International students withhold tuition fees in protest against online teaching

International students at Goldsmiths, SOAS and the Royal College of Art are refusing to pay their fees


Hundreds of international students at Goldsmiths, SOAS and the Royal College of Art are refusing to pay their tuition fees in protest against poor quality online teaching.

Coronavirus restrictions and lockdowns have had a “massive impact on quality of teaching and student experience”. Many students feel that they are missing out on the cultural experience of university life and that virtual teaching is not worth the same amount as in-person teaching. 

At SOAS, around 100 international students are refusing to pay their tuition, which amounts to £18,630 per year for undergraduate courses. A similar strike is underway at Goldsmiths, where fees range from £16,390 to £22,950 at undergraduate level.

A tuition fee strike began in January at the Royal College of Art. The Guardian estimates that around £3.4 million is being withheld by 300 students, of which 200 are international, to pressure the university to refund fees for the past academic year. While some quit the protest when threatened with suspension, 93 students are still withholding their tuition fees.

Paul Thompson, the college’s vice-chancellor, has once again threatened strikers with suspension if fees remain unpaid.

A petition asking the UK government to compensate international students has received more than 30,000 signatures so far. As many universities cannot afford to refund these students, the signatories are calling on the government to pick up the bill.

In an open letter to Michelle Donelan (the Minister of State for Universities) activist group Pause or Pay UK asked the government “to play a role in financially aiding the higher education sector” through “a government bailout” similar to the one previously given to cultural institutions.

By not paying their fees, international students are at risk of being reported for breaching their visa requirements. They are hoping that, to protect their reputation abroad, universities will not go to such lengths. 

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