Universities must consider refunding students hit by Covid disruption, regulator warns

Investigations have been launched into the quality of education provided by universities in England during the coronavirus crisis, amid growing calls for partial refunds of tuition fees.

The Office for Students (OfS) is reportedly probing several institutions suspected of failing to uphold standards – and will investigate any others if the watchdog believes “quality is slipping for groups of students” there, a spokesperson said. 

OfS chief executive Nicola Dandridge said that “students have a right to good-quality higher education – whether that is taught online, in-person or a mixture of the two”.

“Students make a significant investment in their higher education and have rights as consumers,” she added.

Across England and Scotland, thousands of students are self-isolating in their halls as up to 40 universities report coronavirus cases. 

Aberystwyth yesterday became the latest university to cancel face-to-face classes, “prompting students to question why they have been told to leave home only to be forced to study remotely”, The Telegraph says.

“Students and their families are justifiably angry,” adds The Guardian in an editorial this morning. “Even in normal times, many find it hard to adjust.

“Now, universities, as well as ministers, stand accused of recruiting students on a false prospectus, because of their reliance on the income from rents.”

Although many universities have introduced a combination of online and face-to-face teaching, OfS chief Dandridge said that the regulator would not accept a solution that amounted to simply “bunging lectures online”.

And in a fresh warning of more investigations to come, she insisted that “where students need to go into isolation, universities have to be clear about how courses will continue to operate in these circumstances and what welfare, resources and support are available”.

“We will be following up with individual universities and colleges where we have concerns about the arrangements they are making for teaching and academic support,” Dandridge added.


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