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Universities Minister Champions Refunds for Unsatisfied Students


British universities are falling in global rankings; around three quarters of further education institutions fell in the QS rankings in the last year while tuition fees failed to fall correspondingly. This general trend has prompted Universities Minister Michelle Donelan to encourage unsatisfied students to apply for refunds.

The Minister claims that The Office of the Independent Adjudicator had issued “tens of thousands” of refunds during the pandemic. Without these refunds, she argues that the poorest students in “mickey mouse” courses suffer the most – reversing social mobility. This is due to their inadequate access to university counselling, disabling them from distinguishing between beneficial and “mickey mouse” courses. The pandemic has increased the number of the latter as universities resist the transfer back to full in-person teaching, regardless of the government’s restrictions. 

Furthermore, refunds would provide a monetary incentive for English universities to implement the ​​Office for Students’ (OfS) proposed threshold on minimum quality of a university’s education. Previous attempts by the OfS have lacked this incentive. Tuition fees over the past two years have increased by around 13% and ​​spending on staff salaries has risen only by 10%. In the same period, student satisfaction dropped from 83% to 75%. MP Donelan would like to see the growing number of dissatisfied students compensated.

Theoretically, the prospect of refunds for unsatisfied students would seem to elicit universal student support. However, there is a minority who oppose Donelan’s proposals. Some students believe that tuition fees should only be partially refunded. 

Samara Singh, a first-year Biochemistry student explained that “full refunds of poor education puts the universities on a slippery slope as the resulting monetary loss disables them from improving quality of education. Instead, partial refunds should be used to punish universities.”

Another view is explained by a first-year English Literature student: “it is the duty of students to diligently research and gauge the quality of universities before enrolling themselves. So, a student’s negligent research should not impose the financial burden of refunds upon universities.”

Ultimately, university education is a contract between the university and a student. Students agree to pay tuition fees in exchange for a quality education. Donelan’s logic proposes that if the services are of a lower quality than promised, universities are obligated to offer a refund.



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