Listen up, this is how you could get a refund for online teaching during lockdown
nINe GRanD foR tHIs?
This academic year has been characterised by lecture strikes and the coronavirus pandemic leading to several months’ worth of missed or online lectures. It comes as no surprise hundreds of thousands of students have signed petitions demanding reimbursement of their tuition fees, and calling for a university refund.
Students across the country have felt online lectures and other services provided by universities during the coronavirus pandemic have been substandard and insufficient.
Today the government has released a report in response to the reimbursement petitions. The report considers the impact of COVID-19 on students and universities. It also sets out guidance on how students can claim university refunds.
How to get a refund for online teaching during lockdown
The report explains students should speak to their university to see “if they can resolve their complaint” through existing complaints and appeals procedures. If students are not satisfied with their university’s provider, they can ask the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher education to consider their complaint.
Students can take this further by taking legal action against their university on the basis of consumer rights law.
Ministers stressed whether students qualify for a fee refund will be decided on a case-by-case basis.
The report also says there is “no standardised process for students to seek a refund from their university” and “it is up to individual universities to decide how to deal with any complaints or requests”.
How can I apply for a university refund?
The government report states “university students who pay tuition fees are protected by consumer law, and are entitled to seek remedies or refunds if their university fails to provide the education they have paid for”.
However, Universities UK stated where there have been “wide-ranging support for active and ongoing learning and progression, students should not expect any fee refund from their university.”
The government has said they “only expect tuition fees to be charged if online courses are of good quality” and “if universities want to charge full fees, they will have to ensure that the quality is there”. Thousands of students have been disappointed by their universities’ online arrangements and many have seen their contact hours considerably dropped.
How will tuition fee refunds be paid for?
Petitions signed by students have called for universities to reimburse students themselves. Under consumer law, it falls to the provider of the services (universities) to refund fees.
The report explains the coronavirus pandemic and its subsequent consequences are “not of the universities’ making nor of the Government’s making”. However, it is the government who decided to implement certain restrictions leading to universities to cancel face-to-face lectures and seminars.
How will tuition fee refunds affect universities’ income?
The coronavirus pandemic has seen many students due to start their first year of university this autumn defer their places or reconsider going to university. The report states this, along with any tuition fee refunds, may lead to universities’ incomes to decrease.
The report warns the large number of students requesting and being entitled to a refund could have “a serious and detrimental effect on the sustainability of the higher education sector”.
However, the government report has said the impact on universities of fee refunds should not be a reason to “prevent students from receiving any refunds to which they are entitled”.
Other ways to reimburse students
If students have received substandard services they may be entitled to repeating part of their course, however, it is unclear whether students would have to pay tuition fees for this.
Another suggestion in the report says “where an independent process has found they are entitled to a refund, such as reducing student loans of students who are entitled to a refund”.