Hundreds of thousands of students, are being asked to sign up for a ‘mass action’ that if successful would deliver debt relief and compensation for students who have faced disruption since universities closed their doors.
England’s universities minister has advised that students should complain to universities, however NUS President, Zamzam Ibrahim says this leaves students with fewer ‘rights than if we’d booked an Airbnb’.
She believes the scale of the problem for students is too large to be handled through existing local processes.
She said: “The UK government are desperate to reduce this to a series of individual problems. It’s a total betrayal of trust to the thousands of students who are now facing lifelong debts for a once-in-a-lifetime education they haven’t received.”
According to the NUS, hundreds of thousands of students are currently paying for an education they are not getting, with its own research suggesting that one in five students have not been able to access their learning at all during lockdown and one in three saying it has been of ‘poor quality’.
On top of that, certain groups of students have been hit even harder by the restrictions.
Some disabled students, have lost access to the ‘reasonable adjustments’ they got in college, students who need to attend in person for access to studios, labs and workshops have had no access and those who have work placements as part of their courses have been unable to complete them in many cases.
“Even if students complain to their individual institutions, how will universities afford it when the UK government haven’t announced a single penny of additional funding to support them?”
The NUS says it hopes to work with both the sector and the government to come up with an acceptable solution to the issue, however it is not ‘ruling out a more formal action if necessary’.
In a statement, the Department for Education argues that universities are ‘autonomous’ and responsible for setting their own fees so whether a student is entitled to a refund ‘depends on the specific contractual arrangements between them and their provider’.
The statement continues: “Students should first raise their concerns with their provider and any unresolved complaints at providers in England and Wales should go to the Office for the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education which has published guidance on this issue.”
So far over half a million students have signed a series of petitions asking for fee refunds, however with institutions facing significant financial challenges due to reduced numbers of students expected for the 2020/21 academic year, the NUS says they will struggle to foot the bill without government support.
NUS Vice President for higher education, Claire Sosienski Smith, said: “We’re calling today for students to sign up to our mass action to win fair compensation either through a redo, write-off, or reimbursement.
“We know the scale of this disruption has been so vast that we need a national sector-wide response from government for this, including funding from Westminster.