The impact of Covid-19 on university students Contents


The Covid-19 outbreak has hugely disrupted the education of university students, as a result of which hundreds of thousands of people have signed petitions about the impact of Covid-19, as well as strike action earlier in the year, and calling for students to be reimbursed tuition fees and other costs. We have heard many students have experienced difficulties accessing the online content that has been made available, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, and courses where students need to use university facilities have been particularly affected. Thousands of students have also told us that the way in which courses are currently being delivered does not represent value for money for the tuition fees they pay.

While all university students have been affected by the Covid-19 outbreak, and many feel they are not currently receiving the quality of education they are entitled to, it is evident that universities have made enormous efforts to continue to deliver university courses in uniquely challenging circumstances. In at least some cases universities have been able to provide courses in a way that students believe is good value for money. While students do have a right to seek a refund or to repeat part of their course if the service provided by their university is substandard, we do not believe that there should be a universal refund or reimbursement of tuition fees to all university students.

Although we do not believe that all students should be reimbursed their tuition fees, we have called on the Government to work with the Office for Students and Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education to produce guidance on the circumstances in which university students are likely to be entitled to seek a refund or to repeat part of their course, and to establish a new system which enables all students to easily seek a full or partial refund of their tuition fees, or to repeat part of their course, based on an independent and objective assessment of the quality of education they have received over the academic year. We have also called on the Government to work with universities and the Office for Students to ensure that all students are advised of their consumer rights and are given clear guidance on how to avail themselves of these if they feel their university has failed to provide an adequate standard of education.

The Government has put in place unprecedented financial support measures in response to Covid-19. Given the importance of the higher education sector to the UK economy, and the exceptional circumstances facing both universities and university students, we have also recommended that the Government consider providing additional funding to universities to enable them to pay any refunds university students are entitled to as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak.

The Covid-19 outbreak will have implications both for current students once they leave university, and for students who will be continuing or beginning higher education in the coming academic year. For students attending university in future academic years, we have recommended that any new arrangements that are put in place to better enable students to access refunds for tuition fees be maintained for as long as university courses continue to be affected by the Covid-19 outbreak. For students whose university courses have been affected by the outbreak, we have called on the Government to consider making additional funding available to students who might want to extend their education after the outbreak, and to provide ongoing employment advice and support beyond graduation in what is likely to be an extremely challenging employment market.

Published: 13 July 2020