Hundreds of thousands of students across the UK face changes to their university experience as a direct impact of coronavirus. Universities are set to return in September, but it will be a very different experience for most. Students can expect to receive some online or blended learning. Many universities, including Cambridge and Manchester, have announced that all learning will be online for at least the autumn term of the 2020/21 academic year. However, online learning could continue to dominate for longer while social distancing measures remain in place, or if we see a second spike in cases.
We conducted a survey with Save the Student, to hear from students and their parents directly. These are their thoughts on the changes to their university experience, and what measures they want to see implemented.
According to our survey, a massive 57% of students don’t feel like their course can be taught entirely online. Despite this being the expectation for almost all university courses come September. On top of this, another 57% of students feel that the restrictions implemented because of COVID-19 greatly diminish the university experience that they’ve paid for.
Despite requests for tuition reductions, the Government has confirmed that they will still be charging the full amount if the course is taught online. Michelle Donelan, the Minister of State responsible for the higher education sector has said that students will not be entitled to refunds or compensation, “if the quality is there”. Although how the quality across thousands of different courses will be measured is uncertain. This rings particularly true when the majority of students experiencing the course themselves believe the quality of teaching cannot possibly remain the same.
Additionally, a massive 87% of students and 80% of parents think that tuition fees should reflect reduced contact time.
Many courses are sold to students on the premise of more than just interesting lectures. Rather, a mixture of seminars, labs, group-led projects, industry experience, and networking with industry professionals, alongside those lectures is key. Unfortunately, coronavirus restrictions limit the feasibility of universities now being able to offer this, and students believe the tuition fees should reflect this.
As already stated, students feel that the large tuition fees should incorporate the whole university experience. Including face-to-face lectures, socialising with their friends, extracurricular activities and their freedom. None of these are possible while coronavirus restrictions remain in place. Which calls into question the need for students to live in their university cities. If all teaching is moving online, what do students who rent actually get for their money?
Jasmine Birtles, founder of Moneymagpie.com and initiator of the survey said, “Parents and students mustn’t feel pressured into signing a 12-month rental contract when they’re not sure the student will be there for the full year because of COVID-19 and a potential second spike. Every student who will be at university from the autumn must insist on a break clause in their accommodation rental contract with their landlord – whether a large company or private.”
Results from our survey found that 89% of students and 91% of parents want break clauses in their tenancy agreements in student accommodation contracts. A break clause is a part of a tenancy agreement that allows a tenancy to come to an end before the date stated in the agreement.
If you’ve already signed a tenancy agreement, check to see if you have a break clause in your contract. It might not be called a break clause explicitly, but look for anything about ending the tenancy early. Unfortunately, for those who don’t have a break clause in your contract there is little else you are able to do apart from talk to your landlord. Explain the circumstances, why a break clause is important, and try to get them to amend the contract. It can be something even as direct as a provision for what happens in the case of a second lockdown.
If you haven’t already signed a tenancy agreement, a break clause is something you need to insist upon. In the case of a second spike, or another lockdown and university closures, you don’t want to be liable to pay rent if you’re not there.
Jake Butler, from Save the Student, surveyed students about their feelings. He added, “The survey reveals serious concerns of both parents and students about the forthcoming academic year. With a proactive approach, and negotiation with landlords, a break clause in accommodation contracts can reduce some of the stress. Those residing in university campus halls of residence should speak directly to their university; others in private halls or houses should get in touch with their landlord as soon as possible.”
Try for a refund
Although universities closed in March, only 22% of students have received any partial refund on their accommodation for the last academic year. If you haven’t received a refund it is worth continuing to pursuit it. Whether your accommodation tenancy was with your university or a private landlord, it’s always worth asking.
Although, on the whole, most universities have been better than private landlords. A large number of those living in university halls of residence have been reimbursed. But many private landlords are yet to do so.
Remember that as a student you are exempt from paying council tax, which saves you hundreds each year. Although you do have to make sure your student status is registered otherwise you can be charged. You can apply for your council tax exemption here.
Think about switching on your gas and energy bills. In 2019, 10% of customers swapping through Energy Helpline saved over £400! So it’s well worth finding out whether you can save by switching.
For even more money-saving ideas for students, check out the articles below.