Activities Officer Blog

A Frank Conversation About Tuition Fees

These are unprecedented times that have and are having huge consequences on our personal wellbeing and learning. With two rounds of industrial action and a pandemic that has resulted in all teaching moving online, uncertainty around assessments, graduations, our very futures, we fully understand why you may be asking yourself: “Why am I paying for this?” 

It’s time we have a frank conversation about your tuition fees. This is not something we can easily condense into a tweet or social media update This blog is to give you as much of a picture as possible so that we can update you on tuition fees, the University’s funding, refunds, and potential implications if tuition fees’ debt relief is ever be announced. 

Over half of the University’s income comes from the tuition fees paid by students. While you can see a full breakdown of what your tuition fees pay for on the University’s website, the number of things that this funding contributes to is very wide-ranging, from your learning, to wellbeing services, IT support, and your Students’ Union as well. On campus, there is currently limited income from accommodation and none from hospitality outlets and other commercial centres like The Edge and the Sports Training Village.. Like many other organisations around the world, we are talking about a loss of millions of pounds, all of which will have a knock-on effect on planning and budgets for years to come. 

This essentially means that a successful campaign to reimburse tuition fees without any mitigatory measures could damage the University’s finances immensely.

One of the things you do each year is elect a team of SU officers to act as your representatives to the University – that helps us shape and influence University decisions in your best interest. Our Education Officer and President sit in University Council – the highest decision-making body in the University - and they are therefore governors of the University: this means they have financial and legal responsibility over the institution. All Officers are Trustees of the SU, with the same set of obligations over our charity, making sure it is a going-concern for the future. Lobbying for something that we know is likely to have irreparable damage to the institution we work for, and have ultimate responsibility for, and for the experience of future students, is simply not something that we could hand-on-heart do. 

That said, we know what affect this pandemic is having on you, and this does not mean that we should not act on this important issue because of this impact. Whilst lobbying the university on its own for a relief on tuition fees is not something that, as Officers, we can do – what we can argue for is a sector-wide, governmental plan to underwrite the gap in finances that this would give. This is because, in such a marketized model of higher education, we cannot function without the money that tuition fees provide: this is not unique to Bath but is a reality for the entire sector, which is why the most effective mode of action is to lobby nationally, directly to the government. 

Of course, not all students’ fees are the same, nor handled in the same way. For a majority of students, fees are money that students never really see, and therefore a ‘refund’ would be a form of debt relief whereby a portion of the final debt is written off. The question becomes more difficult for international students and students who pay their fees upfront and not through Student Finance England. This would involve a very carefully crafted policy that puts every factor in the picture. Fundamentally, any policy must ensure that the institution remains financially viable, and that requires a guarantee that the government will underwrite any outstanding financial gap created. 

The University is legally bound to perform its obligations as stated on its website, prospectus, and various contracts. Universities, however, generally have clauses in place that partially relieve them of their contractual obligations in cases of “force majeure” – things that the University is not in control of. This is Regulation 3.8 in the most recent Regulations for Students document at Bath, and such instances include (but are not limited to) industrial action, bad weather, or acts of terrorism. The Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA - an Alternative Dispute Resolution entity) has said that the force majeure clauses can apply to the consequences of COVID-19. Therefore, universities may be legally allowed to refuse any debt relief under the current circumstances, as the pandemic is out of the University’s control. 

We believe that a national campaign directly to the government is the best way to represent your interests and secure the long-term future of the University and student experience. We are and will continue working closely with other Students’ Unions, the NUS, and the office of our MP, Wera Hobhouse.

There are a number of petitions and open letters emerging from both SUs and NUS. However, not all of them consider all of the factors we’ve outlined here, especially the issue of international students who pay much higher fees and often pay them up front. We are investigating different options we could take to mobilise a national lobby on this issue, making sure that we maximise the likelihood of it being successful, don’t overlook particular groups of students and don’t risk oversimplifying the issue and its solutions.

Let us know what you think, whether this has provided you with more clarity, and get in touch with us if you have any ideas on how we can move forward together in these challenging times.  

We miss you. Stay strong, and stay safe. 

Comments

Francesco Masala
10:38am on 15 Apr 20 Hi Jaye, Thank you for reaching out. I hope that you're doing well during these unprecedented times. I fully understand how frustrated you must be about everything that's been going on, specifically around this issue. You have paid for something that you did not receive in full, and it is something worth campaigning about. We believe that as well, as our work in the SU is always with the best interest of students in mind, and that remains a reality even (arguably, especially) when things get tough such as now. Supporting students and your interests, however, also means making sure that the University and the SU is financially viable in the future: this is not just from the perspective of being legally responsible over the financial stability of the SU and the University (in the case of the President and Education Officer), but also knowing that an unfilled financial black hole would have lasting negative consequences for the student experience for years to come. Lobbying the University to refund fees without any governmental action to cover that loss would put the University (and the SU) under an unprecedented financial strain. This doesn't mean we shouldn't act, but it does mean that a direct lobby to the university only is not something we can hand-on-heart do. I hope that this is helpful and please do email me at suactivities@bath.ac.uk if you want any further clarification. With regards to the force majeure clause, I will look and see whether that can be shared more widely. Thank you for pointing this out. All the best, Franci
Jaye Ward-Berry
6:52pm on 8 Apr 20 Whilst officers have an obligation to the institution you work for, you also have one to the students who you were elected to represent. The SU exists to support and protect students, not just themselves. clearly partial refunds in a circumstance where students were not able to be provided with the full learning and teaching enviroment they expected should be part of this protection. Whilst these circumstances could be solved more effectively by a national decision, this does not mean that the SU shouldn't work on the issue within the university as well. A full look at the universities financial situation will be important as the impact of the crisis on the university is assesed. This could be the perfect time to take look at how the university can best address the the disparity between what students thought they would receive from the university, and what they did receive. I was interested to read the article about application of a force majeure clause to these events however it seems that this is only available to suscribers. Does the SU has an agreement that would allow any interested students to read this article?
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