The Oxford SU Student Council passed a motion in its 5th week meeting seeking to defer continuation fees for Graduate students. The motion argued that it is ‘completely inappropriate for the University to demand payment of continuation fees from Postgraduate Research students at this time.’ It points out that a number of Graduate students ‘ have lost jobs (…) are faced with bills for returning home once asked to leave collegiate accommodation, or are otherwise suffering financial hardship as a direct result of the coronavirus situation.’
The University website currently notes that ‘Graduate students who have reached the end of their standard period of fee liability’, which refers to the standard length of their course ‘may be required to pay a termly University and/or a college continuation charge.’ This figure is £488 per term for the 2019/2020 academic year, and will rise to £508 in 2020/2021. College continuation fees also exist for some Graduate students, with Colleges like All Souls, Merton, New College, Nuffield, Wadham charging no fee, whereas most other Colleges charge approximately £120 a term.
The SU proposes to remedy this situation through the deferral of continuation fee payments ‘until the university reopens’, a clear appeals process for those ‘who feel that they are not sufficiently covered by the current exemptions for coronavirus’ and stating clearly to students in all communications ‘what hardship funds will be made available to those who are unable to pay fees now or in the future’.
The consequence currently for failing to pay the continuation charge is suspension. The University states that ‘ you will not be able to submit your thesis and be examined until you have paid the charge and been reinstated.’
Neil Misra, VP of SU for Graduates and a Seconder of the motion told The Oxford Student that ‘The pandemic and lockdown have hit our DPhil students hard. Labs are shut, archives are largely inaccessible, and fieldwork is virtually impossible to conduct. Many are facing serious financial distress. A great number of PGRs (post-graduate research students) will require substantial extensions to finish their degree. In spite of these significant hardships, the university continues to charge its continuation fee.
It is absurd that the university would continue to levy the continuation fee while many PGR students face deep uncertainties regarding their funding and personal finances. If the university is serious about supporting its postgraduate researchers through these immensely difficult times, it will give serious consideration to the policy of instituting a temporary freeze on the continuation fee.’
The SU have released a petition on the subject which can be found here.