Parliamentary Committee publishes report on impact of Covid-19 on students

The Coronavirus pandemic has "hugely disrupted" university students' educations, the report states. Source: Science and Engineering - University of Hull (via Flickr)
The petitions committee launched an inquiry into the impact of coronavirus on students. The report states: "The Covid-19 outbreak has hugely disrupted the education of university students", but does not recommend a universal refund of tuition fees.

By Tom Kingsbury | Political Editor

Parliament’s Petition Committee launched an inquiry into the impact of Coronavirus on students following a number of petitions regarding the issue, which received over 600,000 signatures in total.

The report found that the COVID-19 outbreak has “hugely disrupted” the education of university students.

But whilst it stated that students have a right to seek a refund where they have received inadequate delivery of their courses, it concluded that “there should not be a universal refund or reimbursement of tuition fees to all university students.”

The Government has not intervened regarding university fees in response to the coronavirus pandemic, taking the position that it is up to universities to reimburse students.

Michelle Donelan, Minister of State for Universities, told the committee:

“They can charge a lower level; they have that freedom to do so … A refund as such is really a matter for a university rather than the Government.”

Cardiff University has stated, “the university has no plans to reduce, or issue refunds, for tuition fees.”

What did the report find?

Surveying over 25,000 current students, the Committee found that the “vast majority” were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the delivery of their courses.

It also found the pandemic has meant that students are unable to access university facilities which are funded by their tuition fees.

“students are not receiving the benefit of the facilities that they nevertheless continue to pay for.”

Students from disadvantaged backgrounds were particularly likely to receive insufficient delivery of their courses, for reasons such as weak wi-fi and living in a crowded household where their learning is disrupted.

Almost half the responses to the committee’s survey indicated that they were paying for university accommodation that they do not need.

The report also found that students’ incomes have fallen, due to furlough, reduced hours, unpaid leave, or redundancy.

What recommendations did the report make?

The report found that there was “no clear guidance” as to the circumstances under which students are entitled to a refund.

It suggested that the Government work with the Office for Students and the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education to provide guidance on the circumstances in which students are likely to be entitled to seek a refund of repeat part of their course.

“it is essential that all students are made aware of their rights”, the report stated.

It also recommended the government consider the impact of Covid-19 on students “just as it has done in providing its wide-ranging package of support for businesses.”

The report called on the Government to provide funding for students looking to extend their education, either by retaking part of their course or taking additional courses.

Support and advice for graduates is important too, the report stated, in “what is likely to be an extremely challenging employment market.”

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