Tuition Fees in the Coronavirus Crisis

Should we be paying them? The NUS certainly doesn’t think so.

They’re calling for universities to either reimburse tuition fees for a full year of education or allow students to re-take said year at no extra charge. There’s no doubt that huge numbers of students will be feeling the burden of university’s costs more than ever at the moment, with some university accommodation providers failing to forgo this term’s rent. That alone will be a financial nightmare for many, but coupled with a lack of seasonal work that many students rely on to supplement their student loan, money is now going to be an even bigger issue than usual.

The coronavirus crisis has also resulted in a move to online learning for a number of courses. Unfortunately, this will not be enough to satisfy many that they have had their money’s worth – after all, a change like that would normally have needed years of planning, not the weeks that our universities had to work with.

Universities themselves aren’t exactly having the best time of it either though, financially speaking. Whilst the NUS is calling for reimbursements, the UCU is warning the government of a “catastrophe” in university funding – a £2.5 billion sized catastrophe, that is. So, is it likely that we’re all going to get refunds on our tuition fees for this year? I don’t think it is. But the fact that the NUS is at least drawing attention to the hardship that many students will be going through right now is deserving of heaps of praise – there are many out there who can’t see past their own privilege to the fact that this crisis is a disaster in so many ways for so many people, and not just an exercise in avoiding boredom.

So, it seems like any possibility of tuition fee reimbursements being carried out would have to start at the governmental level. A bail out for universities struggling to cope with the economic effects of Covid-19 has indeed been called for, but what’s been the answer?

“Universities should exhaust other options first”

Unfortunately, though, I can’t imagine that they have many “other options” thanks to the Tories’ decision to reduce their financial contribution to universities by £120 million in the past few years. Considering that these institutions offer vital local employment opportunities, essential research and produce the next generation of degree-educated workers, I personally wouldn’t want to delay giving them the money they need to carry on.

To add insult to injury, there’s even been a suggestion that financial support should be limited for

“‘low quality’ courses, such as those whose graduates go on to earn well below sector averages.”

For me, this echoes the idea of “low skilled” jobs – those that always have been, but which are particularly noticed now as some of the most critical jobs in keeping society running. It’s people in “low skilled” jobs that are amongst those putting their health on the line to keep society afloat at the moment. Is our value to society dependent on the amount of money we earn? I think this virus has shed light on the fact that it absolutely does not. The most valuable people in keeping us going – key workers and NHS staff – are paid little in comparison to their worth. And now, the courage that they’re showing by risking their lives for the rest of us? Priceless.

So, in short, no – I don’t think that courses should be given less emergency funding depending on what the graduates end up earning. In fact, it seems that the Conservatives are using this as some sort of excuse to further their own agenda, since something along these lines had already been proposed last year, before the crisis had even occurred. In order to reduce tuition fees, they were thinking of lowering funding for degrees which had less “value for money” – also known as arts and humanities degrees. Students who study these subjects don’t necessarily start earning big from the moment they graduate. But instead of continuing to support creativity, the Tories have made it clear that to them, a country filled with what they see as “socially valuable” people is better than one in which the population is happy.

As I mentioned before, their view of social value is enormously off the mark, too. When asked about a pay rise for nurses, Matt Hancock said

“Now is not the moment to enter into a pay negotiation. Now is the moment for everybody to be doing their very best”

It’s not a matter of “pay negotiation”, Matthew – I guess that’s what a Tory might call it, but to the rest of us, paying nurses a proper wage is the very least we can do to thank them for risking their lives on a daily basis to try keep the rest of us alive. How about you do your “very best” to make clapping at your doorstep mean something, and pay the people that you’re clapping for a wage which reflects their actual – not just economic – value to society.

If the Tories had voted in favour of an amendment to the Queen’s speech in 2017, we wouldn’t need to ask for nurses to be paid more because they already would be. If the coalition hadn’t established students as consumers when they tripled tuition fees in 2010, perhaps they would be less likely to call for a refund when the product seems unsatisfactory. What we really need is a government that sees public sector workers and students not as statistics, but as individuals. Individuals who deserve the “very best” that their government can offer, not a request to “exhaust other options” before seeking their aid, or a bit of clapping on a Thursday evening.


The Petitions Committee has created a survey for students about the impact of coronavirus on their studies and finances. Get your voice heard here:

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