Features Editor Ishaan Rahman reports students’ demands for compensation at the “Scrap the Fees” meeting, after a year blighted by Covid-19.
Since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic last March, King’s College London has largely operated through online learning. Lectures are pre-recorded and available online while practicals and smaller classes are offered via Microsoft Teams or Zoom. This has been done to accommodate the government’s social distancing rules and to prevent an outbreak on campus or in student residences.
However, King’s and most other UK universities have continued to charge students the maximum annual fee for their education of £9,250 despite offering fewer services. Last summer, the British government rejected a petition signed by over 350,000 students that asked for a refund. After many more months of online learning, minimal in-person contact with lecturers and cancellation of practicals, students across the country begun a campaign to pressure universities into refunding student tuition for the 2020-2021 academic year. While few refunds have been issued, their cause is gaining momentum.
King’s own “Scrap the Fees” movement sprung up in February. They argue that students have been “deceived into coming onto campus”, charged for their residence fees, received little or no in-person teaching and then subsequently blamed for spreading the virus. Based on this, they contend that students are owed a partial refund of their fees, at least.
The group strongly rebuked King’s Vice Chancellor Evelyn Welch last month who responded to student complaints about the academic year by saying “you’re still getting your degree“. They also criticise the college’s “punitive” attitude to those unable to pay their fees, especially during the pandemic.
Their meeting on March 5th was primarily to hear the voices of students and make sure that they are being representative in their demands. At the gathering via MS Teams, the message from students was clear: frustration, anger and a desire for action.
One MSc Climate Change Policy student moved to London from Spain and rented an apartment under the assumption that there would be “blended learning”, with at least some teaching given in-person. Upon arrival, she realised that all of her classes were online yet still had “eight months of rent to pay”. A 2nd-year Music student remarked that “I’m paying nine-grand for a Skillshare class”.
Students in more practical subjects were even more frustrated. A Neuroscience student said “you’re raising scientists who have never held a micro-pipette” and voiced her worries about her future job prospects. Others voiced concerns about the lack of facilities available, notably the time limits set for students visiting the library. They argued that they should not be paying full fees if they are not getting the full experience.
Many were also dissatisfied with King’s student services. One student recalled how she received a “hostile” response from student services after calmly articulating her complaints about current teaching methods. A third-year History student took his complaint to his local Member of Parliament; while the MP was sympathetic, no further action was taken.
While almost no universities are currently offering tuition fee refunds, students also took issue with the excuse that King’s is offering the same experience as other institutions. Another Music student noted that she knows people at other universities who are attending in-person classes more frequently while King’s has been almost entirely online. A full outline of each university’s teaching methods during the pandemic can be seen here.
‘”Scrap the Fees”‘ full, revised list of demands will be released shortly. Their current list of objectives can be seen above. Overall, the “Scrap the Fees” movement is gaining traction as student frustration with King’s administration reaches a boiling point. While negotiations with the college will be challenging, the leaders of the movement encouraged students to actively voice their concerns and fight for reform.