Students Like Me Are Demanding Refunds And No Exams — Not Just Due to Coronavirus

Strikes and Covid-19 have meant that some students have had just two full weeks of teaching since 27 January, writes Sabrina Miller.
Students across the country are demanding that universities reimburse them for all teaching time missed
Students across the country are demanding that universities reimburse them for all teaching time missed
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Students in the UK have been completely sidelined by universities.

University and College Union strikes and coronavirus have meant that some students, like me, have had just two full weeks of teaching since 27 January. Is it any wonder that students are demanding their money back and begging Vice Chancellors to cancel university exams?

Students across the country, sick to death of being treated as an afterthought, have started demanding that universities reimburse them for all teaching time missed. A petition requiring universities to reimburse student tuition fees during strike action has received over 115,000 signatures from frustrated students who — shockingly — don’t want to pay for a service they have barely received.

Speaking from personal experience, my second term at university has been filled with uncertainty. I have missed just over 20 hours of contact time because of strikes and am set to miss another 20 hours of contact time because of coronavirus. That means I have been forced to miss more than double the amount of university time I have been able to attend.

Using very rudimentary mathematics and lots of generalisations (I’m doing a degree in literature, after all) I have lost about £1,500 worth of teaching. This figure excludes a week’s worth of strikes from last term and the two weeks I’m expecting to miss when term fails to restart again after Easter, so this is a generous estimation.

“If I ordered something online, and it never turned up on my doorstep, I wouldn’t be expected to pay for it”

Now, I know the money I pay for university isn’t just for teaching hours, but strikes and Covid-19 have made all aspects of student life challenging. During strike week, picket lines prevented me from using university facilities, communicating with tutors over email or going to office hours, whilst during the coronavirus outbreak, self-isolation has stopped me leaving the house.

Ultimately whilst it’s hard to put a hard figure on something as complicated as this, I do know that if I ordered something online, and it never turned up on my doorstep, I wouldn’t be expected to pay for it. I would, of course, demand my money back and get a full refund. Why then, are university students expected to pay — and go into huge amounts of debt — for a service we never received?

At the University of Bristol, this sentiment of dissatisfaction and confusion is rife. Bristol students have written an open letter to the University Vice Chancellor, demanding that all final year exams and assessments be made optional. The popularity of this policy is evident by the fact that it has racked in well over 1,000 signatures and has popped up on my Facebook feed more times than I can count.

The desperation of an already anxiety-ridden student body is palpable in this open letter. I was quick to add my name alongside the hundreds of others because, though it’s true that students and young people are not the worst hit by coronavirus, the combined impact of Covid-19 and UCU strikes has robbed many students of a fair shot at getting a good result.

I have already been forced to write an essay about a book I haven’t received teaching for, and I haven’t had any teaching for four weeks. If universities expect students to do just as well without teaching as with, then they are essentially acknowledging their own redundancy. So, why are we paying £9,250 a year?

Yet our degrees matter. The results we achieve will affect us for the rest of our lives. I am not at all confident that employers will be sympathetic to these rather bizarre set of circumstances. On my cover letters, can I beg to be given the benefit of the doubt because I did my exams in the midst of a global pandemic? Employers will look at my CV, sat in a pile of hundreds of other similar looking CVs, see a bad result and promptly throw my application in the bin. I think many students who graduated during and after the financial crash might have similar thoughts on this lack of leniency or understanding.

This potentially bleak future is plaguing every single one of my friends. Overnight, coronavirus has turned from a meme and a throwaway sarcastic comment into something very real and very scary. It has robbed final year students of their last term at university, goodbyes with friends, post-exam celebrations and a chance to graduate. It has turned campus into a ghost town.

It’s true that we should all just be grateful to be alive and healthy, but our future job prospects may be ruined forever because of something totally out of our hands.