The University of Edinburgh has failed its students over fee invoices

As the University of Edinburgh adjusts to the dictates of the pandemic, it has asked its students to be patient. And, whilst I can turn a blind eye to the delayed distribution of student cards, delayed assignment of personal tutors, maybe even the delayed allocation of courses, my patience is not inexhaustible. My patience ends where incompetence jeopardises equal opportunity. By failing to issue tuition fee invoices in time, the University has done just that. It needlessly erected barriers and generated anxiety – even humiliation – for those of whom it should be especially supportive.

There are different ways in which an Edinburgh student can pay their tuition fees. Either, they can pay by instalments throughout the academic year or they can pay the entire amount at once. In order to make use of the first and – to many, me included only – option, 50 per cent of the tuition fee has to be paid by a certain, fast-approaching deadline.

One week before this deadline, I am yet to be invoiced. In light of my complaints about this, I have repeatedly been advised that this is not as dire as it might seem because, fortunately, the university allows for non-invoiced payments. I can simply pay the 50 per cent upfront; problem solved. Or is it?

The reason why I can only afford to study at the University of Edinburgh is because I have been granted a generous scholarship that covers almost my entire fee and includes a monthly living allowance. However, I will only receive the fee subsidy and part of the allowance once I present the scholarship foundation with an invoice.

At the present moment, I cannot see how, in the remaining time before the deadline, I will be invoiced, the invoice will be processed by the scholarship foundation, the payment will be made, and the payment will arrive on my bank account from where it will finally find its way to the university.

Because I worked and saved the entire last year in anticipation that life in Edinburgh would be expensive, I am just about able to scramble together the first instalment. I will be able to pay by the deadline (what about those like me that will not?), but doing so I will empty my bank account completely – which leaves me with nothing to pay my rent at the end of this month.

Not wanting to burden my parents with this issue who are struggling financially because of Covid-19 restrictions on top of their already precarious jobs as a taxi driver and cosmetician, I will have to borrow money from my little sister.

To put any of their students in a financial situation that is this awkward by failing to issue a one-page document is unacceptable.

More so, it is reprehensible.

This failure of the University displays a shocking disregard and insensitivity to students who finance themselves via sources other than their parents. It cannot be explained nor excused by Covid-19. This is not my individual misfortune. This is a systemic blind spot, and an embarrassing one. To provide equal opportunities entails more than correcting financial means – we must also create frameworks in which these corrections can take hold. This means being attuned to potential systemic barriers. A first step would be listening to students who warn of problems they see on the horizon. Like I did. In mid-August – and thrice again since.

The point I am trying to make here is not that the University should get its administrative services up and running – that could be the topic of another debate. The point I am trying to make is that the University should be sensitive to the needs of students with little financial means of their own, and that currently it is not.

In the 21st century, universities must understand that firstly, there are students enrolled at their institution who finance themselves via external sources; secondly, financing oneself via external sources comes with extra requirements, such as having to certify the precise amount of fees for an academic year with an official document; and thirdly, making these documents available to students who need them for their funding is an absolute priority.

These points are so blatantly obvious, nobody should have to read, much less formulate, them. And yet it seems that the University of Edinburgh is not aware of at least one of these facts – and I really hope it is not the first.

Image: M J Richardson, via Geograph