Why the Russell Group should compensate students

Our Head of Current Affairs discusses the need for compensation from the Russell Group due to the effects of Covid.

Elizabeth Meade
7th March 2022
Does the russell group need to compensate its international students. Image credit: wikimedia commons

During the pandemic, the Russell Group, a prestigious body of research universities receiving greater funding than other schools in the UK, has collected a great deal of money from students, around 2.2 billion pounds surplus. This is largely due to grade inflation, a large number of international students who pay higher fees and government furloughs.

Naturally, we as students want refunds. The university experience over the past two years has been severely compromised, and there is no way to justify equally high fees for online teaching. Students have also been evicted and lost their visa statuses through no fault of their own due to the pandemic. These warrant, at the very least, monetary compensation from universities.

While all students deserve compensation for their loss of face-to-face teaching time, international students in particular deserve a refund. We pay three times as much as home students, yet apparently that is still not enough money to buy the privilege of being treated equally. International students not only have to achieve higher attendance than UK students, they also typically have to pay all of their rent up-front if they do not have a UK guarantor. This is not fair to students whose families do not have the necessary income to pay for that, many of whom come to the UK looking for better-paying opportunities. International students are also not allowed to work more than 20 hours a week and cannot be self-employed, so they are limited in how they can financially support themselves.

While all students deserve compensation for their loss of face-to-face teaching time, international students in particular deserve a refund.

Even if international students are born into or somehow hit upon a situation in which they aren’t financially struggling, some of them have faced unique challenges in the pandemic. For instance, some face financial barriers to contacting family members who live far away, which is a crucial form of connection in a global emergency. This is especially true for the countless students who either contracted COVID-19 or had family members who did. Many were sent home and had to work remotely at very early or late hours due to a time zone difference. These issues come on top of the typical issues of racism, xenophobia and the language barrier that students may face depending on their ethnicity and level of English proficiency.

Home students have faced unique issues as well that shouldn’t be neglected. Those who are working in order to financially support themselves have often been forced to work during lockdowns because they need the money or because they have been deemed ‘essential workers’. Many have also struggled to pay rent month-to-month as conditions and rules change. Those with family in other parts of the UK that are far from their universities have had to deal with similar geographical issues to those from other countries.

As a student from the US with well-off parents who have been saving for years and no siblings, my family was able to pay for all my expenses, but that is a rare situation. While my extended family members who got ill have access to excellent care and are largely not highly susceptible to illness, that’s also a rare situation. Even as one of the few students privileged to be in the unicorn-rare situation of having all these advantages, the pandemic has taken a huge chunk out of my student experience. I can’t imagine how bad it has been for students without any of these advantages. While I understand that someone might be hesitant to give a student like myself a refund since I am surviving without one, that is not an excuse for universities to not give them to the students who are genuinely struggling.

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AUTHOR: Elizabeth Meade
(she/her) 4th year Chem student. Former Head of Current Affairs and Former Science Sub-Editor. Avid reader. Chaos theorist. Amateur batrachologist and historian. Rock fan. Likes cybersecurity and cooking. Wrote the first article for Puzzles. Probably the first Courier writer to have work featured in one of Justin Whang's videos.

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