Covid: Can university students get a refund on their tuition fees due to lockdown?

Video and words by ITV News Digital Producer Natalia Jorquera

Coronavirus has disrupted almost every industry, including education. But whereas most consumers, like holidaymakers for example, have been able to get refunds on things like flights, university students - many of whom have paid £9,000 in tuition fees for this year, have not been afforded the same protections.Leanne, a criminology and forensic science student, has only had one hour of face-to-face teaching in person during her last term.She told ITV News: "It just sort of feels like we're being taken advantage of, and it does feel like I'm a victim of daylight robbery."Many students were enticed back to campus with the promise of a blended learning approach, where students would have a mixture of in-person and online learning. But for many students like Leanne, the majority of her learning has been online."We were supposed to have lots of lab work this year for forensic analysis and we haven't had that at all," Leanne said. "That's been detrimental to our learning because we had to pick up on concepts that are quite practical through theory alone."

Bristol University halls were placed in lockdown in October as coronavirus cases thrived among the student population. Credit: ITV News

Not all students have had their teaching online this year. Courses like medicine, dentistry and veterinary science have continued in-person, yet many students believe they have been getting bad value for their tuition fees.

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, the NUS Vice President for Higher Education told ITV News: "In the surveys that we've been running, we found that firstly one in five students - around 22% - claimed that their expectations for teaching were not met during last term.

"We also found that 13% of those receiving online learning are still unable to access this sufficiently to complete their studies, while 17% do not agree that this provision has been over good quality standards."So are students able to get a refund?"Students may be entitled to a refund if they feel that they haven't received an adequate quality of education this year," Hillary said. "However, it's really difficult to get that in a system that doesn't really provide a universal way for that to happen."Over a quarter of a million people signed a petition calling for partial refunds due to coronavirus. It was debated in parliament and the government said if students were unhappy they should complain to their university before escalating to The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) – the university ombudsman, if still unhappy.

Some people have managed to get refunds for tuition. Student website The Tab reports about one in every 30 students who asks for a fee refund has had one.However, some universities like are refusing to give any tuition fee refunds to students unhappy with the Covid disruption.In a statement, Universities UK, a body which represents 140 universities across the country said: "Universities have spent significant amounts on hardship funds, supporting students to have the right equipment and resources to study, and online services from careers advice to support for mental health and wellbeing. 

"The Government is clear that there should not be blanket tuition fee refunds, but individual students should seek redress where they have particular concerns about their experience of their course."

But it's not just about the money for the students who feel like they've missed out on key education. Will universities be able to make it up?Hillary Gyebi-Ababio said: "We've been advocating for universities to be able to make up that teaching and make up that lost education. But for that to happen the government really needs to step in and provide maintenance funding for students to be able to take up that additional teaching and learning that they've missed out on because of this pandemic. So they can fully get the degrees and the education that they signed up for."Universities may not have been able to offer normal teaching during the pandemic, but if they've been able to provide equivalent teaching, even if that means missing out physically being in a lab, it's thought that it's unlikely students will get tuition fee refunds.Refunds will depend on the contract signed with the university upon enrolment, as students are essentially consumers and under consumer law are entitled to the service that was advertised.