Submission from University Alliance to APPG Student Inquiry:
“Impact of the pandemic with specific reference to students call for rebates in tuition and accommodation payments”
Alliance universities have adapted quickly continuing to provide high-quality teaching and learning to students, including targeted and enhanced hardship funding and support. They have invested heavily in providing Covid secure campuses and continue to work closely with government to navigate and adapt to the uncertainty ahead. The overwhelming majority of staff have risen to the challenge and adapted rapidly and innovatively to the situation, working tirelessly to ensure learning outcomes are met and students receive the support they need. Alliance universities have also made a significant contribution to the national effort to tackle Covid-19, including volunteering their facilities, equipment and frontline support.
These efforts and the impacts of successive lockdowns have resulted in lost income and additional expenditure, and the picture is continually evolving. In 2019/20 the total impact of income loss and additional expenditure across all 12 UA members was over £85 million. In 2020/21, this is likely to be even greater given the cost of accommodation refunds resulting from the current national lockdowns. Accommodation refunds are anticipated to cost some of our member universities an average of £450,000 a week.
Our universities are determined to continue delivering for their students, staff, communities, and regions, and we hope this submission contributes to understanding the scale of the financial impact they are absorbing as they do so, and the importance of government intervention to ensure this role can continue.
Our key recommendations are:
1. To recognise the impact of the pandemic on students living costs, all students should be offered access to increased maintenance loans through the Student Loan Company. The government should also explore whether a proportion of the loan amount could be issued as a grant, either on a blanket or targeted basis.
2. To ensure universities can target support where it is most needed, including through hardship funds, and ensure the ongoing costs associated with the pandemic do not impact on the learning experience, the government should significantly increase student premium funding.
These are high-level proposals, and we are keen to be part of a collaborative effort with government to scope these in detail.
As we have outlined, despite the challenging circumstances, Alliance universities are continuing to support students to achieve their learning outcomes and are actively developing contingency plans to ensure this continues to be the case if the current national lockdowns are extended. Our view is that tuition fee refunds should only be given consideration on an individual, case-by-case basis, through existing complaints and appeals processes.