International students revolt over UK tuition fees

Petition calls on universities to refund fees amid coronavirus crisis

A student walks past a sign at Murano Street Student Village in Glasgow, where Glasgow University students are being tested at a pop up test centre, Scotland, Friday, Sept. 25, 2020. Cities around the U.K. are imposing new coronavirus restrictions as they race to slow the spread of COVID-19, and London could be next. University students in Scotland were asked not to go to bars and restaurants this weekend. (Andrew Milligan/PA via AP)
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International students in the UK are pushing for their tuition fees to be refunded amid fears they have been left short-changed by the coronavirus crisis.

Students have been left disappointed by online learning, while thousands find themselves trapped in their halls of residence after outbreaks at universities across the country.

Nearly 200,000 people have signed a petition calling on universities to partially refund tuition fees because students were not being given “the full university life”.

It says: “The quality of online lectures is not equal to face-to-face lectures. Students should not have to pay full tuition fees for online lectures without experiencing university life.”

Mohammed Fakhri, president of Glasgow University’s Middle Eastern and North African Society, said there was rising anger among international students about having to pay full fees.

He told The National: "There's a lot of anger from students especially with them paying all this money and not getting the experience that a normal student should be getting.

“They want to be refunded.”

The latest admission figures reveal British universities are on track to recruit record numbers of international students despite the onslaught of the pandemic.

According to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, more than 44,000 undergraduate international students will take up places at UK universities this autumn - a 9 per cent increase on last year.

Domestic students in England can be charged a maximum of £9,250 per year in undergraduate fees but international students typically pay considerably more.

Jonathan Tam, who is an international student studying politics at the University of Leeds, told BBC's Newsnight he was paying double the local fee as he forked out £18,000 per year.

“It’s very expensive for what we’re getting,” he said. Speaking of his lectures, he added: “What I’m getting this year is about 90 per cent are online and only like 10 per cent are in person classes. I really do think it’s not worth it.”

The Office for Students, the independent regulator, said international students should contact their universities if they believe they should be entitled to a refund.

The body warned universities against a blanket refusal of partial tuition fee refunds, instructing them to look at individual circumstances on a case-by-case basis.

Chief executive Nicola Dandridge said: “Students have a right to good quality higher education - whether that is taught online, in-person or a mixture of the two.

“Where they feel this is not happening they can raise concerns with their university, escalating complaints to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator where a resolution cannot be found.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson would not be drawn on whether students should be refunded, telling reporters: “That's really a matter for them and their places of education.”

Meanwhile, education secretary Gavin Williamson revealed plans to get students home for Christmas.

He told universities they could move to online learning and finish face-to-face teaching early so students would have time to isolate and be with their families on December 25.

He told MPs: "I know there has been some anxiety about the impact the safety measures will have on the Christmas holidays.

"We are going to work with universities to make sure that all students are supported to return home safely to spend Christmas with their loved ones, if they choose to do so.”

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