Clear tuition fee debt for home students & refund international students

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Students’ Unions from across the country are calling on the Office for Students, Government, the Secretary of State for Education, and Minister of State for Universities to clear all student debt from tuition fees for this semester, and to provide Universities with appropriate funds to refund international student tuition fees for this academic semester.

This academic year has been continuously disrupted for students, from a lack of resolution for the UCU strikes to the more recent rapid transition to online learning and drastic changes to students financial situations due to COVID-19. Coronavirus is outside of Universities’ control, however, there is still a duty of care that the Higher Education Sector must uphold for students. Whilst efforts are being made by universities to support students through a variety of methods, such as the provision of hardship funds, online access to learning, automatic progress for the first year and foundation year undergraduate students, and removal of unnecessary assessments for students, the financial burden of tuition fees and being able to make ends meet still exists and cannot be supported through hardship funds alone.

It is not feasible to ask Universities to refund tuition fees as they are not legally obliged to, given the measures put in place to support learning, and therefore doing so would cause a severe financial strain on Universities. We are instead calling more broadly for the government to cancel all student debt from tuition fees for this semester and to refund all international student tuition fees for all undergraduate and postgraduate taught students.

We oppose the marketisation of education. It should not be the case that higher education qualifications are a result of a student paying for a service. Learning should be lifelong and accessible for everyone. We, therefore, support NUS’s campaign for a National Education Service, however, the cancellation of tuition fees this year should be the first step. 

If the education system was not built around education as a commodity to be purchased, there would be no issue to solve regarding students fees. This would be our ultimate aim in line with NUS; a fully-funded National Education Service. However, as a first step amidst this unprecedented crisis, we are requesting to clear all student debt for this semester for home students’ instead of asking for a refund (as with international students). This is because, for home students, their tuition fee is often paid through a loan from Student Finance England. This means that for home students requesting a refund, the money would automatically go back to the Student Loans Company. Although this reduces the overall tuition fee payment, this means that over time if they are eligible to pay back the loan they would be paying back a smaller loan but at a higher rate. This may seem beneficial at the moment, but there are financial implications long term. 

More than ever, we need to recognise the uncertain times for students, and the burden that tuition fee debts cause. For home students, this places enormous pressure on them to repay the debt. For international students, the upcoming tuition fee payments will result in a large majority of students being unable to afford day to day essentials or being able to afford rent or travel back home. This can even lead to students’ dropping out of university, adversely affecting students and the institution. This is why we are calling on the Government to recognise the financially uncertain times for students and to work to clear student debt and alleviate the burden of payments that have been made this semester. This would be a step towards the end of the marketisation and fee system that pervades higher education in this country, and the National Education System that all learners deserve. 

Ayla Huseyinoglu, Women’s Officer, University of Manchester Students’ Union
Sara Khan, Liberation and Access Officer, University of Manchester Students’ Union
Chloe Salins, Education Officer, University of Manchester Students’ Union 
Rana Phool Ur Rehman, Postgraduate Officer, University of Manchester Students’ Union
Kwame Asamoah Kwarteng, General Secretary, University of Manchester Students’ Union
Jake Bulter, International Officer, University of Manchester Students’ Union
Lizzy Haughton, Activities and Development Officer, University of Manchester Students’ Union
Adam Haigh, Welfare and Community Officer, University of Manchester Students’ Union
Kieran Robson Renner, President, Heriot-Watt University Student Union
Eleanor Lewis, President, Chester Students’ Union
Courteney Ayre, Vice-President Shrewsbury, Chester Students’ Union
Oge Obioha, President, University of Leicester Students’ Union
Tony Magaia, Liberation Officer, University of Leicester Students’ Union
Adnan Rahman, Education Officer, University of Leicester Students’ Union
Sana Ali, Wellbeing Officer, University of Leicester Students’ Union
Mia Nembhard, Sports Officer, University of Leicester Students. Union, 
Alice Flannery, President, Royal Northern College of Music 
Jasmine Munns, President, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland Students’ Union
Dave Muncey, President, Guildhall School of Music and Drama
Lauren Corelli, Education Officer and President-Elect, Goldsmiths Students’ Union
Lloyd Pearce, Chair of Conservatoires UK Student Network
Eleanor Strutt, President of Music, Trinity Laban Students’ Union
George West, Student Representative, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire 
Joel Wilson, President, Royal College of Music Students’ Union
Mona Mounir, Welfare and Liberation Officer, Goldsmiths Students’ Union
Francesco Masala, Activities Officer and President-Elect, SU University of Bath
Amy Wells, Welfare Officer, Leeds University Union 
Alicia Perez Lopez, Activities and Opportunities Officer, University of East Anglia SU
Sophie Atherton, Campaigns and Democracy Officer, University of East Anglia SU
Beth Lowe, Campaigns and Activities Officer, Goldsmiths Students’ Union