Comment Student Experience

What is the solution for our wasted pandemic tuition fees?

Let’s be honest: students have been getting a bit ripped off lately. First we were hit by a three week academic strike, which was promptly followed by the swift uppercut of a global pandemic, cancelling all in-person teaching and even exams for half of undergraduate students.

Indeed, the idea of paying £9,250 – and in the case of international students, substantially more – for a course for which they haven’t had a tutorial since the beginning of February seems unconscionable to many students, and for good reason. It’s hard not to feel a little incensed being asked for such a large sum for a university experience amounting to virtually nothing. And it seems as though this will be the case for the foreseeable future: a great deal of learning will merely be through Powerpoints uploaded online, students have up to this point have been provided with almost no support, and a majority of sports and societies cannot legally meet in person— so why is the University pretending as though its students are enjoying a completely normal university experience?

Consider as well other unprecedented costs the pandemic has brought to students. For instance, many students were paying for accommodation until the end of the last academic year after flying home at the start of lockdown. There’s also the completely dire employment situation. Some shops have even said they’ve had up to 1,000 applications since March, and many young people have fruitlessly scoured during the long time they’ve been sitting at home this summer. It’s therefore hardly surprising that over 350,000 people have signed a parliamentary petition calling for all students to be reimbursed for the entire last academic year, and its relevant committee found that just 7 per cent of students have been satisfied with the quality of education they have received in the past year.

So, clearly, students should not have to pay for such a low-quality university experience— but just how should it be paid for? There are numerous alternative methods to the crippling student debt that hangs over young people’s heads for decades. Most famous is the Jeremy Corbyn model of free tuition for all students, which unfortunately was considered too radical by a lot of voters in December of last year (many of whom are from the age demographics who have never had to pay a penny for education in their lives). Although it seems more fair for those with more disposable income – millionaires for example with more than they could possibly spend in a lifetime – to help out graduates, sadly not everybody thinks quite so generously.

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However, there are hopefully more palatable options available for these older, more conservative voters – a pause of two years in student loan fees so the economic effects of graduating into a recession are mitigated, or perhaps raising the minimum salary threshold, or even only beginning payments later in life, until say the age of 40, when graduates are more financially comfortable. Even New Labour’s ‘graduate tax’ idea, wherein university fees are levied on income tax, would remove burdensome interest rates of student loans, and be less of a deterrent for lower-class young people looking to enter higher education.

But in spite of all these various options to help students, what remains glaringly clear is the complete lack of any action whatsoever by the government. In the current circumstances, doing nothing is considerably worse than doing something, and it seems ludicrous that the government has decided that now is the time to continue charging so much after all students have been through this year. After all, if not now, when? 

Image: Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr