In recent weeks, we have heard complaints from international students within Imperial and other UK universities who believe their tuition fees, which were already exorbitant under non-remote learning, are now even more unreasonable. This term, departments will be operating hybrid or entirely remote teaching as the coronavirus pandemic endures. This is in continuation of remote learning carried out last Summer term, with restricted access to campus amenities and the loss of in-person interactions – both academic and social – that make our university experience so valuable. Understandably, under the current circumstances, students feel that the value of the learning experience being delivered has never been lower, and not at all worth what they are being charged for.
Despite a material decrease in the value of the education and services we receive, we have seen no corresponding decrease in our tuition fees. Students no longer have full access to campus facilities, will have impaired ability to form close working relationships with classmates and teachers, and will be limited to virtual lectures on Panopto that we were previously discouraged from relying on. Students no longer have fair access to appropriate environments for taking remote assessments, or to the academic and social spaces that foster collaboration and communication. Students have lost many opportunities to gain the hands-on practical skills that are crucial to any rigorous STEM degree and sought after in the job market. Not to mention any time differences for students remaining overseas, technological gaps (in reliable internet connection and device access), and a constrained social network and sense of community. Indeed, several recent class action lawsuits against prominent US universities are hinged upon the diminished value of an isolated, virtual education.
This is not to say that remote learning is incapable of providing an effective learning experience, albeit different. However, with international fees already sky-high, the Union stands with the student body and any student who feels they are not getting what they are paying for. The College has already decided not to make any changes to undergraduate and postgraduate fees for the 2020-21 academic year; without any adequate support from the government they may struggle to afford a fee reduction across the board. Nonetheless, it is unjust for this financial strain to be loaded onto international students without any consideration for student circumstances. It is important that the Union upholds and stands for the opinions and concerns of the student body in all discussions with College.
Thus, the Union will be preparing an open letter to College that demands:
- Meaningful, transparent negotiations with the Union about its tuition revenue and expenses, and any possible fee reduction as other prominent universities have done1
- The College is transparent about how they will evaluate that teaching is delivered to the highest quality possible, thus minimising any harm to our learning experience
- Transparent criteria for case-by-case fee reductions, or other financial support, are determined jointly with student representatives.