course.
d)    Loans are not means tested, unlike Undergraduate Loans; as a result, they are not based on one’s income or family income.  
9.    Students wishing to access postgraduate study are not broadly supported by the same frameworks around Access and Participation as those at the undergraduate level, as the Office for Students (OfS) does not formally require the inclusion of postgraduate students in any Access and Participation Plans (APPs). While there are several gaps in participation at a postgraduate level which have narrowed gradually since 2015-16, postgraduate study remains dominated by white students from the least deprived areas with parents that already hold higher education qualifications. For example, the percentage of new postgraduate students who are UK domiciled black students risen from 6.8% in 2015-16 to 8.3% in 2019-20, however this rate is actually one which has stagnated since an initial rise, and other groups show similarly slow growth slowdown during the same time.
10.    Mean tuition fees across all Postgraduate Masters’ programmes offered at Russell Group institutions is £8,744, rising exponentially from £4,408 across the past decade; this varies significantly, and is heavily dependent on discipline and location.  
11.    After tuition fees, an average Postgraduate student receiving the maximum loan from SFE to study a Masters’ in the UK has just £2830 to pay for rent, bills, food and other expenses for the year.  Alongside a 60% rise in halls of residence in the past decade, and with significant increases in cost of living, this results in students having to undertake significant part-time work alongside their studies.  
12.    There is evidence of good practice within Wales, where students who are ordinarily resident in Wales receive up to £18,025 for 2021-22, consisting of a loan and a grant.  The proportion of this amount that is given as a grant is means-tested, and thus is determined based on household income.  
13.    A Sutton Trust Report published in June 2021 explored the barriers to widening participation that exist within the current Postgraduate funding matrices across three of the four UK nations; the top recommendation was “The funding system at postgraduate level in England should be reformed to remove financial barriers to Postgraduate Study”.  
Why is this issue important to us as a movement?

1.    There is a national drive for accessibility and inclusivity of education, whether this be seen through NUS campaigns, through our Students’ Unions, or, at an institution level, through widening participation schemes and close observation of POLAR4 and LPN statistics.  Without significant improvements in this area, our education will never be accessible to those who require the most support to access it.
2.    The disparity between tuition fees, living costs and maximum loan amount or apprentice wages creates a significant financial barrier for those from lower socio-economic backgrounds who are looking to further their education.
3.    Reports throughout COVID-19 demonstrate that the pandemic has had a detrimental impact on learners who were already financially struggling; whilst ‘student life’ has frequently been used, whether colloquially or in national media, to outline a substandard quality of living, a survey conducted by the National Union of Students indicates that 80% of students are worried about managing financially.  This is not an issue that impacts a mere few of us, it impacts us all.  As a movement, we should not accept it.
4.    The financial difficulties faced by learners across the movement impacts specific, lesser-engaged and vulnerable demographics far more than others.  For example, significant numbers of mature students, learners with parental or caring responsibilities and care leavers are either excluded from education as it isn’t financially viable, or are forced to withdraw from courses as a result of financial barriers.
5.    Wider access to postgraduate study also opens up critical routes into further academic study as well as teaching and research roles within higher education institutions themselves, therefore enabling the backgrounds of academic staff to diversify, and in turn broaden the range of experience for their students and colleagues, and fostering progressive, inclusive communities.
6.    A Universities UK survey released in December shows the number of students applying for hardship funds at English universities has doubled in 25% of institutions across 2020-21, with 75% of responding universities stating they have received an unprecedented  increase in applications.  The UK Government reported that it had made £85 million of additional funding available to students in need.  We are suffering as a movement, and are under extreme pressure.  We need consistent additional measures to be able to curb the hardship that is yet to come.
7.    Higher education institutions have a social and civic duty to the communities around them to continue to work to make the world a better place for future generations. By enabling the most underrepresented in those communities, and society as a whole, to not only access higher education, but also postgraduate study, works towards such improvement.
8.    For the past two years, the movement has placed significant emphasis on reimagining education.  The student movement has been supporting the rights of workers to decent pay and conditions in colleges and universities, be they cooks, cleaners, or Chemistry lecturers. We believe everyone deserves a living wage, including apprentices.  
9.    Ending poverty pay for apprentices would:
a)    address a principle concern of apprentices that impacts their mental wellbeing
b)    result in apprentices being able to focus on their apprenticeship, rather than having to hold down a second job
c)    improve the attractiveness, and overall access to apprenticeships to individuals who cannot and will not live on £4.81 an hour
d)    make significant moves to addressing gender pay gaps across the country
10.    This conference will undoubtedly discuss campaigning for increased student support. When we do that we can send a clear signal that apprentices are part of the student movement by including winning a living wage for apprentices as a campaign goal, in effect sending a clear message that, at its centenary, the National Union of Students is a union for every student. 
11.    Employers place significant emphasis on having a Masters’ or Doctoral degrees for employment within the most competitive sectors post-graduation.  Masters’ study increases prospects for better starting salaries and better positions within organisations, as well as providing earlier opportunities for progression.
12.    The implementation of the Masters’ loans in June 2016 was hugely significant in removing some of the barriers to Postgraduate study, particularly for younger applicants straight out of Undergraduate study.  However, the limits to Postgraduate loans, the rapidly rising cost of living, the inconsistent bursary support and the unregulated fees mean access is still segmented geographically and by class - this further embeds and deepens the divides within the sector.
13.    While the Welsh Government has developed a socially progressive approach to Postgraduate Loans, the other three nations are trailing behind; this has led to yet another unbalanced accessibility measure across the UK.  

What would the world look like if we solved it?

1.    In a society increasingly led by values of equity and inclusivity, everybody deserves a fair shot to further their education, and finances should not be a barrier to this.
2.    Every student should have an equal and fair opportunity to undertake further education, Undergraduate and Postgraduate study, or a well-paid apprenticeship such that they are able to further their skills and employability 
3.    Hardship Funds should be available to learners at all levels (whether Further Education, Higher Education, or Apprentices),  who find themselves in financial difficulty or uncertainty as a result of insufficient loans, loss of employment, unforeseen financial strain, or personal difficulties.  
4.    Institutions should readily signpost their students towards these funds as a means to temporarily bridge financial gaps, and ensure no student is forced out of study or deterred from studying as a result of financial difficulty or uncertainty.  Institutions should undertake work to combat the stigma associated with accessing financial assistance whilst studying, thus removing the social barriers that exist in seeking help and support.
5.    The UK Government, Scottish Government and Northern Irish Government should follow the steps of the Welsh Government and evolve a proportionate Postgraduate Loan structure to ensure accessibility of Postgraduate study, whilst implementing a reasonable cap on tuition fees.  
6.    Not only the diversity of individuals remaining in higher education, but also the total number, would be increased substantially through concerted work by both students’ unions and higher education institutions in this area. In order to enable this, as a sector it is be desirable to move to a greater level of standardisation in the area of fees in order to limit the impact of ongoing marketisation to higher education and broaden access to postgraduate study.
7.    The Postgraduate loan system should directly support students of low socio-economic backgrounds; this will narrow the divide between privileged students and those who do not have financial access to Postgraduate study.    
8.    Within higher education institutions, access and participation work at the postgraduate level should be considered holistically alongside related work at an undergraduate level, rather than in a fragmented way, as it currently is.
9.    Institutions should regularly monitor their Widening Participation levels, for learners across all levels, whether they be apprentices, further education learners, undergraduates or postgraduate students.

Ideas for implementation:

1.    The National Union of Students should work alongside the UK Government, and devolved governments, to put in place a national standard for Hardship Funds to improve visibility, accessibility and impact of the work that is already done at institution level.  This should be available to learners in times of financial challenge, be flexible in order to account for individual circumstances, and be subject to consistent standards developed in partnership with learners across the UK.  This should also include ring fenced funding for learners leaving care.
2.    The National Union of Students, and the entire movement, should lobby the UK Government to increase the National Minimum Wage for apprentices to be in line with the Living Wage, to reflect that apprentices are not free or cheap labour.
3.    The National Union of Students should push for a system that enables more individuals to access apprenticeships across the UK, and not just in major cities.
4.    The NUS, and students’ unions across the country, should explore avenues with their institutions to improve postgraduate access, even where not required by the OfS, in the interests of driving the sector and government forward in a positive, pro-active way on this critical topic