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Petition Require universities to partially refund tuition fees for 20/21 due to Covid-19

The quality of online lectures is not equal to face-to-face lectures. Students should not have to pay full tuition fees for online lectures, without experiencing university life. The Government should require UK universities to partially refund tuition fees while online teaching is implemented.

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The UK Government should care because thousands of UK and international students studying in the UK are going to be going into debt for an education that might not be worth the amount of money universities are asking for. Students should get the chance to experience university life in full, with access to societies, opportunities and chances to network. Many benefits of attending University have been taken away by Covid-19, there is so much more to University than the academic side.

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Parliament debated this topic

This topic was debated on 16 November 2020

Watch the petition 'Require universities to partially refund tuition fees for 20/21 due to Covid-19' being debated

Government responded

This response was given on 24 September 2020

Higher education providers must deliver high-quality courses. If students are unhappy, they should first complain to their provider, or the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education

Read the response in full

Government recognises the challenges facing students and supports them in their desire to continue receiving the best possible learning experience from our higher education (HE) providers. During this unprecedented period, where it is not possible to provide face-to-face learning in a COVID-secure environment, we expect HE providers to offer high-quality online education that allows students to progress and to complete their studies within the time period they had been anticipating.

There are some fantastic and innovative examples of high-quality online learning being delivered by HE providers across the country. The sector has put in significant resources and worked hard to provide and prepare learning materials for this academic year. We expect that HE providers will be open for the autumn term, combining online teaching and in-person tuition in ways that they consider appropriate which minimises risk.

Universities are autonomous and responsible for setting their own fees, up to a maximum of £9,250 for Approved (fee cap) providers. In deciding to keep charging full fees, universities will of course want to ensure that they can continue to deliver courses which are fit for purpose and help students progress their qualifications. Any refund would be a matter for universities, so we are not considering a write-off of tuition fee loans.

We believe that students should be at the heart of the HE system. The Office for Students (OfS), the regulator in England, has committed to protecting students throughout the present crisis whilst ensuring that quality and standards are upheld. The Government’s expectation is that quality and academic standards must be maintained, and the OfS has made it clear that all HE providers must continue to comply with registration conditions relating to quality and standards, which set out requirements to ensure that courses are high quality, students are supported and achieve good outcomes, and standards are protected. The OfS has published information and guidance for providers and students, and the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) has also published a series of guides to support providers to secure academic standards and to support student achievement during the pandemic.

Government has been clear that we expect providers to ensure that continuing and prospective students receive the clear, accurate and timely information needed to make informed decisions. This includes making them aware of any potential for changes at the earliest opportunity.

The Government has been in close communication with partners in the HE sector and to help providers make informed decisions about their provision and, on 10 September, the Government issued updated guidance to the HE sector on reopening campuses and buildings. The Government will continue to work closely with the QAA to ensure students continue to leave HE with qualifications that have real value, reflect their hard work and allow people to progress.

The Government’s clear expectation is that HE providers should make all reasonable efforts to enable students to complete their studies. If providers are unable to facilitate adequate online and in-person tuition, they should seek to avoid charging students for any additional terms they may need to undergo as a consequence – avoiding effectively charging them twice. Whether or not an individual student is entitled to a refund of fees will depend on the specific contractual arrangements between the provider and student.

It is important that students continue to receive a good standard of education, and they are entitled to make a complaint if they feel that their HE provider has not taken sufficient steps to appropriately respond to this situation. In the first instance, students should speak to their provider to see if they can resolve their complaint. We expect student complaints and appeals processes to be operated flexibly, accessibly, and sympathetically by providers to resolve any concerns. If a student at a provider in England or Wales is not satisfied with their provider’s response, they can ask the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) to consider their complaint.

Finally, Government has worked with the OfS to enable providers to draw upon existing funding to increase hardship funds and support disadvantaged students impacted by COVID-19. As a result, providers were able to use OfS Student Premium funding worth around £23m per month for April to July this year and £256 million for academic year 2020/21 starting from August towards student hardship funds, including the purchase of IT equipment and mental health support, as well as to support providers’ access and participation plans.

Government is in the process of responding to a report published by the Petitions Committee on 13th July 2020, relating to the impact of COVID-19 on HE students.

Government has previously responded to a petition concerning tuition fee refunds for both COVID-19 disruption and strike action. The response can be found here: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/302855

Department for Education

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