University leaders, the Department for Education, and the Office for Students, are ghosting domestic students by supporting institutions charging full fees for what are much diminished courses and much reduced student experiences. IF thinks this totally unfair and is calling for a cut in fees for students.
“Imagine paying £9,250 a year for one 50 minute online class per week !! oh wait I don’t need to imagine that’s literally what’s happening to me right now.”
– A 2020 University Student
“My daughter can only have 6 hours study space a week at Nottingham Uni. The library restriction will be tough when essays start. Her guaranteed hours for an arts subject should be 10. She has 3 pre-recorded lectures, 3 online Q&A lectures, and 3 in person seminars BUT her timetable shows no seminars for weeks 6 and 13.”
Higher education institutions are selling #students down the river in the 2020/21 academic year. Part or all online-only courses should not be charged at full fees when already well-established distance learning courses charge much less. Years abroad should not be charged at full fees now they are to be “virtual” years abroad. Laboratory or studio-orientated courses should not be charged at full fees when students will not be able to gain full access.
Teaching alone is not what universities “sell” to students. A myriad of physical goods are also offered: access to impressive grounds and buildings; sports facilities and playing fields; libraries and computers; design, art, photographic studios and science blocks; as well as halls for accommodation and catering. The list goes on.
In a pandemic world students cannot access any of these goods so why should they pay for them?
There is another range of intangible goods that universities go out of their way to sell to students as part of the overall package of a university “experience”. These include becoming part of a family, joining a club or community, and/or making life-long friendships with people from different backgrounds and different cultures – all of which adds to the rich tapestry that makes up much of the social capital that comes from going into higher or further education. In a pandemic world students cannot access this social capital so why should they have to pay?
It seems obvious that in a “marketised” world of higher education, where students are supposed to have power, discounts should be given when the accepted “traditional student experience” upon which most higher and further institutions trade cannot now be delivered. The fact that a loss of custom has not led to discounts demonstrates that the so-called higher education “market” simply does not exist.
Higher education institutions have encouraged students to sign on to their courses, encouraged them to take up student loans and sign up for accommodation. They know that those loans will be fed back to them by the government. Now that students have signed their contracts and started to arrive at their institutions of choice, the sector is now closing ranks and pulling up the drawbridge: radically reduced teaching hours, a refusal to teach face-to-face, bans on social gatherings, and the publication of threats, sanctions and dismissals for breaking COVID-related rules, all while blaming students for daring to turn-up and be taught.
We want to see a return to higher and further education as a public good. Until that times come we will continue to call on the government to #CutTheFees and treat domestic students more fairly.
UK government response
It seems wholly unfair to expect students to sign up for the same fees as in a pre-pandemic world, for a university experience they simply cannot buy. The government’s response to a letter sent by IF is that universities are “autonomous” and can charge what they want, yet the government has stepped in to close down entire industries such as aviation. The government could step in to lower the overall fee gap.
The government must do better
We want to see a fairer student finance offer to students, one that acknowledges that this year’s intake will simply not have the same student experience. Nor should this year’s domestic students have to foot the bill for the evaporation of international student fees, on which so much of our bloated higher education sector has come to depend.
The marketisation of higher education is a myth
The higher education sector’s response to COVID-19 proves that there is no market in higher education. The sector showed its true colours in 2012 when most institutions stampeded to £9,000 fees. It has now closed ranks and is intent on continuing to feed off students with little regard to how much debt students will incur: an average of £50,000, paid back over the next 30 years once earning over a threshold that conveniently matches the average annual wage. The current system means that the average graduate faces a 41% marginal tax rate for the next 30 years.