Sanwar Ali: additional reporting and comments
Hundreds of UK student visa holders enrolled at Goldsmiths, SOAS and the Royal College of Art risk deportation after refusing to pay their tuition fees because of poor online teaching. According to international students, the coronavirus pandemic has had a ‘massive impact on the quality of teaching and the student experience.'
Overseas student tuition fees can be significant, easily costing about £10,000 a year or more. It is therefore not surprising that students are unhappy with the quality of teaching due to COVID-19. "Home Students" pay lower rates and can obtain cheap loans from the Government to pay tuition fees, etc. With the end of the Brexit transition period EU students not already on a degree level course, will in many cases have to now pay full overseas student rates.
Many overseas students currently in the UK, and forced to learn online because of COVID-19 restrictions, feel they are missing out on the culture of university life, which is part of what they pay for. They argue that virtual classes are ‘not worth the same amount’ as in-person teaching.
At the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), hundreds of foreign students have refused to pay their tuition fees, amounting to £18,630 per student, per year for undergraduate courses. A similar protest has taken place at Goldsmiths, where tuition fees range from £16,390 to £22,950 at the undergraduate level.
Royal College of Art
At the Royal College of Art, international students began withholding tuition fees in January. According to a report published by The Guardian, it’s estimated that approximately £3.4 million is being withheld by 300 students, 200 of which are from overseas. Students are urging universities to refund their fees for the past academic year.
While some have quit protests amid threats to suspend them from their course, at least 93 are reportedly still refusing to pay their fees. Vice chancellor of the Royal College of Art, Paul Thompson, has once again threatened remaining protestors with suspension from their course should they continue to withhold funds.
Meanwhile, a petition that is calling on the UK government to compensate international students for a lack of in-person teaching has been signed more than 30,000 times. With many UK universities unable to afford to refund students, those who have signed the petition are asking the government to pick up the bill.
In an open letter to Michelle Donelan, the Minister of State for Universities, activist group Pause or Pay UK demanded that the government ‘play a role in financially aiding the higher education sector.’ The group called for a financial bailout similar to those previously given to cultural institutions.
Breaching visa rules
Higher education institutions affected by the non-payment of tuition fees by international students have warned that those refusing to pay are at risk of being reported and deported for breaching the terms of their student visa.
However, international students are standing their ground, saying that deporting people will harm the reputation of UK universities worldwide and would deter other overseas students from coming to the UK in the future.
Student visa flexibility
In September 2020, UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) announced greater flexibility for UK student visa applicants amid the coronavirus pandemic. Students were given the option to apply for a visa six months prior to travelling to the UK. Under previous rules, they couldn’t apply until closer to their course start date.
While UKVI allowed students to take courses remotely, complaints about the standard of teaching have grown in recent weeks.
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