By Izzy Morgan | Comment Editor
The issue of student fees has caused much debate in recent years ever since the fees were increased in 2010 to £9000 per year. This is a polarising issue as the increased funding allows universities to provide increased facilities for students, provide better quality of teaching and improve the university through better accommodation, technology and research. However, it’s the opinion of many students that the fees are grossly overpriced. Due to the huge impact of Coronavirus on university students, the issue is becoming even more divisive with many students being outraged at the lack of willingness to change fees on the universities part. So, are students justified in asking for reduced tuition fees for online learning?
As the debate goes on, many university cities such as Cardiff are seeing another surge of student activism as protests from varying groups to contest the fees are beginning to take shape. I attended a protest last week where a variety of speakers rallied the small crowd that had gathered despite the rain and wind. Social distancing was well enforced with all groups who came together staying at least 2 metres away from others at all times and masks being worn by the majority.
The switch to online learning has been a more difficult transition for many than could have been anticipated with many students not having access to wifi that is strong enough often to support large households having multiple zoom calls a day as well as accessing online materials such as emails and readings. There is a feeling from students that since many libraries don’t have the space to hold as many students and access is extremely limited that if the fees are to remain the same, students should at least be reimbursed for having to source better internet connections and therefore incurring higher costs.
The attitude of some students is that the price of their degree isn’t as big of an issue and have the view that it is more than likely that they will never pay the full amount back due to interest rates being so high. But is this view what keeps us as students from realising when we are being taken advantage of? Despite student debt being cancelled after 30 years and not affecting things like credit score, it can still be a huge burden for many people. It can impact some people’s ability to save for bigger things such as houses or travelling.
Whilst it is understandable that the university still has bills and staff to pay, it is unreasonable to try and argue that the standard of teaching is the same as it was in previous years. Online content can be faceless and students are no-doubt feeling isolated from the university community. Resources also are hugely different and therefore some students are calling for fees that resemble institutions who teach solely online such as the Open University who only charge £3000 a year.
There is also increasing frustration from international students who are usually paying on average double the amount for the same treatment. The move from abroad to study in the UK can be extremely isolating and difficult for many students and the cancellation of many student events will not have made friends as easily. As such it is not difficult to see why they would be frustrated just like other students. I spoke to Jasper who is a third year civil engineering student who said the situation was “not ideal” and said “the decision to put everything online came in late September, by which point most [students] would have arrived or purchased flight tickets to attend the coming year”.
The coming months will no doubt answer if students are justified in asking for reduced tuition fees and bring more clarity on the issue however, if universities continue to ignore the needs and complaints of students it is likely that students will begin to push back even more. The students are the lifeblood of a university and they need to make their opinions known if they are to enact any real change within a system which is potentially disadvantaging them. The real-world value of a degree has never been as low as it is in today’s society with a completely oversaturated job-market yet students are being charged more now than at any point in the past for it.