Ministers urged to put pressure on universities over refunds for students

PA Parliamentary Staff

Universities have been urged to provide refunds to students who are unable to access their accommodation during lockdown.

The Government heard cross-party calls, including from Conservative MPs, to put pressure on universities to ensure students are receiving the education they are paying for.

Education minister Michelle Donelan said there is a process in place for students who feel they are not getting the quantity and quality of university experience they are paying for.

Raising the issue, Conservative MP Gareth Bacon (Orpington) said: “Can (Ms Donelan) update the House on what discussions have been held with universities about full or partial refunds for tuition and accommodation fees in this academic year?”

Ms Donelan responded: “We as a Government set the maximum tuition fee level, not the minimum, and it is up to universities to then decide what to charge.

“Every single one of them has continued to charge the maximum during this pandemic and, in return, we have said that we expect the quantity, quality and accessibility of provision to be there.

“If a student feels it’s not, there is a process in place. They can make a formal complaint to their university and if still it isn’t resolved, they can take it to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator which can, in fact, lead to a potential or partial refund.”

Conservative MP Steve Double (St Austell and Newquay) said student accommodation providers should “show some flexibility”.

He said: “While it is welcome that some universities and accommodation providers are providing partial rebates to students, too many still aren’t.

“So would the minister join me in urging all those accommodation providers to students to show some flexibility and provide a partial rent rebate wherever possible?”

Ms Donelan responded: “Absolutely, I totally agree with (Mr Double), this is a difficult time for students and we do urge all university providers of accommodation to give a partial refund for this period of time that students can’t access their accommodation.”

Kate Green
Shadow education secretary Kate Green (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Conservative former minister Caroline Nokes asked what pressure is being placed on universities to ensure students receive the quality of education they are paying for.

The Romsey and Southampton North MP told the Commons: “Many of the halls of residence of Southampton University fall within my constituency.

“The students there deserve and expect a quantity and quality of education that is commensurate with what they would be receiving if they had online classes.

“Can (Michelle Donelan) confirm what pressure she is bringing to bear on all universities to make sure our students are receiving the education that they are paying for?”

Ms Donelan responded: “I do agree with (Ms Nokes) because online doesn’t have to mean in theory, and that is exactly why universities have invested a great deal of time and money to produce innovative and dynamic tuition.

“But we are clear every student deserves to receive quality, quantity and accessibility in terms of their tuition and this is being actively monitored by the Office for Students.”

Shadow education secretary Kate Green said: “Yesterday, I met students who feel simply forgotten by the Government.

“Ministers’ incompetent response to the pandemic has robbed them of their university experience.

“They’re isolated at home, without support, while paying for accommodation they’re forbidden from using and seeing their future placements, jobs and opportunities disappear.

“It’s utterly devastating and utterly unjust, and the minister must make it her priority to put that right.”

Ms Donelan said: ““Unlike (Ms Green), who told her party activists to use a crisis as a political opportunity, our priority is to ensure that the opportunities of our young are safeguarded and that students aren’t left in hardship because of this pandemic.”

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