An open letter to UAL

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Dear University of the Arts London, 

We are writing to you, as students and graduates affected by COVID, as alumni, and as professional creatives. This is an open letter signed by those who object to the undergraduate tuition fee of £9250 that Home/ EU Students are paying, and the fee increase for International Students, paying up to £22,950 a year. For ease we will separate out these two issues below. 

Whilst we understand the position the University finds itself due to The Government's current stance on financial support, we hope to express our concerns collectively through this statement. We invite UAL to create an open, accessible and transparent dialogue around how student fees are distributed, and actively work with us in lobbying the government to reconsider refunds and bailouts within Higher Education, as one of the few sectors that has been left without thus far.  
 
Tuition Fees for Students and Graduates 2019/20, where the remainder of the year was 100% online: 

The fees for undergraduate Home and EU students remained the same throughout the final term for 19/20 (Spring/Summer 2020) at a time where students had no access to any physical studio spaces or workshops during the global pandemic.  

It is appreciated that the university had to respond quickly to ever changing circumstances and government guidance with regards to the current global situation. Students are sympathetic to the adjustments made by all staff, and that the state of the pandemic resulted in expectations for the year being unattainable due to the law and safety needs of students and staff.    
We have seen no mitigation or flexibility in the fees being charged for services that we have not received this academic year. Upon applying to study at UAL we agreed to pay £9250 and £19,930 respectively for Home/EU and International student fees for the academic year 2019/20 with the expectation we would have:  

·      Access to studio spaces six days a week with workshop and technician support for five of the six days.  
·      In person crits/tutorials, lectures and seminars 
·      Physical degree shows at the end of the course to assist with networking and building industry relationships after graduation.  

Out of these points, only lectures, seminars and tutorials can be adapted to online learning. This has been demonstrated through the academic year 20/21 introduction of blended learning. This raises two issues: 
 
1.     2020 Graduates and students would have had NO access to studios, crits, technical resources, workshops and specialist staff, and NO physical degree show or graduation 
2.     With blended learning introduced, this time is rationed, and often limited to 2 days a week. 

With all this considered, it is ludicrous that the University continues to charge extortionate amounts, and additionally increase fees for international students. This has left students in further debt for their futures in what is already a difficult economic climate and has made many students feel exploited. 
 
Tuition Fee Increase and International Students: 

UAL is renowned worldwide as a leading education provider for the creative industries, many students are concerned that they have been accepted into this institution not for their contribution to the arts but for their contribution to the university's accounts. Students are concerned that their fee isn’t equitable to the education that they were promised when they applied.  In any other business and trade agreement, as paying consumers, this would be viewed as a breach of contract, and compensation or a refund would be issued. Why is education seen as any different? 

The decision by the government to introduce tuition fees, and then rapidly increase them over the past 10 years, has turned higher education into a commodity rather than a right for young people. Although the University isn’t directly responsible for the introduction of fees, the institution shouldn’t be surprised that students more and more are feeling like customers paying for an experience of education as the decision to pursue academic prowess comes with such a great financial burden. 
  
International Students faced another fee increase in the Autumn term 2020, with the new blended learning initiative being introduced. While blended learning is the most accessible option given the laws and restrictions during this pandemic, it is difficult to understand why the decision was made to increase the fees. We understand that online, in the fee breakdown, there is a note warning of this increase, and that this decision was approved in the Board of Governors in 19/20. However, the Student’s Union and the below students who have signed view the choice to continue with this decision in light of the pandemic and restrictions on learning as unconsidered, unethical, and exploitative. 

Going Forward: 

We must also pay close attention to the welfare of our students, as we have a duty of care to them. Students in London are paying extortionate prices for often only a bedroom in a shared flat. Students are being asked to complete degrees, live and sleep in these rooms. With the success of Manchester University's rent strike, we are asking UAL to match the reduction of accommodation costs to students by 30%. 

We call upon UAL to lead by example, as the second-best arts institution in the world and grant the following: 

• Reduction of Accomodation Costs for 20/21  
• Flexible and Easy tenancy agreements, that allows for the contract to be broken without penalty. 
• Hardship fund to allow high risk and disabled students to get private transportation to and from sites.  
• Fee reduction for International Students 20/21 to the pre-pandemic cost. 
• Commitment to freeze International Student fees for the next 5 years 
• Commitment to funding and hosting degree shows for graduates for all years affected by the pandemic when it is safe to do so  
• Join Arts SU and NUS in openly lobbying the government for a bailout in the Higher Education sector.