Students should receive a refund for ‘poor value’ courses, universities minister says

Higher education minister Michelle Donelan says students who feel their university degrees are low quality should apply for a reimbursement

Michelle Donelan has said that students should apply for a refund if they feel their university course isn’t good value for money.

The minister for higher and further education stated that university students are “consumers at the end of the day” and argued that “they’re paying a substantial amount of money that’s an investment in their own lives. They deserve that appeal right”.

In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Donelan said: “I have had to really say to vice-chancellors, you need to ensure that you are delivering on what you promised to students because, as the prime minister outlined, we’ve got to learn to live with this virus now.”

“We’ve got to get back to pre-pandemic life. Risk assessments can’t be used as an excuse not to host face-to-face teaching. Students have been leading the way in the [vaccination] stats,” she continued.

Most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggest a quarter (24%) of students received no in-person teaching between 19 and 29 November 2021, down from 27% at the start of the month.

Donelan said that the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) has already given out “tens of thousands” of tuition fee refunds over the pandemic.

However, the OIA has not previously recommended widespread refunds over Covid-related disruption. Its current advice to students states: “If your provider has offered you different but broadly equivalent teaching and assessment opportunities and these are accessible to you, it is not likely that you will get a fee refund or reduction for that.”

The minister has previously told universities that the guidance from government was to return to in-person teaching. In an open letter to vice-chancellors, sent in November 2021, Donelan said universities “should not be limiting face-to-face learning, or other activities, based on Covid-19 restrictions”. Donelan’s open letter said universities could “decide what emphasis to put on remote teaching independently, after listening to and prioritising the needs of their student body” – but added students “rightly expect” them to deliver “a full and dynamic teaching and learning experience”. Online alternatives were permissible, she continued, to “enhance students’ academic experience”, increase accessibility for those unable to attend in-person sessions and free-up in-person sessions for “higher-quality, interactive” teaching.

Although Donelan has made clear her desire to see more in-person teaching this academic year, she has previously questioned the efficacy of tuition fee refunds.

During a parliamentary committee debate in November 2020 over a possible government right-off of loans during the pandemic, Donelan argued against refunds. The minister said that refunds “in reality would make very little difference to the money that students have in their pockets… because over 50% of students never pay back their full student debt”.


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