32.This report focuses on the requests of petitions calling for students to be refunded tuition fees for the current academic year, but 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.
33.It is too early to say exactly what the Covid-19 outbreak will mean for students in the next academic year, but guidance published by both the Government and Universities UK indicates that the outbreak will affect how university education is delivered. Last month the Government published guidance for the higher education sector on reopening buildings and campuses, which aimed to help higher education providers understand how to minimise risk during the Covid-19 outbreak and provide services to students. Universities UK has also set out a series of principles for universities to consider when emerging from lockdown and considering making changes in light of guidance on social distancing.
34.While it is too early to know what effect the Covid-19 outbreak will have on university courses in the next academic year, there will not be a return to business as usual. We hope that all universities will be able to effectively deliver every university course to the standard that students are entitled, but if this is not the case students whose courses are affected by the Covid-19 outbreak in the next academic year should have the same easily accessible recourse to seek a refund or to repeat part of their course that we have recommended should apply to students in the current academic year. Any new arrangements that are put in place to better enable students to access refunds for tuition fees, where they believe they are not receiving the education they are entitled to, should be available to all students whose courses are affected by the Covid-19 outbreak in future academic years.
35.In addition to concerns that students are not receiving value for money as a result of the impact Covid-19 has had on university courses, many students are concerned about how their future could be affected as a result of disruption to those courses. Sophie Quinn told us:
As a final-year student, lots of my peers and I are really worried about not being able to get a job. As all of you probably know, it is difficult in normal circumstances to get jobs and graduate schemes. In this situation it is even more difficult.
36.The Minister acknowledged that “This is going to be very worrying for students on top of what has already been a very difficult time. Their job prospects will be at the forefront of their minds.” She told us that some institutions had “been doing online forums with work-related skills, interview skills, and so on”, but said there was more the Government can do in this space. Following the session the Minister wrote to us to say that the Government was “working with the universities sector to identify the overall range of support offered to graduates who are looking to enter the labour market or continue their studies at this challenging time”, and committed to send us more information on the steps the Government has taken once they have been rolled out.
37.University students whose courses have been affected by Covid-19, particularly those in their final year, are understandably concerned about the impact the disruption to their courses could have on their futures. We welcome the Government’s acknowledgment of these concerns, and its plans to look at the overall range of support offered to graduates who are looking to enter the labour market or continue their studies at this challenging time. As part of its work to consider support offered to graduates entering the labour market, the Government should consider making additional funding available to students who might want to extend their education—either by retaking part of their course or taking additional courses—after the outbreak, and to provide ongoing employment advice and support beyond graduation in what is likely to be an extremely challenging employment market.
56 Department for Education, , June 2020
57 Universities UK, , June 2020
61 , 30 June 2020
Published: 13 July 2020