Coronavirus: MPs demand clarity on university students’ right to a fees refund
A recent IFS report found that 13 universities faced going bust as a result of the pandemic (PA)
MPs have written to the Government urging them to increase support for universities hit by the coronavirus pandemic and provide clarity to students seeking fee refunds.
The plea from the Petitions Committee comes after more than 347,000 people signed an e-petition asking ministers to reimburse all student fees for the current academic year following strikes and the impact of the pandemic.
The committee ruled out a blanket refund of course fees, but its chair Catherine McKinnell has called for “clarity on students’ rights to a refund for their education”.
She said: “Despite the hard work of lecturers and support staff, some universities have been unable to provide courses in a way that students feel is good value for money.
“Therefore, while we do not consider that a blanket refund for all students is necessarily required, we believe that the Government has a role in ensuring any student whose university experience has fallen short is compensated.”
According to the report, published by the committee on Monday, 87% of students surveyed said they had seen their contact hours decrease due to social distancing.
It also found that 47% of students surveyed were paying for university accommodation they now do not need.
To help support universities and their students, the report urges the Government to commit emergency funding to cover the cost of potential refunds and other lost income.
Ms McKinnell added: “The Coronavirus pandemic and its effect on UK universities represents the greatest challenge they have faced for generations.
“If the Government fails to offer a comprehensive and accessible support package for both universities and students, then we face letting down an entire generation, and critically damaging a sector that will play a crucial role in our country’s post-Covid economic recovery.”
A report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies released last week found that 13 UK universities faced a “very real prospect” of insolvency following the pandemic.
It warned that the institutions, which were not named, would need a government bailout if they were to survive.
Elsewhere, the study found that although high-ranking universities with large numbers of international students face the largest immediate drop in income, the least prestigious universities are currently at greatest risk.
It is estimated that the higher education sector could lose anywhere between £3 billion and £19 billion as a result of the coronavirus crisis.