Scottish university to refund students who fail their degrees


Students who fail their degree courses at one of Scotland’s largest, most modern universities could face a far more palatable fate than they imagined: a full fee refund.

The University of West Scotland (UWS) is considering the introduction of a rebate system for fee-paying students who fail to complete their programmes of study despite full participation and engagement. Scottish and EU students are eligible for free tuition under the current higher education system, but non-EU international students and those from elsewhere in the UK could benefit significantly from the proposal.

UWS principal Professor Craig Mahoney confirmed that the university is looking into a rebate system and guaranteed paid employment for students beyond their studies. Such “radical change”, he said, may be necessary to contend with increased competition from private providers.

Mahoney commented: “It is my firm belief that the UK’s publicly-funded universities won’t have a particularly attractive future unless they become more commercially sensitive and begin to act more like private industry- including private higher education providers- to allow us to remain competitive across the globe.”

“We have to acknowledge that students are customers and we have to meet customer expectations. To do that, we have to know who our customers are and understand their needs and desires.

“One possibility we are considering is introducing a rebate system. If you are admitted to UWS on the basis we only admit students with the potential to succeed, and then you fail to complete your degree – having attended and participated in all the support and development opportunities we offer – we will refund the tuition fee you have personally paid or taken a loan for.”

He added: “This isn’t all about monetisation of higher education – it’s about ensuring the considerable investment of time and money students make in their education is an investment that delivers an acceptable return.”

Professor Jeanne Keay, Vice-Principal and Pro-Vice Chancellor (International), added: “At UWS, we pride ourselves on providing an outstanding student experience and this is just one of many concepts we are considering to further enhance the experience at UWS.  Fundamentally, we are looking at a range of ideas and concepts that we could implement to help ensure we, at UWS, continue to offer our students an outstanding student experience.  We want to ensure our students fully engage with the University throughout their learning experience and we are keen to involve students, from home and overseas, in helping set an agenda that will help us meet this objective.”

In practice, the suggestion that students who fail their degree courses will be eligible for a refund is radical. Scottish students, who pay nothing, would not benefit; the impact on students from the rest of the UK is unclear. Non-EU international students, however, whose fees are currently uncapped, would seemingly be eligible to reap considerable benefits.

Yet, in reality, instances of students failing their degree courses are occur relatively infrequently; problems tend to be detected and approached far earlier than the point of final exams or course completion.

The issue more pressing than failure among home students is the large number dropping out- a problem which tends to be more prominent at newer institutions, such as UWS. The reasons for dropouts are varied, too, including financial issues, the challenges of living away from home- and, of course, any academic issues. As such, UWS’ proposal could be interpreted as a marketing gimmick, promising a ‘satisfaction or your money back’ guarantee.

Vice-president of NUS Scotland Robert Foster commented on the proposed UWS rebate, voicing his concern that the plans would simply act as a means of attracting more fee-paying students to the institution.

“This is certainly a novel suggestion for what is a serious issue and one that deserves wider debate,” he said.

“Any student who fails to complete their degree, for a huge variety of reasons and very often not of their own doing, represents a huge waste of potential, for them, our institutions and wider society.

“We’d expect every university to consider more seriously how we best support all students to reach their full potential while ensuring we reject any notions of marketisation or seeing students as ‘customers’ of a product.

“Saying that only those who have paid fees themselves, or taken out a fee loan, would get a refund seems to exclude the vast majority of Scottish students, who will still be taking on debt during their degrees,” Fraser added.

“We’d be worried if this was simply a way to try and attract more fee-paying students while doing little for the outcomes of Scottish students.”

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