In light of the ongoing disruption caused by the pandemic, we've received numerous questions about tuition fees for this and the next academic year. We've written an open letter to UEA's Vice Chancellor, Prof David Richardson, to express your concerns.
Student Feeling in relation to Course Fees
Dear David and Executive colleagues
In the second half of the academic year 19/20 COVID-19 took hold across the country and most students and staff found themselves having to adapt quickly to new online provision. Whilst this was difficult for all involved, the pace of change coupled with changes to assessment, grading and module choices left many students at UEA and across the country confused and worried. As students entered the new academic year 20/21, online provision became the norm with some blended offering where possible. The overall impression across the student body was that this was not rolled out well, and whilst many students understood the task at hand, they were disappointed and underwhelmed by the provision offered. From our anecdotal conversations, many students have expressed concerns, despite understanding the difficulties teaching staff have faced:
Lecturers have put in a lot of effort. Nice to have the recorded lectures to look back on. Find doing practical maths sessions very difficult online when there's 80 people in the collaborate room and class discussions and talking to peers far more difficult online.
Had one face to face session all term, the move to online has some benefits, for example being recorded, easy to attend as just have to get out bed etc. But breakout rooms are useless they are often silent, and hard to interact with other people, also sometimes feels a disconnect between teachers and pupils.
Less live teaching and no face to face contact, along with lecturers seemingly not having received proper training on how to use the live lecture software has given a lower quality of teaching than last year, despite this year arguably being a much more important year.
They are doing the best they can with what they have but we pay a lot of money to attend the university and we are not being supported as well as we could be if it was face to face.
Video streaming was temperamental even in UEA residences. Also, paying for tuition AND accommodation rent and getting mostly online content and video lectures is NOT value for money. In countries where free tuition is policy, students have not even had to deal with the value for money issue, but over here, it is a completely different story.
To add to this, the changes to assessments left many students concerned about their ability to complete them well and having the correct resources to do so. Some students also had concerns over high stakes assessment which in some cases, became a by-product of the reduced number of assessments. Whilst the feeling is mixed and contrasting in this area, the overwhelming sense of anxiety is clear for many students. This anxiety has only been exacerbated with the tightening of Government restrictions in the last 24 hours.
Whilst we know first-hand the hard work and commitment that has been taken to try and provide a full offer of online learning, the successful rollout of this has been varied across schools. Many do this well, but many have left students feeling that the provision they have received has landed far below expectations. Much of the student population feel aggrieved that they were promised a face-to-face provision in some capacity and this is now looking more and more likely to not be the case for the full academic year. The Pandemic has caused massive disruption to the lives of students, the changing in Government guidance and rules regarding mixing in both academic and social circumstances has meant that students have not been able to take advantage of the all the usual opportunities available to them
Naturally, due to this disruption, students are questioning the value of the offer both in terms of fees and accommodation charges. We support students in their endeavour to lobby for tuition fee refunds. We recognise that whilst the UK Government has spent £210bn on COVID response none of this money has gone to universities to support hem for loss of income or additional costs incurred in making campuses COVID secure, converting teaching to on-line and providing additional support for student mental health and wellbeing.
We have the following questions
- Is the university prepared to acknowledge the disruption the pandemic has caused for students?
- What action is the university taking to support students demands for compensation for this disruption. What action are the University and Universities UK taking to lobby the Government to give financial support universities currently, particularly to support the refund of student rents?
- Will the university commit to providing greater transparency around the financial position of the institution and engage in dialogue with students to help them understand the Universities current funding issues?
- Will the University support student demands from Government to compensate them and financially support Universities?
- Would the Vice Chancellor participate in a live online Q&A with students?
- How will the University offer greater transparency around academic mitigations being put in place?
Despite the difficulties that the whole HE sector faces, we know the UEA have been working incredibly hard to ensure students are given the best quality teaching and learning and are supported well through this difficult time. However, we feel that the time has come to engage in serious dialogue around this area. Students feel aggrieved and tired of the constant changes and restrictions on their learning and wider opportunities. Students feel that the offer that has had to be presented for their degree this year is now far removed from what they hoped, expected and were promised. UEA students are resilient but they also now feel they have no other alternative than to ask for a tuition fee refund.
We thank you once again for your willingness to engage in conversations such as these and look forward to response to our questions.
Em Anderson – Welfare, Community and Diversity Officer
Ayane Hida – Postgraduate Education Officer
Lizzie Payne – Activities and Opportunities Officer
Callum Perry – Undergraduate Education Officer
Hamish Williams – Campaigns and Democracy Officer