Should Nottingham University be given refunds for the disruption of teaching caused by COVID-19?
During the strikes, one of the University’s main justifications for not providing financial compensation to affected students was that ‘student fees cover a very wide range of services, not just tuition’.
They cited the continued availability of ‘libraries, computer rooms, and services… to enable students to continue studies and independent learning’.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the University has stated that ‘no student will be academically disadvantaged due to the coronavirus’, yet the pandemic has caused students to lose access to those resources previously highlighted as important.
It feels like, for half the year, we’ve had the resources but not the teaching, and for the second half we’ve had the teaching but not the resources
For a student affected by the strikes, it feels like, for half the year, we’ve had the resources but not the teaching, and for the second half we’ve had the teaching (with varying degrees of success) but not the resources.
When it suited the University to say that the resources were critical, that’s what they said. And now it suits them to suggest that it’s the teaching that matters, so that is what they do. The inherent contradiction is frustrating, to say the least.
I asked 18 Nottingham University students whether they thought we should get refunds because of COVID-19. 13 thought we should get refunds, one was undecided and one agreed but highlighted the importance of partial, rather than full refunds.
Three disagreed. I then asked them if they thought we should get refunds due to the strike action. 15 said yes, one said it depended on how badly each individual was affected and two said no refunds should be granted.
What surprised me was how much the justifications behind these answers varied from person to person. For example, the levels of sympathy for the University’s plight varied enormously.
It is clear that this is a very divisive issue from the student viewpoint. That said, students tended to be understanding of the fact that COVID-19 is not the fault of the University.
As one student surmised: “It’s not the university’s fault that everything had to shut down. They did what they could to make teaching accessible from home and adapted our exams so that things could still continue.” And of course, the University still has to pay staff somehow.
According to a BBC article, Universities UK told MPs universities were under “severe financial pressure” and paying refunds to students could “put some institutions at risk.”
Should students just stop being selfish, accept that Coronavirus is a disaster for everyone and not push for refunds that will cause more damage to the UK economy?
This raises the question: Should students just stop being selfish, accept that Coronavirus is a disaster for everyone and not push for refunds that will cause more damage to the UK economy?
However, one main point that was raised repeatedly in support of refunds- for both COVID-19 and the strikes- was that, whilst this isn’t anybody’s fault, students simply did not get what they paid for.
As one student said, “they haven’t provided the service that was promised to us and it isn’t worth the fees we have paid.” It is hard to separate the issue of refunds for the strikes and refunds for Coronavirus, as the frustration levels have grown as students have been denied the teaching they paid for on two separate occasions.
Another student made this link explicit, saying, “while it’s not the University’s fault about Corona, it is their fault for strikes and coupled up it means that students in certain faculties have had hardly any teaching.”
If nobody will be academically disadvantaged, what is the point of the university campus, the library, the halls?
Another main point raised was a sense of disillusionment, a feeling that I share. If nobody will be academically disadvantaged, what is the point of the university campus, the library, the halls?
Academics is linked closely with the rest of the university experience and arguably inseparable – the point of university is that you move away from home and learn to live and work in a different environment. It prepares you for later life.
Furthermore, whilst the no detriment policy means students didn’t receive a lesser qualification because of Coronavirus, this is mainly due to reduced assessments.
In many instances, if 40% of the module had been completed, then this counted as the overall grade for that module. This means that a test worth 10% at the start of the year (that someone might not have done much work for, believing it not to be very important) is now worth a disproportionate amount of their grade.
It also means that people who were already working for coming up assessments or exams didn’t get to show off their work and got no recognition for this.
And those who were hoping to bring up their grade with the other 60% of their module simply did not get this opportunity. How does this not disadvantage students academically?
Whilst lecturers were supposed to continue teaching online, technical difficulties meant this did not always happen. And the National Union of Students president Zamzam Ibrahim has made the obvious point that students could be getting different levels of quality in their online lessons.
Meanwhile, online assessments will clearly benefit some individuals more than others, and some subjects more than others. An open book maths exam will probably yield a better result than having to do a French oral over Zoom.
So, in many cases, we’ve only done 40% of the module. How is this not a disadvantage? What the University meant, by no academic disadvantage, was that the final result won’t be allowed to fall from what students are currently sitting on.
This defines academics as results rather than learning; and suggests that the former is more important. As one student said, “I’m not just paying for a piece of paper; I’m paying to be taught.”
University is now seen as a monetary transaction, rather than a learning experience
This sentiment, shared by many of the students I spoke to, raises a bigger issue. University is now seen as a monetary transaction, rather than a learning experience.
The University’s refusal to admit that COVID-19 will have academically disadvantaged students acknowledges that students are paying over 9 grand a year, not for the learning experience, but for a piece of paper.
Whilst the situation is frustrating, what is even more infuriating is that, whilst there are some genuinely valid reasons for not issuing refunds, the University do not seem to have issued a statement about this.
Maybe if they respected the student body enough to acknowledge their concerns and respond to them, students would be more understanding of this decision. As it is, it feels like we are being ignored.
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