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UK: NUS launches mass action for debt-relief

The UK’s National Union of Students has launched a mass action of student complaints around disrupted learning due to Covid-19, demanding that the government offer affected students debt-relief, financial compensation, or the ability to redo a proportion of their studies at no additional cost.

NUS is demanding that the government offer affected students debt-relief, financial compensation, or the ability to redo a proportion of their studies at no additional cost. Photo: NUS/ YouTube

“Hundreds of thousands” of students could have strong cases for making complaints

According to NUS, an estimated 20% of students have been unable to access their learning at all during the pandemic, and 33% do not believe it to have been of good quality.

It explained that “hundreds of thousands” of students could have strong cases for making complaints including those who have lost access to studios, labs, or workshop space, and the 75% of students with placements who felt Covid-19 would negatively impact them.

“We’re calling for students to sign up to our mass action to win fair compensation”

“In short, there are hundreds of thousands of students paying for an education they simply aren’t getting,” explained NUS in a statement.

To date, the UK government has recommended that individual students should complain to their institutions and then to the Office for the Independent Adjudicator regarding concerns they may have.

However, earlier this week UK universities were told by the HE ombudsman that “a blanket refusal to consider tuition fee refunds” next year is “not reasonable”, as the adjudicator laid out its approach to handling student complaints.

Currently, institutions are facing significant financial challenges due to Covid-19 and will struggle to foot the bill without government support, warned NUS.

“This is an unprecedented problem at an unprecedented scale, and a national sector-wide solution is needed to ensure that students are treated fairly and that institutions have the support they need to deal with the situation at hand,” it said.

NUS is demanding that the government offer affected students debt-relief, financial compensation, or the ability to redo a proportion of their studies at no additional cost.

It welcomed the announcement of an additional £1.4million to alleviate student hardship, bringing the total available to £5.6m in the 2020/21 financial year, but said it is important to continue to monitor the level of funding to ensure that all students facing hardship can receive the support they need.

“We’re calling for students to sign up to our mass action to win fair compensation either through a redo, write-off, or reimbursement,” said Claire Sosienski Smith, NUS vice president (Higher Education).

“We know that there are students who can’t access their education right now. Many should be receiving training and education in subjects that can’t be delivered remotely; others are paying tuition fees while working on the NHS frontline…this action is for those students. We need to hear from you.

“Our plea to the government is clear: you must offer tangible help to students who can’t access their education right now,” she added.

“You must offer tangible help to students who can’t access their education right now”

Zamzam Ibrahim, NUS president, said that a systemic solution to compensate students for the education they’ve missed out on is the best approach, “but so far students have been ignored”.

“Students have racked up tens of thousands of pounds of debt to access once-in-a-lifetime university education courses. Is it unreasonable for them to want a fair response from government on something they’ve invested so much time and money into?

“The UK government is desperate to reduce this to a series of individual problems – it’s a total betrayal of trust to the thousands of students who are now facing lifelong debts for a once-in-a-lifetime education they haven’t received,” she added.

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