Students still required to pay full tuition fees even if universities are closed

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Refunds will not be available if classes are continued to a certain standard online.

The government has confirmed that universities in England are still permitted to charge students full tuition fees even if the institution is currently closed amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

If courses are continued and taught online to a certain standard, then students will not be entitled to a refund on fees, or any other form of compensation.

The minister of state responsible for the higher education sector, Michelle Donelan, declared refunds may only be available if "the quality [of online education] isn't there", but it hasn't currently been stated how this will be monitored and ascertained.

She stated that: “We have already seen over the last few months courses being delivered online and virtually at an amazing quality and degree and I know the efforts that staff across the sector have made to be able to facilitate that".

“We have always said that we don’t believe students would be entitled to reimbursements of tuition fees if the quality is there."

"Of course, there are processes that they can follow if they feel that the quality isn’t there.”

University of Manchester

At present, many students and universities are facing uncertainty as to whether campuses will be allowed to reopen for in-person teaching at the start of the new semester in September/October, or whether courses will be required to continue partly or fully online.

The universities minister has confirmed that no formal decision has yet been made on the next academic year.

She did reiterate that if courses are taught online and "students are really getting the quality, and they're getting a course which is fit for purpose", then they would not be entitled to a discount in fees and added that "universities are still continuing with their overheads and their expenses during this time, and it's no fault of their own".

Following the calls last month by Universities UK for at least £2 billion in emergency funding for institutions at risk of "going bust", the government has confirmed that £2.6 billion of tuition fee income and £100 million of research funding will be brought forward to help stabilise finances. To help with cash flow, universities will also be able to access the Treasury's support for businesses disrupted by coronavirus (COVID-19), which is worth another £700 million.

Michelle Donelan added that: "should providers require further support, the government will continue to review their financial circumstances".

University of Manchester

Two students in Manchester have spoken to the BBC to offer their reactions to the announcement that fees will not be subsidised and discuss their experiences thus far.

Rose, an international student from India, explained why she feels that online lessons are not an adequate alternative and stated her regrets in paying so much for her course: "It's been a nightmare."

"First of all we had two strikes which lasted three to four weeks at a time and now this. I paid £19,000 for my course. We're not a rich family. That's all the money my family have."

"I feel so guilty for using it all up for this."

Another Manchester-based student, Isobel, further stated that: "There has been no talk about a refund for the lack of lectures."

"I am finding it difficult not being able to access libraries, and ask questions. Yes, I know you can email stuff to lecturers, but they're swamped."

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Current students and applicants are expected to be given a clearer idea of arrangements on institutions reopening in the autumn over the forthcoming weeks.

For more general information on higher education amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and to ensure you remain up to date, it is advised to check the Universities UK website here.

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