On Wednesday afternoon, KCLSU Officers held a Town Hall to address students’ concerns over tuition fees, rebates, online learning, and assessments. The Officers, present with King’s Staff, informed students of the College’s policies and listened to students’ concerns and questions.
The session started off with KCLSU Officers introducing themselves and the King’s staff. KCL Provost and Senior Vice President Professor Evelyn Welch then took the stage to explain the College’s position: King’s cannot afford to provide students with any form of refund for their tuition fees. She went on to justify this statement by noting that running the university online is, in fact, more expensive for the College than prior to the pandemic as they have had to hire new staff, ensure old staff have jobs to return to, as well as suffer extra costs Covid-proofing campuses. After this, the stage was open for students to make their comments heard. Students were encouraged to speak and Professor Welch promised a written report in reply to all the students’ concerns.
As Professor Welch was speaking, the chat was already active with blunt and confident replies from unamused students picking apart her arguments as she made them, with one student stating: “We don’t really care that King’s is making a deficit.” Once she finished speaking, Microsoft Teams hands shot up and the chat continued to be flooded with comments and questions.
One large issue at hand was the fact that, in many students’ eyes, the quality of their online education does not match the price they are paying for it. Students complained fervently about technological issues with KEATS, the inability to contact lecturers, timetable clashes, lecturers uploading material from one-two years ago with audibility issues, and what they feel is an overload of demands as the UK faces its third national lockdown. Many noted that this is even worse for international students, who face much higher tuition fees annually whilst also being those who suffer the most at home during lockdown as they have to attend lectures and seminars at strange times of the day. Angered by the response that King’s cannot afford tuition rebates, students eventually demanded a report of the College’s financial situation as proof.
Another major point of contention between frustrated students and the representatives in the call was the fact that while students were initially promised a blended approach to learning, as campus facilities remained open, multiple lockdowns have made this impossible. Several international students explained that as a result, they spent time making arrangements and paid thousands of pounds for travel and London living arrangements, only to arrive and quickly be forced into isolation. As a result of financial hardship and year-long contracts, many students now claim to be trapped in London with no way to go home, feeling entirely isolated as well as ashamed for asking their parents for what they now see as unnecessary funds. Students additionally acknowledged that although the College is doing its best to make students happy while following government guidelines, there should have had a plan in place in case the situation changed – as it did.
While students made their points, the Town Hall emerged as a problem itself. Many students, discontented with the answers received from both the College representatives present and the KCLSU officers, began to make statements such as “I’m not sure listening to our stories is going to make any difference when strong statements denying any rebates/discounts have already been made?” Another said: “This meeting is a joke. What is the point of saying ‘we hear you, we understand your experiences’ and just talking over all of these points without addressing them?” The tone of the meeting was tense and emotional: one participant shed tears while another told the KCLSU president, upon suggesting a five-minute break, “I’m not sure we need a break, King’s hasn’t given us one when it comes to tuition”.
The Town Hall finished with many thank you’s to KCLSU Officers, yet many felt the conversations had today are not anywhere near over. It is likely more discussion will ensue when responses to the many questions and complaints raised today are released by King’s representatives.