Michelle Donelan, a Conservative member of Parliament for Chippenham and Minister of State of Universities, has recently spoken out on online lectures. She has said that universities must stop all online lectures after legal Covid-19 restrictions are removed on February 24. In a significant move that recognises the impact that the pandemic has had on the university experience, students’ calls for at least partial student refunds have intensified.
Speaking in the House of Commons Donelan said that there is “no excuse” for keeping lectures online when restrictions were removed. She later said to the Daily Mail: “Online teaching should only be used to supplement face-to-face learning, not replace it.” She went on to add, “we’ve got to get back to pre-pandemic life. Risk assessments can’t be used as an excuse not to host face-to-face teaching.”
This comes after earlier comments made by Donelan which suggested that students should apply for refunds from universities if they are unsatisfied with how their university experience panned out. She suggested that the pandemic along with strikes has led to a less than valuable university experience and that some form of compensation would be justified for students.
Generally, students have opposed the majority of teaching being online. This was highlighted by a recent survey which showed that 9 out of 10 students prefer in-person lectures. Further, 6 out of 10 students said they would prefer not to have fully online lectures and 3 out of 10 said they would strongly prefer not to.
Perhaps most shockingly though, the survey showed that 73% of students believed that the pandemic had a negative impact on their social and interpersonal skills. In addition, 57% said that it had been detrimental to the knowledge they needed to succeed on their course. Both statistics show the worrying trend that the pandemic’s true impacts have only just come to the surface and we may start seeing the longer-term effects.
So far, it is not exactly clear how students would go about getting a refund for their courses, or if it is even possible. A 2021 parliament petition gained 270,659 signatures passing the 100,000 threshold for a debate in parliament. The outcome of the debate was underwhelming, however, with only a reiteration by the government that “higher education must deliver high-quality courses,” and encouraging students who did not feel they were getting the true value of their degree to complain.
The demand for student refunds for university courses is increasing and Michelle Donelan’s support is legitimising. However, the future of student refunds is unclear and uninspiring for most students.