The UK’s National Students’ Union has launched mass action to seek debt relief for students whose education has been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, while experts have warned of the proposals of the government to postpone the level A exams in 2021 for those graduates who have been affected.
The NUS has said it wants students who have faced the most disruption in their education to manifest themselves in a mass student “chain of complaint” action. The union said it would “use their experiences” to demand compensation and debt relief to make up for interrupted studies.
According to NUS estimates, around 20% of students were unable to access any of their learning during the Covid-19 lockdown, and 33% do not believe their education during the period was ‘of high quality’ . This includes 21% of students with disabilities who were unable to receive reasonable adjustments from a distance, the union said.
The UK government should “offer affected students debt relief, financial compensation or the ability to repeat part of their studies at no additional cost,” NUS said.
As institutions face significant financial challenges resulting from the pandemic, they would struggle to foot the bill without government support, the NUS said. “This is an unprecedented problem on an unprecedented scale, and a national, industry-wide solution is needed to ensure that students are treated fairly and that institutions have the support they need to do so. facing the current situation, “the union said.
Claire Sosienski Smith, vice president of NUS (higher education), said “the scale of the disruption has been so vast that we need a national sector response from the government for it, including funding from Westminster . Even if students complain to their individual institutions, how are universities going to afford it when the UK government hasn’t announced a single penny of extra funding to support them?
“Our call to the UK government is clear: you need to offer concrete help to students who cannot access their education at the moment. “
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Education said the government “expects universities to continue to provide a high-quality academic experience, and we know that many institutions have provided this to ensure that courses are tailored to their purpose and to help students achieve their academic goals ”.
“Universities are autonomous and there is an established process for students who are concerned about their education. Students should first raise concerns with their supplier, and any unresolved complaints with suppliers in England and Wales should be directed to the Office for the Independent Adjudicator, which has published guidance on this matter. “Said the spokesperson.
At the same time, the government faced a warning from experts who said the proposals to postpone A-level exams could “create more problems than they solve.”
On June 22, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said the government planned to “consult with Ofqual on how we can roll back exams” to give students more time in class to complete the program afterwards. disturbances caused by locking.
Mary Curnock Cook, former chief executive of Ucas, said such a system change “risks having unintended consequences that spill over into schools, colleges and universities.”
“At first glance, it seems easy, but any change in academic timetables is a big deal for all stakeholders, including Ucas,” she said.
Mr Williamson’s announcement responded to a question from Alec Shelbrooke, the Tory MP for Elmet and Rothwell, who asked the government if it was considering its proposal to postpone the 2021 exam season from May to July.
However, Ms Curnock Cook said postponing exams for even a month would disrupt college admissions, as it would push results back to September or later when universities normally start their session. It would also mean that the compensation process would continue until the start of the new academic year, she said.
As with every change, she continued, she worried about what would happen to underprivileged students. “If everything is rushed and compressed, students have less time to get advice,” she said.
Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, agrees. “Any change should be judged in a jiffy. This has to be clearly in the best interests of the students, and it is not necessarily a guarantee if university admissions systems or examination boards cannot cope, ”he said.
A spokesperson for Universities UK said that “universities will always do their utmost to help students achieve their learning outcomes and progress. Any decisions regarding changes to exams or assessments will be relayed as necessary to staff and students as soon as possible. Universities are eager to engage with Ofqual and the government to ensure that no student is disadvantaged due to educational disruption caused by Covid-19. “