Credit: Fabian Blank via Unsplash

Legal bid to force universities to pay tuition fee refunds due to Covid-19 launched

By Finlay MacDonald

This bid is being fuelled by the argument that the education that students receive has suffered due to changes made in response to the Covid-19 outbreak.

A legal bid aiming to get university students refunds for their tuition fees due to the changes in teaching formats required because of Covid-19 restrictions was launched on Friday 13 November 2020. This bid is being funded by Refund Students, a campaign which is free for students to join.

The legal bid is based on the argument that online learning is an inferior educational experience to the more traditional face-to-face learning that university students could normally expect.

Many students agree that the more old-fashioned in-person teaching approach is more effective than the necessitated, more modern online approach. It is particularly noticeable for those studying practical subjects, such as those in scientific fields, where many find it easier to understand and remember a process if you have carried out that experiment yourself, especially compared to watching someone do it on a screen. 

They argue this is not just limited to practical subjects though, and every subject benefits from students being able to engage with their surroundings; to pick up on those subtle changes of a lecturer’s voice or body language which can be lost over a small screen or a bad internet connection. This has been recognized by university lecturers in the past, who would often recommend students attend lectures in person, even when lectures were recorded, for the optimal learning experience.

Others have argued these points are moot, noting recorded lectures have improved on what they once were, as the universities have adapted and invested heavily to try and ensure that students get as high a level of education as possible. Some students even seem to prefer the new format, enjoying the easy access to online resources as well as the new flexibility it grants, allowing them to work at the time it best suits them.

Refund Students represents a body of students who clearly believe the level of teaching they are receiving falls below the standard they are paying for, and with petitions gaining over 350,000 signatures across the UK, it is clear a lot of students feel this way. A parliamentary committee agrees with this position and has said students should be refunded, a position which thus far has been refused by universities and the government.

The underlying theme behind the legal bid will be this question of whether the standard of teaching has dropped, a question which will be deeply contested by both sides. Perhaps the clearest answer will come from whatever method of teaching universities choose to adopt once life finally returns to normal. It is worth noting any court decision would likely not affect Scottish students as education is a devolved issue.


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