Unis should NOT charge over £9K for inadequate teaching, says Universities Minister

If you’ve started term only to find your uni experience isn’t up to scratch, should you still have to pay full tuition fees? Here’s what the government’s said about it…

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With many students paying as much as £9,250 in tuition fees, it’s so important that they get their money’s worth.

But, with a lot of aspects of uni life altered due to the coronavirus pandemic, is it fair for students to keep paying the same amount of fees for less in-person teaching, less opportunities to socialise and, for thousands, a need to self-isolate?

We think not – and the Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, has also warned universities that it’s “unacceptable” for them to charge over £9,000 if the levels of support and quality of teaching aren’t up to scratch.

Here’s a rundown of the news, along with advice at the end on how to complain and potentially claim compensation if you’re unhappy with your uni experience.

Why have tuition fees stayed the same in 2020/21?

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You may remember in May 2020 that we reported on the news that the government said that tuition fees would not go down this academic year, even if teaching remained online.

In that article, we’d looked at the significant condition to this that had been highlighted by the Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan – for unis to charge full tuition fees, online teaching needed to be good enough to justify the cost.

But, this raised so many questions. For starters, it’s arguable that online teaching never can be completely comparable to in-person teaching, without the face-to-face interaction between students and their tutor.

On top of this, there is so much more to uni life than just classes. Not only do tuition fees allow students to access their university’s facilities like the library and computer suites, but they also give students access to vital support services like counselling, financial advice, essay-writing support and much more.

These issues still remain. But, on 6th October 2020, in an Education Select Committee, Michelle Donelan built on what she’d said previously to say:

It would be unacceptable for a student to be paying those tuition fees and not getting that quality or not getting that support.

While tuition fee refunds are still not guaranteed, we hope that this change in Donelan’s language on the issue, saying “it would be unacceptable”, could help students’ cases if they do wish to complain.

Do you feel like your university is doing enough to support you and provide you with high-quality teaching this year? If not, Donelan suggests that it’s down to universities rather than the government to offer tuition fee discounts and refunds.

Read on to find out more about what Donelan said about the topic, along with an overview of the complaints process for uni students…

Online learning can be even more frustrating for students that live away from home and have rent and bills to pay – we’ve found out which uni students pay the most rent. 😬

The government’s position on tuition fees

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At the Education Select Committee this week, Michelle Donelan said:

The government only sets maximum fees, it doesn’t set a minimum so it is up to universities if they want and believe that they’re not providing adequate learning that is up to that value, they could themselves issue a discount.

The government doesn’t have the final say on that.

Plus, she also said that she’s highlighted to unis the importance of offering high-quality teaching and support:

I have been very clear with universities, I expect the quality to be there and the standards to be there.

And it’s important to note that often online learning is more expensive than traditional learning if done correctly and if done innovatively.

Can you get your tuition fees refunded?

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For now, if you do wish to seek compensation from your university, you will still need to follow the usual complaints process (outlined below) – the government is not offering automatic refunds for tuition fees.

However, this is an evolving situation, so if anything changes, we’ll be sure to cover it in the student news section of our site.

For in-depth advice on how to claim compensation from your university, have a read of our full guide.

But, as a quick overview of how to seek a tuition fee refund, you will need to first approach your university with your complaint. Try to present a strong case with all of the reasons why you think the quality and support is lacking at your uni, providing as much evidence as you can.

If you’ve followed your uni’s complaints procedure and you’re still unhappy with their response, you would then have the option to approach an ombudsman.

Here’s which ombudsman service you could contact, based on which area of the UK you are in:

  • Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) – For students in England and Wales
  • Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) – For students in Scotland
  • Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman (NIPSO) – For students in Northern Ireland.

The ombudsman will review your complaint and, if they think it’s justified, they’ll advise your university on how best to respond.

One suggestion the ombudsman could make to your uni is that they offer you compensation – in which case they would likely suggest a specific amount.

But, again, it’s worth having a read of our full guide to seeking compensation from uni for more advice and info on how to approach the complaint.

Find out how much the average student spends on living costs

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