International students in the UK
Students enrolled in courses with practical components are at a disadvantage following cancelled placements. Source: Damien Meyer/AFP

International students in the UK are demanding compensation from their universities as the COVID-19 pandemic has severely affected their university experience. With travel-related border restrictions in place, many international students have had to resort to online learning while being enrolled in universities abroad and paying full tuition fees.

Almost 5,000 people have signed a petition calling for partial tuition fee refunds at a university in Loughborough, claiming they are not getting a quality education. “Online lectures have made it difficult for students to fully engage with our learning because whether we’re living in university accommodation, private housing or at home. Trying to learn remotely in such places is not a satisfactory substitute for a lecture theatre,” it read.

They add that on-demand course modules have “failed to provide students with further assistance and insight into our learning, denying us the ability to ask the lecturer questions about complex theory or debate topics amongst our peers in real-time”. “Ultimately, UK/EU students are paying 9,250 pounds and international students paying up to 24,650 pounds for a below-average level of tuition and absence of the many academic and extracurricular activities that complete the university experience. It is only fair that we are compensated for the high level of tuition that we agreed to pay for, but didn’t receive.”

The BBC reported that international students in Yorkshire are campaigning for government compensation due to the impact of COVID-19 on their studies. They have missed out on the face-to-face learning and the cultural experience they sought, according to student union leaders who are leading the petition.

International students in the UK: No bang for their buck

International students in the UK

International students in the UK — if your studies have been disrupted by COVID-19, there’s an avenue to air your grievances. Source: Damien Meyer/AFP

Tuition fees for undergraduate programmes in the UK are capped at 9,250 pounds for the 2021-22 academic year, but international students in the UK often pay double or more than this figure. In a separate BBC report, international students said they’re missing out on the practical experience, are unable to use their university’s state-of-the-art facilities and question paying full tuition fees for online lectures. In one instance, a university was ordered to pay an international medical student 5,000 pounds in compensation for stopping clinical placements due to the pandemic, said the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA). The OIA is an independent body set up to review student complaints. There were several other cases where students were given compensations, said the watchdog.

Felicity Mitchell, an independent adjudicator, said: “The case summaries reflect the hugely challenging and complex situations that students and providers have faced as a result of the pandemic. Where possible, we try to reach a settlement, and we are pleased that in many cases, providers and students have been very open to this. The summaries illustrate our approach to deciding what is fair and reasonable in these kinds of situations. We hope they will be helpful to providers and students.”

Students who want OIA to pursue their complaints about their provider can do so online. Students have up to 12 months to lodge a complaint after airing their grievances with their university. Providers must be a member of OIA’s Scheme, including universities, Further Education (FE) and Sixth-Form colleges, alternative providers and providers of School-Centred Initial Teacher Training (SCITTs). Students can complain about anything a provider has done or failed to do, which could be about a programme of study, a service or a final decision of their provider’s disciplinary or appeal body.