Students Swindled by Universities after Government Refuses Multi-Million Pound Bailout

A piece written for the Public Journalism module. 04/04/2020

Students Swindled by Universities after Government Refuses Multi-Million Pound Bailout

After the UK universities’ plea for a long-term government bailout has been ruthlessly denied, students once again get the short end of the stick after it was revealed that institutions are permitted to charge full fees, as well as £2.6bn of next years fees to be paid early.

Their hopes for a bailout came from the worry about the loss of international students’ fees because of the pandemic, meaning they could potentially lose billions of pounds worth of income. However, with the bailout not being an option, current students are paying the price by having to pay full fees for this year and possibly next, despite not having access to the majority of university services, and not getting the education they signed up for.

The idea of paying £9,250 despite the significant reduction of the quality and quantity of teaching has left students clearly feeling that they are only seen as a source of income. Tom Bedworth from Lancaster University accused universities of only being in it for the money, saying “Universities are no longer an educational sector, but are instead all about incomes and are money-making machines”.

Universities State Minister Michelle Donelan said that universities could continue charging the full £9,250 if high standards of online teaching were provided. “We’ve always said that we don’t believe students would be entitled to reimbursement for tuition fees if the quality is there.” But who decides if the teaching is of high quality or not? Normally that is judged by student attainment, but it seems that it is being ignored in these circumstances.

In spite of this, students are determined to receive compensation by creating an online petition calling to “Refund university students for 3rd Semester Tuition 2020“. The petition, created by Wiktoria Seroczynska, has over 85,000 signatures, and argues that it is “unfair to charge students for Semester 3 as services paid for will not be provided”, including facilities such as libraries, student unions, and student support services. Although the petition needs at least 100,000 signatures to be discussed in parliament, the number is steadily going up, leaving hope for financial justice for UK students.

However, it’s not just the standards of online teaching during the pandemic that current students are angry about. UCU strikes have disrupted student studies for the past 3 years, hitting hardest in the current academic year, which saw 8 days of strikes in November and 14 days in February and March, adding up to over a month’s worth of missed teaching. Although students recognise why the strikes were needed, most did not appreciate the time they paid for wasted with no sign of reimbursement. University of Liverpool student Charlie Walker did the math:

“between the recent closures due to the Covid-19 outbreak and the way the strikes fell in 2018, 2019, and 2020, I’ve missed 20 weeks of teaching”
For students who have been around since 2018, this is the equivalent of almost a whole academic year. “Nine grand paid in tuition fees and for what? I want my money back”, Walker continues. Students in third year have been the ones hit hardest, going down in history as the generation whose final year was a steady stream of crises, ending on the disheartening note of the cancellation of summer graduations.

Nobody could have predicted the pandemic, and it is not the teachers’ fault they were being treated unfairly. But to take that out on students financially and academically seems unjust, unempathetic, and inconsiderate. With no financial support, the government and universities are leaving students to pick up the broken pieces of their education on their own.