REVEALED: Plans for university tuition fees if teaching remains online in September

While it’s not yet clear whether uni classes will still be taught online in September, there’s one thing that (unfortunately) is: fees will not be going down. But there is an exception…

woman shocked on laptop with money bag emojis

Credit: Ana Blazic Pavlovic – Shutterstock

With all the uncertainty around what uni life will be like in the Autumn term, we’ve all been waiting very eagerly for news on what will happen in September… only, this wasn’t quite the news we’d hoped for.

The government has said that tuition fees will not go down for students in September, even if teaching remains online.

Here, we’ll look into how this impacts you, and what’s expected of unis to justify them charging the maximum amount in tuition fees next year.

Unhappy with how your uni’s responded to the coronavirus pandemic? We look at how to complain and potentially seek compensation here.

Universities will charge full tuition fees for online classes

money in a purse

Credit: Yevgen Kravchenko, kamui29, Bell Photography 423 – Shutterstock

The coronavirus outbreak has put a huge strain on everyone in the university sector, both students and staff. In response to this, the government has today (4th May) published a policy statement about its support package for universities and students.

Although rejecting the request from unis for a £2 billion bailout, the support package includes a range of measures to help the higher education sector manage through the impacts of coronavirus.

Along with the measures, it’s been revealed that students will still be charged full tuition fees, even if teaching is online.

But, after this news was covered by the BBC, Universities Minister Michelle Donelan shared their article on Twitter today with the clarification that universities were only expected to charge the full amount of fees if online courses were good enough.

Michelle Donelan on twitter

Credit: Michelle Donelan – Twitter

For a lot of students, online teaching has made it so much harder to stay productive and motivated, and keep working to the same standard as before.

If you think there’s more your university should be doing to make online teaching as accessible and effective as possible, here’s what to do…

What if your online university course isn’t good enough?

While it is, of course, debatable what qualifies as “good quality”, Michelle Donelan’s tweet is super important to keep in mind. If your course is still taught online in September and you aren’t satisfied with the teaching, it could be worth complaining in case you’re entitled to compensation.

If you do decide to complain, here’s an overview of the steps we’d recommend taking:

  1. Raise your complaint with your university and follow the formal complaints process.
  2. If you’re unhappy with the uni’s response, you can then bring the complaint to the OIA if you’re in England or Wales, the SPSO in Scotland or NIPSO in Northern Ireland – these are ombudsman services that can handle the complaint.
  3. The ombudsman will decide whether they think your complaint is justified and if there’s more the uni can do beyond what they’d suggested to you after your initial complaint.
  4. Then, if they think you should receive compensation, or if the uni should take any actions in response to your complaint, they will make recommendations as they see appropriate.
Coronavirus hasn’t been the only thing impacting uni life in the last year. If you’re also thinking about complaining about the UCU lecturer strikes, we have plenty of advice on that too.

Key measures announced in the support package

cambridge university money bags

While we can’t go through all of the measures announced as part of the support package here, we’ve picked out three key points:

  • Total of £46 million in funding for higher education providers for student hardship funds, mental health support and to support access and participation plans in universities.
  • Continued focus from the government on employing key workers (e.g. nurses and doctors).
  • Changes to the Clearing process so that students will be suggested alternative options based on achievements, course interest and other preferences.

Is the government’s university support package fair?

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Credit: fizkes – Shutterstock

It’s undeniably important for unis to receive the help they need to get through this period of economic uncertainty.

But, it must still be asked: is it fair for students to pay up to £9,250 a year if they aren’t receiving teaching in person, accessing libraries or using the full range of facilities they originally signed up for?

Our resident student money expert, Jake Butler, said:

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The uncertainty around what will happen to university education in September is causing students, and universities themselves, a lot of stress.

Tuition fees are set to be a huge talking point over the next few months.

While I’m keen to reiterate that there’s a difference between the “cost” of university and what you actually end up repaying, students across the UK are right to demand that they see the value of teaching they expect from such high tuition fees.

As with any service, students need to feel that they are receiving teaching that is fit for purpose and of the same quality they would normally expect to receive.

This unexpected event may well be out of universities’ control, but in recent years we’ve seen the disappointing commercialisation of university education and this is just one example of why this was never a good idea.

And we’re not the only student organisation questioning aspects of the support package.

Claire Sosienski Smith, NUS Vice President (Higher Education) at NUS said:

Students are the heart of the higher education sector, and it is disappointing to see the government release their plans for a bailout without tackling many of the urgent questions of tuition fee debt write offs and reimbursements.

While recognising the importance of the increased hardship funding – something she said “will have a concrete impact on the lives of many people who are struggling right now” – Sosienski Smith added:

We estimate that almost 40% of higher students have been left unable to access their education online through their courses being unsuitable for online learning.

These students simply cannot access their studios, materials and placements during the pandemic – or they have completed early to work in the NHS.

The government needs to stop ignoring the plight of students who are our nurses, midwives, pharmacists and essential workers of the future, and give us all the opportunity to redo the year at no additional cost, or have our debt and costs written off or reimbursed.

For more info about how coronavirus will impact students, check out our in-depth guide.

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