Students are right to ask for a partial refund for Trinity 2020

Comment University/Local Issues

Image Description: Students playing croquet on the lawn of Corpus Christi College, Oxford.

Imagine that you have ordered £100 of groceries and only half of the order with some dubious substitutions turns up. Would you still pay the full price of the delivery? Yet still the university asks us to pay full fees for a remote Trinity and potentially Michaelmas at that.  Few assumed that Trinity would go ahead as normal and a virtual term was the only available option.

However, with the Bodleian standing silent, the quads bare and the streets devoid of voices, we are beginning to debate the value of the education we are receiving from the comfort of our own homes. And sadly, much like our lives, it just is not the same. Therefore, just as the surreal times of 2020 have called for monumental adaptations to the way we live, fees should be adapted accordingly.

When we first thought about going to university, we made our decision from a prospectus which marketed the whole “Oxford” experience. They certainly did not sell the course on lectures and tutorial time. We bought into the whole package ourselves. What about having access to the myriad societies, facilities and interacting with our tutors outside of tutorials? The universities minister Michele Donelan maintains: “We don’t believe students will be entitled to reimbursement if the quality is there.” Nonetheless her claims are unfounded – the quality just is not there. Whilst the university has given us the basic goods, we are still missing some of the key items we ordered.

No doubt we should recognise the achievements of university staff in making the transition online. Nevertheless, the current crisis has exposed the true value of a university education. With courses stripped back to a minimum, our eyes are no longer misty with the memories of the dreaming spires of the fun we had with friends. Now we are merely reflecting on the Trinity we might have had. Scientists unable to access the labs. Humanities students, whose degrees are essentially £9250 library memberships anyway, are unable to access the library. And sports facilities are off limits – it is difficult to see what we’re paying for.

When we shell out £9250, in most cases, we aren’t paying solely for time with our tutors. We are not paying solely for lectures. We are paying for access to the facilities, the contacts we make and the myriad societies which Oxford offers. Amongst other things. But sure, listening to the “sounds of the Bodleian” whilst we struggle to find books which are not on SOLO will comfort us as we trudge on with yet another tutorial essay.

Now we are merely reflecting on the Trinity we might have had. Scientists unable to access the labs. Humanities students, whose degrees are essentially £9250 library memberships anyway, are unable to access the library. And sports facilities are off limits – it is difficult to see what we’re paying for.”

In assuming that online teaching will be worth the £9250 price tag, universities take for granted the ability of everyone to have access to WiFi and a quiet space to work in, thereby demonstrating just how out of touch they really are. True, some are lucky enough to live in large houses with adequate WiFi coverage and ample space to work. Some even work better from home. However, not everyone is so lucky.

When we are all in Oxford, everyone has access to the same facilities and the same WiFi coverage. Consequently, it is up to us to make the most of the resources available.  Few tutors have pity for students who claim to have been unable to find a book on the reading list in the college library when it was available down the road at the faculty one. However, remove us from the bubble of Oxford and the equality of access to these resources disappears. Some students do not have access to WiFi all of the time. Some don’t have a quiet space to study and the university should take this into account.

According to Michele Donelan, “universities are still continuing with their overheads and their expenses during this time, and it’s no fault of their own.” It is true that universities certainly didn’t incite the catastrophic spread of COVID-19 across the globe. But nor did students. Yes, the university may be paying overheads but we, the consumers of the good that is education, are not accessing them. Therefore, the argument that students should be contributing to facilities which are off limits to them is unfounded.

Whilst our parents went to university for free, their children are paying. And paying dearly. Back in the halcyon days of free higher education, the universities would have been justified in their policies of expecting everyone to muddle through and make the best of a tricky situation. However, times have changed.

Today’s students are consumers and they bought into a product ultimately un-deliverable. Yes, we are receiving online tutorials. Yes, we have access to online library materials which our parents certainly did not have. But that is not all that we are paying for. By introducing tuition fees under Tony Blair and then hiking them in 2012, a new model of higher education was created.

Remove us from the bubble of Oxford and the equality of access to these resources disappears. Some students do not have access to WiFi all of the time. Some don’t have a quiet space to study and the university should take this into account.”

Therefore, the university should be offering a partial refund in accordance with the value lost. Coronavirus has stripped back the mysticism of the “Oxford experience” allowing us to evaluate what we are really paying for. And we are not receiving all of it.

Image Credits: Ввласенко @ WikiMedia Commons

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