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The Telegraph

Students say they have been ‘mis-sold’ degrees as they demand blanket tuition fee refunds

Students have told the competitions watchdog that they have been ‘mis-sold’ degrees as they demand blanket tuition fee refunds. A group of students’ unions have written to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), urging it to “take action to uphold students’ rights” over tuition fees and rent payments amid the pandemic. The open letter, backed by student leaders at 19 universities across the UK, calls on the regulator to help students asking for blanket fee refunds as a result of Covid-19 disruption. It urges the regulator to “explain to students how they can prove that the ‘quality’ of their course has not met the required standards for full tuition.” The letter goes on to say: “Nobody understands what the government means by poor quality courses, and the language seems to blame the academics delivering courses for lost education when it is the unavoidable result of the pandemic and ‘blended learning’ being mis-sold by universities”. The student representative also asked the CMA to address the “broken” complaints process for students claiming refunds, and help advise students on their ability to withhold fee payments “if they have lost out” due to the pandemic. The letter, which has been signed by students leaders from Oxford, Cambridge and a number of other Russell Group universities, says: “Students need an external organisation with no vested interest other than upholding students’ rights to step in and give them the power to seek collective fee justice. The CMA must act now.” The plea came after the Department for Education (DfE) confirmed that all remaining students in England will not be allowed to return to in-person lessons on campus until mid-May at the earliest. Most students in England, apart from those on critical courses, were told not to return to campus as part of the lockdown announced in January. It is estimated that around half of university students in England are not eligible to return to campus for in-person teaching until May 17 at the earliest. “This year, students have been paying full tuition, despite most having lost key parts of their educational experience and many having been sold a promise of ‘blended learning’ that has not been delivered,” the letter says. “Hundreds of thousands of students have been left with no viable route to redress on any meaningful scale, and as far as we can make out the CMA has completely ignored the issue – despite multiple petitions to the Government which have gained hundreds of thousands of signatures. “Almost all students have experienced a diminished experience in comparison to that which was originally promised and advertised to them.” University students first saw their teaching moved online in the spring term last year when the national lockdown in March was announced. A CMA spokeswoman said: “This letter raises some important issues and we are considering the points made by the unions carefully. “We are sympathetic to the situation many students find themselves in, but this is a complex area legally and consumer enforcement action may not be the best or quickest solution for students’ problems. The issues caused by lockdown can vary a lot between different cases. ” We have published our view on refunds, which explains how we think the law applies. We know that this is not straightforward but students can refer to this statement when talking to their accommodation providers or universities. In particular, it’s important to check out how lockdown laws affect the contract, as well as T&Cs.” A Universities UK spokeswoman said: “Universities recognise that students have been extremely resilient in the face of disruption this year. “Universities and their staff have done all they can to help students progress with their studies and meet their learning outcomes, offering a blended approach to learning wherever possible, however they have had to adapt their provision in line with government restrictions and public health advice.” Do you think students deserve blanket tuition fee refunds? Let us know in the comments section below.

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