Kirsty Williams, Education Minister for Wales, has today (30 September 2020) announced that there is currently “no case” for tuition fee refunds to be issued to students. Trish D'Souza and Dafydd Park comment.
The Education Minister stated that students should still receive a “quality experience” despite the significant reduction of in-person learning. Many courses are now being delivered through blended learning, which is for the majority online face to face sessions with some in-person sessions.
The key point here is whether students are receiving a “quality experience”. In accepting a university’s offer to study, a contract will be formed between the student and the university. Students, as consumers, will be afforded legal rights as to the quality of the service they will expect to receive under that contract. When considering the guidance provided by the Competition and Markets Authority (last updated 28 August 2020), it is stated that consumers who do not receive all the services they are paying for should be entitled to a partial refund.
By being asked to undertake most learning online, it may well be that many existing students would argue that the services received will not be of the quality they expected to receive under the student contract. This may be especially prevalent for courses that involve significant practical elements or assessments. In adopting a blanket approach to this issue, universities must ensure that the consumer rights of the students are respected.
In England, the Office for Students has warned against universities taking a blanket approach against not issuing partial refunds of tuition fees. They have recommended that universities take a case-by-case approach on this issue. Although the Welsh Education Minister’s announcement may give Welsh universities some comfort, students will still have the option to challenge a university’s decision to not award them at least a partial refund, if they can show that the service they have received is not what they would have expected under their contract.