Bristol SU demands fee reduction in letter to the Competition and Markets Authority

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By Siavash Minoukadeh, Deputy Digital Editor

Bristol SU have led a group of 20 Students' Unions in writing to the government department calling for them to respond to student concerns over fees as part of their Fee Justice Now campaign.

Over 20 officers from Students' Unions across the country have published an open letter to the Chief Executive of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), led by Bristol SU's Undergraduate Education Officer, David Ion.

The letter is part of Bristol SU's ongoing Fee Justice Now campaign, which is intended to encourage students and the University to put pressure on the government for a partial refund of this year's tuition fees as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bristol SU is calling for a partial tuition fee refund on the basis that students have not received what they signed up for with the open letter stating:

'Almost all students have experienced a diminished experience in comparison to that which was originally promised and advertised to them. Most have been denied access to campus facilities and services, many have had practical material components of their course removed or dramatically changed, and hundreds of thousands of them have been asked by the government to not return to campus accommodation that they are still being charged for.

Almost all students have experienced a diminished experience in comparison to that which was originally promised

'None, that we are aware of, have actively consented to the changes that have been made to the educational offer from their higher education or accommodation providers, and we are not aware of any systemic rebates or refunds for students outside of the university-run accommodation sector.'

Other signatories include officers from student unions across the country such as from Oxford Students' Union, Cambridge Students' Union and the University of Exeter's Students' Guild. Larissa Kennedy, the President of the National Union of Students (NUS) is also a signatory.

In the letter, the student representatives call on Dr. Andrea Coscelli to 'take action to uphold students’ rights during this pandemic and set out six demands for the CMA.

The signatories have asked the CMA to give students advice on whether they could withhold paying their tution fees if they do not feel they are getting what they promised alongside asking them to reform their complaints procedure to allow for students to apply for blanket fee refunds.

Currently, students can only contact the CMA about issues with individual courses at individual universities. The letter argues that since the pandemic has had a blanket impact on the quality of education all students have received, it should be possible to apply for a blanket fee refund for students across the board.

Other demands include a clarification on what is meant by the 'quality' of a course.  The letter argues that the lack of clarity on this area can prevent students from being able to make a case that they have not been given the level of education they signed up to pay for.

Addressing the challenges faced by students in privately-run Halls of Residence and meeting with the signatories are also part of the demands made in the letter.

The signatories have argued that the CMA, as an impartial body, needs to step up and increase pressure on universities and the government who have so far rejected claims for any fee refunds. The letter states:

'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.'

'As far as we can make out the CMA has completely ignored the issue'

Whilst the letter also criticises individual universities, the government and the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) for failing to listen to students, it also points to the CMA's own silence on this issue, saying:

'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.'

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The CMA has so far not taken a position on tuition fee refunds or other complaints raised by students as a result of the pandemic and the impact it has has had on the higher education sector.

Further events planned as part of the Fee Justice Now campaign include a week of action and writing mass complaints to the Office for Students.

Featured: Patrick Sullivan / Epigram


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AUTHOR

Siavash Minoukadeh

Deputy Digital Editor 2020-21 | 3rd year Liberal Arts | Overcaffeinated