University challenge

The pandemic lockdowns have posed a series of difficult questions to universities. Today we live in a world where they have been told to go over to remote learning for all but a few courses like medicine and some other scientific areas that require laboratory and practical work in a specialist location.

There is first the issue of accommodation. Many students with or without help from parents have signed on for a year’s rental in student accommodation. The students will not be able to use this and some are asking for rental reductions or cancellations of the agreements. Private landlords say they have to provide the facility whether the student uses it or not, pay any debt interest on the borrowings to own it, and meet service and utility charges to keep the building going. Some of the private landlords depend on the income from the letting to buy the basics and are not rich. Other private landlords are richer individuals or better financed companies or charities.

Some of the landlords are the Universities themselves, providing student accommodation on the main campus or owning properties nearby. They too may have taken on debts to build and own the housing and need revenue to pay the maintenance and utility bills.

The second issue is payments for tuition. Some students think there should be a discount or rebate for remote teaching. They argue that they agreed to tuition fees on the assumption of face to face teaching and lectures which are no longer available. The Universities reply that they still have the same staff on the same salaries and are providing teaching on line so the full tuition fee should still apply.

In a situation like this there is a tussle between the student, the University, the landlord and the state over should pay the bills. Where both students and university unite to say the state should subsidise, they are saying all taxpayers should make a contribution. This will include people who did not have the benefit of going to a university and people earning less than the student hopes to earn following graduation. The same may be true of smaller landlords, if they were expected to take some of the hit.

In many cases students are being told they have to pay for full tuition fees and accommodation even though they are living at home and learning on line. Do you think this is the right answer?

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  1. Mark B
    Posted January 9, 2021 at 5:56 am | Permalink

    Good morning

    I can see the arguments and have sympathy but I am worried about the consequences. If one gives in and agrees that the State will provide that leaves the door open for others to make equally valid claims. It seems to me that we are reverting to the government we once had of the 60’s and 70’s and industry.

    We are slowly walking the path of a Soviet style Command Economy. And we all know where that ended up.

    • Martin in Cardiff
      Posted January 9, 2021 at 8:36 am | Permalink

      I think that you exaggerate in your typically fevered manner, but on a general point of principle you raise a valid point as to expectations and consequences.

      However, important as this is to those affected, while this is going on I see that Rees-Mogg has disbanded the Select Committee examining the arrangements made with the European Union.

      If the Government do not want to hear the truth from them, then they can rest assured that they will hear it from the countless businesses and other interests, which have been damaged – probably existentially – by them.

      I mention our fishers as a starter, who have now given up trying to export to their hitherto main market.

      It’s your brexit – all yours.

      • Sir Joe Soap
        Posted January 9, 2021 at 8:51 am | Permalink

        I love fish but am not so keen on off topic posting

        • a-tracy
          Posted January 9, 2021 at 2:34 pm | Permalink


      • Fred H
        Posted January 9, 2021 at 10:22 am | Permalink

        evidence of not trying to export? No, I didn’t think you could provide any. Your fevered brow working overtime again!

      • NickC
        Posted January 9, 2021 at 10:55 am | Permalink

        And I think that you make things up, Martin, in your typically fevered manner. The Brexit Select Committee was set up to monitor the progress of the exit negotiations. The government claims we are now out.

        So, unless you are claiming the UK has not fully exited the EU (and I am with you there), then the Committee’s role is over. The effects of the soft Brexit can be more easily monitored by the numerous other Committees, and by Parliament itself – there is no need for duplication.

      • HM
        Posted January 9, 2021 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

        Actually Rees Mogg has recommended disbandment of the Select Committee, but the power to do so rests with the House.

      • Robin Wilcox
        Posted January 9, 2021 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

        Anything to say about sneaky non tariff barriers imposed by the EU? Personally I’m delighted that we will be able to deal with the rest of the world on our terms rather than the EU’s.

    • Simeon
      Posted January 9, 2021 at 8:54 am | Permalink

      The Universities are effectively a company whose business has been compromised by government policy. The students are paying customers receiving a service that is not what they paid for. Both have legitimate grievances, and the state has a moral obligation to settle them having created the problem in the first place.

      Any other equally valid claims should also be settled by the state. Obviously this has grave implications for the public purse, but then the government should have thought of that before setting off on this path. (Though perhaps they did, and reviving a command economy was part of the plan.) The problem is that the public generally seem to be happy to go along with all this nonsense because they believe someone else will pick up the bill.

      The right answer is, of course, that government should not have interfered in the first place.

      • Lifelogic
        Posted January 9, 2021 at 10:58 am | Permalink

        Universities are hugely subsidised by the soft student “loans” over half of these will never be repaid.

        • Simeon
          Posted January 9, 2021 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

          Tertiary education policy since 1997 has been an unmitigated disaster.

      • NickC
        Posted January 9, 2021 at 11:10 am | Permalink

        Simeon, That is exactly right. The government has not taken into account the national consequences of its disastrous national lockdowns policy, it is only looking at the consequences of a nasty new disease.

        It is a very childish reaction – the government wants to “stamp out” covid19 as though they could wish it away, or turn back the clock, because covid is too horrid to exist. But it does.

        Bad things happen in life, and since it is literally not possible to make covid go away, we must learn to live with it. And ruining the economy and the health of the majority is not the way to do that.

      • Mark B
        Posted January 9, 2021 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

        I very much agree. But I do not think they really thought it through or, really don’t give a stuff. Everyone seems oblivious to the dangers until the music stops and they have list everything, including their freedoms.

    • turboterrier
      Posted January 9, 2021 at 9:00 am | Permalink

      Mark B

      +1 Welcome the universities and students into the real world. The only constant apart from death is change. Time and situations change and it cannot even be considered for the tax payers to keep funding then in and when difficult situations arise. I cannot believe that all these learned fellows never had in place a plan B.

      • ian@Barkham
        Posted January 9, 2021 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

        So many people, particularly those that criticize which probably comes about by not being tax-payers, believe the Government must pay.

        The UK is one of the highest placed tax régimes in the World. The cost of Covid as it stands will be hanging over the next few generation of taxpayers – not for getting we have still to pay off the debt of the financial crisis.

        The last I heard was 45% of the UK’s taxpayers contribute, the rest take. By any sense of proportion that is a madness that cant continue

    • Lifelogic
      Posted January 9, 2021 at 9:05 am | Permalink

      +1. The real problem in education is that most university degrees (70% or so) are almost worthless and certainly not worth anything like the £ 75k plus interest they cost.

      Restrict the soft loans to only sensible degrees in sensible subject for people with say ABB at A levels or better. Let people work, do day release, night school or pay for their own hobbies.

      • Lifelogic
        Posted January 9, 2021 at 10:55 am | Permalink

        And why are some people at university paid such huge sums PA? Vice Chancellors 50% get over £300k and many over £500k. Many even want to kill free speech at Universities and (somehow) to enforce people to “respect” views however bonkers these views are.

        • Qubus
          Posted January 9, 2021 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

          Perhaps the universities should get rid of some of their ever-increasing number of non-productive administrators, and a few non- productive members of academic staff.

          • Qubus
            Posted January 9, 2021 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

            I might also question why we now have so many students. Don’t about 50% of school-leavers now attend university. A quote spring to mind: I think Kingsley Amis said “more means worse”.

      • NickC
        Posted January 9, 2021 at 11:13 am | Permalink

        Lifelogic, Unfortunately student farming has proved a very lucrative and cushy number for too many socialists.

        • Lifelogic
          Posted January 9, 2021 at 9:37 pm | Permalink


  2. The Great Reset
    Posted January 9, 2021 at 6:14 am | Permalink

    Sound like those Daily Express polls .

  3. Brian Cowling
    Posted January 9, 2021 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    How about a proper international inquiry to determine who is culpable for this virus situation and seek reparations. There’s more than uni students due compensation.

    China (although it seems PC to say the Chinese Communist Party rather than China) is my chief suspect.

    • Caterpillar
      Posted January 9, 2021 at 10:30 am | Permalink

      I would agree with this view of the CCP as a suspect, but others who might be complicit also need to be held to account e..g. did U.K. Govt give students and HEI workers a monthly vial of high dose vitamin D? (No) If UK Govt wished to ‘follow the experts’ they could have done this for 75% and called it a RCT.

    • Martin in Cardiff
      Posted January 9, 2021 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

      So should reparations be sought against African countries for HIV? And against the UK for BSE? And against others, for the long list of pathogens which have spread across the world?

      • Edward2
        Posted January 9, 2021 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

        Depends if you could prove if it was a reckless act which led to the epidemic.
        Some are natural disasters others may be not.

      • czerwonadupa
        Posted January 10, 2021 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

        It wasn’t Africans that brought it out of Africa.

  4. Sea_Warrior
    Posted January 9, 2021 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    The last time I checked, the tution fees for the Open University were similar to those offering face-to-face teaching.
    I am not keen on the state taking on more and more fiscal responsibility, to benefit students who don’t appear to have done a modicum of risk assessment. Perhaps universities should take a long hard look at the strength of their financial reserves and ask themselves this: if now isn’t the time to use them, when is?

    • Mark B
      Posted January 9, 2021 at 8:33 am | Permalink

      Good point. I forgot about the OU. If they can do it, and at the same cost, why not others?

      • Simeon
        Posted January 9, 2021 at 9:00 am | Permalink

        It is disappointing that the OU fees have had to rise in recent times, but even if their prices are now comparable to other universities, at least their courses are designed to be delivered and consumed at distance. If I were young and had decided to go to university, the OU would be one viable option. I can’t comment on other distance learning providers. Perhaps there are good options amongst those. But traditional univeristies are clearly at this stage going to be offering a massively inferior service and should be avoided like the plague 😉

      • Sea_Warrior
        Posted January 9, 2021 at 9:25 am | Permalink

        I did my MBA with the OU. The quality of the teaching (largely ‘course materials’) is first-rate. If COVID is still rampant next August, then the government should consider encouraging more students to start their tertiary education there.
        P.S. I think that the OU should always be cheaper than the traditional universities. It does have fewer overheads, after all.

    • Alan Jutson
      Posted January 9, 2021 at 9:48 am | Permalink

      Methinks open university fees were simply put up simply to discourage that form of learning and to protect the present Uni system.

      In my view the present University education system is simply not a cost effective way of learning for many students or many of the courses.
      Much better to earn while you learn, with on the job training and learning.

      The days of automatically earning more just because you have been to a university and gained some sort of a degree, are well and truly over.

    • Dave Andrews
      Posted January 9, 2021 at 9:56 am | Permalink

      My understanding is that many universities are in a bad way financially – and were so even before the Covid emergency, so don’t have anything in the way of reserves.
      Still, plenty of money when it comes to VC salaries.

    • Alex Reeve
      Posted January 9, 2021 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

      The OU fees are approximately two-thirds of those charged by other universities.

    • Qubus
      Posted January 9, 2021 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

      You only have to look on YouTube to see some of the splendid lecture courses that some American universities deliver. Check- out Stanford for example. And, what’s more, they are free to the whole world.

  5. cynic
    Posted January 9, 2021 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    I think the right answer is to keep the universities open- the students are at no risk from this disease. The “pandemic” has shown me two things:-
    a) The incompetence of Government and its agencies (PHE and the NHS).
    b) The thin veneer of freedom can be stripped off easily and quickly. All the safeguards we rely on were useless.
    Where were the incoruptable judiciary, our ever vigilant journalists, our parliamentary representatives holding the executive to account and our vaunted Human Rights. They proved no obstacle to the loss of our free society. Lockdowns should not have been possible!
    In the past, we have seen people in other countries subjected to authoritarian regimes and believed it could not happen here.
    What have we come to?

    • Sharon
      Posted January 9, 2021 at 7:58 am | Permalink

      + 1

      Campus universities should have been able to remain open as normal. Most have grocery shops on site. Students could have been encouraged to remain on campus and lived a near normal life.

      • Fedupsoutherner
        Posted January 9, 2021 at 8:56 am | Permalink


      • Nig l
        Posted January 9, 2021 at 10:07 am | Permalink

        The problem is they ignore the distancing rules etc believing even if they get it, it will be no more than a mild case of flu.

        In turn risking spreading it wider. I have a close friend with two boys at Uni, both have had it as have many of their group and shared with Mum and Dad.

        Equally I know through my sport that has a large Uni element how many games had to be cancelled because of infections/quarantine. Even when OK they ignored the rules and all travelled together.

        If your suggesting ‘locking them in’ I suggest unviable, if not, wrong answer.

      • a-tracy
        Posted January 9, 2021 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

        Sharon, I would agree about contained campus universities but would the lecturers have wanted to teach, although so many of them now just lecture at a great distance and could have had the screens supermarket workers are supposed to be protected behind! Supermarkets could have just done food deliveries into a central organised drop off, these most intelligent children attended university could figure all this out, why don’t we encourage them to grow up quickly now and calculate how they should resolve this without relying on the bank of the taxpayer to sort it out for them. You know like the government is expecting private enterprises they’ve closed to figure things out for themselves and these students are all so much more intelligent than us aren’t they Andy!

    • NickC
      Posted January 9, 2021 at 11:22 am | Permalink

      Cynic, One possibility, instead of keeping students at home, is to keep students on campus (no home visits allowed). That is (for those students who choose) there is a once only move – from home to campus. Perhaps that would satisfy the hysterical lockdown authoritarians in their quest to appease their covid19 god?

    • Jim Whitehead
      Posted January 9, 2021 at 3:13 pm | Permalink


  6. Par
    Posted January 9, 2021 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    This is a difficult situation however it highlights the massive opportunity to reform our archaic tertiary education.

    We must use new technology to provide online education free or at very low costto all who want it. The exorbitant and idealogical Open University has become an example of how not to do it.

    Online education is useless unless students can sit exams and obtain qualifications gaining access to employment. Qualification is already provided by many online institutions worldwide.

    Regarding the current crisis, we have to ask whether universities have made any economies in expenditure for example staff costs, as so many private companies already have.

    • ChrisS
      Posted January 9, 2021 at 11:38 am | Permalink

      Properly regulated, private enterprise universities with courses based on distanced learning are clearly the way forward for most subjects, excluding science and medicine. Course fees could be well under the current level, perhaps only £2-£3,000 a year, with no accommodation or travel costs being necessary.

    • GilesB
      Posted January 9, 2021 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

      The vast majority of students could perfectly well study at their nearest institution and continue to live with their parents. That they choose to escape parental strictures and want to ‘find themselves’ is perhaps understandable, but should not be funded by others. They entered freely into a contract for accommodation. The accommodation is available. They should bear the consequences and obligations.

      Higher Education generally has failed to leverage IT to support distance learning. There is no educational justification for live lectures with hundreds of students. They only still exist because the lecturers want to protect their jobs, and the students want an excuse for moving away from home. For Accounting 101, videos from the best in the world are much better than a fourth rate performance from someone who’d rather be doing research.

      The institutions have peddled the myth that their real time interactions are better than online. They haven’t delivered what they were offering. The students have a legitimate moral claim against the universities for some discount, say 50% or more. Whether they have a legally enforceable claim under the Trade Description Act is another matter. If some institutions are bankrupted as a result, so be it. It will stop them wasting resources, and blighting student lives, in future.

      Perhaps the refund on fees should be paid direct to the landlords.

  7. Bloke in Wales
    Posted January 9, 2021 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    Regarding tuition fees, if the students aren’t getting what they paid for then they should receive a full or partial refund.

    The new intake of students later this year should not be charged the full amount if restrictions are still in place by September.

    • a-tracy
      Posted January 9, 2021 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

      They’re getting the same now as open university students get so there is a bench mark figure for that type of teaching. As you’re in Wales why would you be bothered your teens are getting the tuition fees paid.

      • Bloke in Wales
        Posted January 9, 2021 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

        The difference is that open university students know what they are getting when they sign up and pay up. Students expecting face to face lectures and seminars, paying for the same, and then getting something else instead that they value less (or they wouldn’t be complaining) should be entitled to a refund.

        And just because I happen to claim to be in Wales, don’t assume that I am Welsh thank you very much.

        • a-tracy
          Posted January 10, 2021 at 10:16 am | Permalink

          I didn’t assume you were Welsh, my husband lived in Wales for 12 years but he wasn’t Welsh. Perhaps I shouldn’t have assumed you had children being educated whilst you are living in Wales.

        • a-tracy
          Posted January 10, 2021 at 10:22 am | Permalink

          This opens up a can of worms though on how degrees are going to be graded and assessed in 2021 if this lockdown continues for more than six weeks and whether employers are going to be able to confident in the awarded degrees.

        • Fred H
          Posted January 10, 2021 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

          you claim to be in Wales, are you not sure?
          Lost like the sheep on the mountain are you?

  8. Frances Truscott
    Posted January 9, 2021 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    The students won’t necessarily earn more from the degree ,that’s a myth. The worst thing for students is the usurious interest rates on student loans. Fees should be reduced and the interest on student loans removed during the pandemic. The interest has been far higher than for normal loans.

    • Nig l
      Posted January 9, 2021 at 10:19 am | Permalink

      Usurious? To me means excessive profits so how so with the amount that gets written off?

      Unsecured with a high write off rate. When a rate is set it should reflect all costs, admin, write downs as well as cost of funds. So on that basis should be far higher?

      However from afar the whole thing looks a mess and I haven’t read of anyone who has managed to come up with an acceptable and achievable alternative.

    • a-tracy
      Posted January 9, 2021 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

      Too many English students had actually paid off the plan 1 loans after ten years Frances, the interest is there to ensure they are paying the 9% graduate tax for 30 years come what may. ONLY ENGLISH students though! Charges put in place by Blairs’ Labour government increased three fold just for the English by the English supported Tories, talk about shooting ourselves in the foot.

    • BeebTax
      Posted January 9, 2021 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

      Don’t bail out universities, but reform their funding. Currently they are paid for largely by the state and students, via loans to students which may or may not ever get paid back. Either way the Unis get the cash up front, their only interest is to keep the money rolling in by encouraging potential students to sign up to courses that often add no value to students’ lifetime earnings and are of little value to the taxpayer. Students feel forced into this because Unis have a monopoly on granting degrees, and many employers use the undergraduate degree as the basic marker for an employable person.
      We need to establish non-degree training as the norm, and leave graduate training for an elite few or those already in work who want or need to study a topic in greater detail.
      But who will take on the self-serving educational establishment?

  9. Sir Joe Soap
    Posted January 9, 2021 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    I would say defer, defer, defer.

    Accommodation booked has to be paid for but tuition is basically being mis-sold and should be refunded for those who want it. Live in your uni accommodation keeping away from elderly relatives and work

    Get a job and think again in a year or two’s time.

    • Roy Grainger
      Posted January 9, 2021 at 11:45 am | Permalink

      “Accomodation booked has to be paid for”. Why ? That’s like saying “Flights booked (but cancelled due to government travel bans) have to be paid for”. What’s the difference ?

      • Sir Joe Soap
        Posted January 9, 2021 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

        There is no government ban on living in rented accommodation. Do we refund any and all tenants who have rented in the last year? Why should students be refunded when the guy next door moved there to do a job and was made redundant in the meantime?
        Think it through.

  10. Lets Buy British
    Posted January 9, 2021 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    Sir John, a question if I may

    There are reports in the media about British residents in Spain ( ? ) not having their Visas recognised by the EU authorities. Is this a case of a process for allowing existing Visas being agreed by both UK & EU govts but being misinterpreted by more regional authorities, so should be sorted out quickly ?

    Also, the trade deal is tariff free and quota free but media reports suggest VAT or Excise duties are being applied to exports from the UK to the EU and include fish ( fishermen reported dumping dead fish because of costs & levies making the transaction not viable ) . I know that USA states impose sale taxes, etc is this similar ?


    • glen cullen
      Posted January 9, 2021 at 10:34 am | Permalink

      This government has been quiet about their VAT policy since we left the EU, apart from the effective 20% VAT rise due to that 20% VAT they was sent to the EU but now retained by UKPLC

    • Len Peel
      Posted January 9, 2021 at 10:36 am | Permalink

      You were promised frictionless trade, the exact same benefits. If id voted for Brexit, Id want my money back

      • NickC
        Posted January 9, 2021 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

        No, Len, we were not “promised frictionless trade, the exact same benefits”. Campaigners advocate, they do not “promise”. And no trade is “frictionless”. And we quite specificaly voted against “the exact same benefits”. Remain stated as a (claimed) fact that we got back almost £10 from the EU for every £1 we gave it. I definitely want my money back on that one.

      • Edward2
        Posted January 9, 2021 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

        Explain what you mean by frictionless trade.
        Have you ever worked in a business that imports and exports?

    • a-tracy
      Posted January 9, 2021 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

      Which media reports are saying “VAT or Excise Duties” are being applied to UK exports. Time for retaliatory action.

      Did the media that reported this ask these fishermen that reported dumping dead fish if they had tried to find an alternative market in the UK before they dumped them? Aldi, Lidl (German supermarkets) are priding themselves and advertising all the time about buying up locally produced products, no fish freezing companies willing to take the fish? Actually its ironic they are doing a better job than British owned supermarkets I wonder why. All these supermarkets closed down family run fishmongers and then cut off the market by offering minimal products without cooking advice that our local fishmonger used to give us. Waitrose should step in and make up cooking cards to explain to people how to cook it.

  11. Fedupsoutherner
    Posted January 9, 2021 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    All the time we have a 2nd rate broadband service and none still in some areas learning and working from home will be difficult for some.

    • a-tracy
      Posted January 9, 2021 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

      I agree that home studying would be almost impossible in areas with no broadband, the student would probably still need to go to their students digs to enable them to study. Which areas still have no broadband? I thought this had been resolved.

      • Fedupsoutherner
        Posted January 9, 2021 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

        Most people in very rural areas have such slow broadband it’s impossible to download files. We lived in S Scotland and couldn’t use catch up TV as our broadband speed was so poor. I know parts of Devon are bad too. They were reporting on poor broadband speeds on the Midlands news last night.

      • Jiminyjim
        Posted January 9, 2021 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

        I live only 75 miles from London and at best we get 3mbps. If you thought this had been resolved, you have been seriously misled by government propaganda

        • a-tracy
          Posted January 10, 2021 at 10:13 am | Permalink

          I wonder how we compare with Scandinavia, Germany, Texas. I wonder what the figures are for England alone? Is there one region bringing the % down.

          Ofcom Dec 2019 – 91% of the country can get reliable 4G from at least one operator. …

          17 Dec 2020 — Mobile operator EE (BT) has revealed that their 4G based mobile network now covers 94% of all roads in Great Britain,

  12. Narrow Shoulders
    Posted January 9, 2021 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    Quite simply the student should not be bearing the cost of all this. Services are not being provided or the need has been removed by the government so the consumer should not be paying.

    Course costs should reduce dramatically unless content can be demonstrably proven to be the same in which case the course fee should remain.

    Accommodation that is not required should not be paid for. This is unfortunate for the landlords but as the service provider it is they that should carry the risk (that is one of the reasons why costs are higher than having a mortgage). It is then up to the accommodation provider to seek compensation from the government that has mandated everything to shutdown.

    The alternative solution is to turn the student loan into a grant for the period of lockdown. Either way government should pay as it has mandated lockdown (and it should print it not borrow it so we don’t have to pay it back from our already burdensome taxes).

    • Dr Technical
      Posted January 9, 2021 at 10:10 am | Permalink

      The open university delivers education at degree level via remote learning and charges fees. If lectures and tutorials are being delivered then I do not see the issue.

    • Nig l
      Posted January 9, 2021 at 10:27 am | Permalink

      What is this organisation called the government that is always being asked pay? Call it the tax payer.

      Much of Europe is being funded by Germany buying up their debt. If the German people realised that actually it was their money, like us with student debt etc, They may not be so ambivalent.

      So I understand why it suits to pretend it is the government that will pay.

    • ian@Barkham
      Posted January 9, 2021 at 11:59 am | Permalink

      I hate to disagree – you are saying it is the taxpayer that should pay. This Government as all previous Governments in the UK do not have at any stage have their own money they just have access to your wallet.

  13. Mike Wilson
    Posted January 9, 2021 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    The rate of interest on student loans is a scandal. Why do you hate young people so much? It is usury. Shylock would be proud of you.

  14. Lynn
    Posted January 9, 2021 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    As the contracts of Commercial landlords have been shedded why should private and University landlords be treated differently? The Government is determined to bankrupt every sector, (including the NHS who don’t understand that yet) why struggle against them? They have the support in this endeavour, we are told, of 70% of the people, the MSM, Parliament and the Courts.
    Even you, JR did not vote against it!

  15. Mike Wilson
    Posted January 9, 2021 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    Where is the Students Union in all this? They should be organising a complete boycott of universities for a year. That would get the fees down! And the interest on student loans should be the SAME AS THE GOVERNMENT PROVIDES FOR HELP TO BUY.

    Help to buy loan:
    Interest free for 5 years then HALF A PERCENT above base rate.

    Student loan:
    Interest applied from the minute the money goes to the university
    Interest rate SIX PERCENT

    Clearly the government hates students and loves inflating the housing market, so that students, after qualifying, will never be able to afford a house.

    Care to justify your government’s actions, Mr. Redwood?

    • NickC
      Posted January 9, 2021 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

      Mike, I concur with your sentiments, though I would limit student loan interest to bank rate (currently 0.1%) – easy to understand and administer.

    • a-tracy
      Posted January 9, 2021 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

      Can we get it right Mike – clearly the government hates ENGLISH students and has penalised them with a 9% graduate tax since 1998.

  16. formula57
    Posted January 9, 2021 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    On accommodation, there is something sinisterly compelling about the argument that runs – we landlords still incur costs so you have to pay, use or non-use. Most students will be penurious so might lightly run the risk of being sued for rent.

    On tuition, if universities show they offer a comparable product, fee reductions might not be justified. Time for them the emphasize they are (supposed to be) promoting the development of independent thought and learning in their students. The loss of informal interactions, including with fellow students, must degrade the experience though.

    A solution is to follow the secondary education example: award pass certificates all round for doing nothing beyond registering for a course. The Generation Zers will be like pigs in clover so no comebacks for years, until they eventually realize.

  17. Mike Wilson
    Posted January 9, 2021 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    This idea of schoolchildren working from home is a joke. Not everyone lives in a 4 bed house where each of the two children have their own bedrooms, desks and computers. And a parent at home. Schools must stay open.

    • NickC
      Posted January 9, 2021 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

      Mike, You are right – schools should stay open.

  18. JoolsB
    Posted January 9, 2021 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    Current situation aside, the whole system of funding needs to be looked at again. The Government already writes off 78% of all student debt mostly for worthless degrees and they are more than happy to hand over truck loads of English taxes to the devolved nations for them to offer their young free or heavily subsidised tuition fees. Isn’t it time to scrap tuition fees in England for those the country needs in return for their commitment to stay and work in this country for a minimum number of years, e.g. a Doctor must work for the NHS for at least 5 or 10 years, The current system is totally unfair and discriminatory. Also the interest rates of 6% are a disgrace and a total rip off of our young.

    • a-tracy
      Posted January 9, 2021 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

      Jools, does the government write off 78%? I don’t believe this. Fees were low to start, Going to £3500 pa I know plenty of students that have paid off these plan 1 loans already and they only started in 2008, the first set of Tuition fees in the United Kingdom were reintroduced for full-time resident students in 1998. The Government introduced an annual tuition fee of £1,000, representing about a quarter of the average cost of a course. Tuition will continue to be free for students from lower income families. Other full-time students will pay up to £1,000 per year depending on parental income.

      These early students starting in 1998 would only have loaned £3000 just how many have paid them up? Shouldn’t we be told?

      The £3500 pa loan students were from 1998, so they still have another 20 years of 9% graduate tax to run, I would expect the majority of them to be earning over £17500 pa. And therefore paying back on a regular basis. How many were written off and why? Were they foreign students?

      • a-tracy
        Posted January 10, 2021 at 10:03 am | Permalink

        Sorry, the £3500 per year tuition fees started in 2008 and after a three year degree ending 2011, when the graduate tax became repayable, they have 20 years left to run, so no write offs there (unless we are writing off EU students loans for tuition and living costs – are we getting their 9% graduate tax or has it been wiped clean for them?).

  19. Sakara Gold
    Posted January 9, 2021 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Certainly not. England and Ulster are the only parts of the Union who impose tuition fees anyway. The government is printing money like it’s going out of fashion and should cover these costs for UK born nationals itself.

  20. Dr Technical
    Posted January 9, 2021 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    Students could have deferred going to university in October by putting back enter or taking a gap year. If they are receiving lectures and tutorials by zoom then how is this different to new working from home? Also the Open University has been successfully delivering a good standard of education via remote learning for decades.

  21. Walt
    Posted January 9, 2021 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    The usual rules of contract law should apply.
    If a person contracts to rent accomodation for a period but does not use that accomodation, in whole or in part, they are still obliged to pay as contracted.
    If a person contracts for a service, in this case on-campus tuition, but the university becomes unable or unwilling to provide it, then, unless the terms of their contract say otherwise, the person may cancel, claim a refund, and potentially claim against the university for costs, e.g. the rent of accomodation for the period of the expected service. If the university offers an alternative service of remote tuition and the person accepts that alternative, they have agreed to a varied contract and no refund for tuition is due unless agreed at or before their acceptance it.
    The state is liable if and only if the state (a) orders the person not to use the accomodation they had rented and (b) orders the university that it must not provide its normal service of tuition on-campus.

  22. glen cullen
    Posted January 9, 2021 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    Universities and colleges don’t just need a great reset they need a great rethink,what are they for, why does the taxpayer fund them, why educate foreign students, who owns the assets, why so many programmes, why so many high salaries etc etc

    • Fred H
      Posted January 9, 2021 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

      a lot of fair points.

  23. glen cullen
    Posted January 9, 2021 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Please learn from recent history – In 2002 universities and colleges piloted an study between 10 estalishments across England, funded by DoE to advance online studies – It didn’t work, the whole project was deemded a complete failure…..It was due to the material nor equipment nor access – students just didn’t like it and didn’t engage

    I can see history repeating itself

    • mancunius
      Posted January 9, 2021 at 11:38 pm | Permalink

      Simple: don’t make the mistake of asking them if they like it or not. In 2021 they have no choice if they want tuition and a degree.

  24. oldwulf
    Posted January 9, 2021 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    My sympathy lies primarily with the students. They have been sold a pup and should clearly pay less for an inferior tuition experience.

    To only a slightly lesser extent, I sympathise with the general taxpayer who will probably be asked to bail out the whole system and needs to extract a reasonable price for doing so.

    I have less sympathy for private landlords. Presumably, in true capitalist tradition, they have had good years and bad years. Having said that, they have a contract for the receipt of their rent. If the student does not pay, then who does. Probably a deal can be struck with the taxpayer so that a reduced rent is paid to reflect the landlords savings as the properties are empty and the landlords do not have to chase for the rent.

    The University landlord probably deserves the least sympathy. It has used its charitable status to dabble in capitalism and to receive a tax free return on its investments. Any taxpayer bailout should be conditional on the removal of charitable status for future years and on increased regulation of university finances and on the degrees offered. Universities have grown fat on taxpayer funded student loans, most of which will never be repaid.

  25. DennisA
    Posted January 9, 2021 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    The right answer is that they should go back to University. Lockdown upon lockdown is clearly achieving very little.

  26. BJC
    Posted January 9, 2021 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    I thought this country was now in a position to free its entrepreneurial spirit?

    Looking at this objectively, those providing student accommodation are in business with all the associated risks. The taxpayer is already providing business assistance, so perhaps the answer is for landlords to adapt their business model, just as others have done…..this might be where government could help?

    The message from students over remote learning suggests that they don’t believe there’s adequate tutor input, but this could simply be a distorted perception. It would be wiser to settle this point rather than beeing sucked into the matter of staffing levels/salaries, which is feeble anyway and nothing to do with students. The fundamental issue is about the efficacy of the management, where tutors should be furnished with the tools/training to adapt and work harder/smarter to justify their existence and the fees.

    Whilst education is far broader than simply providing lessons, dual learning and its associated job losses will, sadly, now be explored as the future of education. It’s an unfortunate side-effect of the dogma of hard-left unions whose narrow vision doesn’t support the notion that their members should be at their place of work, productive and proving their worth………but good to know they think they’ve had a “win” over the government.

  27. ChrisS
    Posted January 9, 2021 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    It would be unthinkable to re-open universities given the virulence of the new virus strain. They will have to remain closed until the pandemic is largely over.

    After it is judged to be no longer a threat, a full rethink of University education should be undertaken.

    However the current situation over costs is resolved, with modern technology, there is no need for students to move to university towns and incur expensive accommodation charges when they could live at home or locally and study remotely.

  28. Roy Grainger
    Posted January 9, 2021 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    On the accommodation the situation is just like any other business – the government are actively preventing the business from operating and so the government should pay a fair level of compensation to the acconnodation provider and the students should be reimbursed fully.

    On tuition fees the universities should refund part of the fee to reflect the fact they are not providing the full service that was paid for.

    In addition the government should reduce the absurd interest rate charged on student loans to the current BoE base rate which is near enough 0%.

  29. ian@Barkham
    Posted January 9, 2021 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    On the issue of accommodation – on campus accommodation is removed by the University on advice from Government. The issue should not be between the Student and the Uni, but the Uni and Government.

    Some students think there should be a discount or rebate for remote teaching. A Zoom/Teams meeting is still a face to face meeting, the outcome as in business is deemed equal.

    In the World we find ourselves in so-called remote learning is and will be for ever a natural part of the process. You can still get a degree via a correspondence course. Many of the proper Universities provide remote learning for foreign students as a matter of course.

    Not forgetting we now have a University intake that is not there on merit, but as a pat on the back for their teacher. The University is picking up the work load to bring them up to standard.

    While students Contribute to their tuition they do not pay for it, the taxpayer whether the had the privalaged higher learning or not is funding it.

  30. Sarah Tun
    Posted January 9, 2021 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    The reality is that many students don’t understand the point of university. This is a tough lesson. Those whose priority is to learn will be grateful for the online option. Tuition fees should remain as they are.
    I’m a private landlord. I am a uni graduate. I understand both points of view. Hand on heart, if the student can’t live in the accommodation, they should be released from their obligation.
    Then, the landlord can debate with the government who is responsible for the rent: taxpayers or landlords. My sentiment is that it is shared equally. There is no easy algorithm but 50/50 seems reasonable.

  31. Pauline Baxter
    Posted January 9, 2021 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    The only ‘RIGHT’ answer is to END THE LOCKDOWNS.

  32. Sally
    Posted January 9, 2021 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    I am a landlord of 2 student properties with 3 students in one and 4 in the other. Only 1 student has contacted me to ask to be released from the contract and unfortunately I have had to decline as I have overheads and need the income. They have signed up for the year, could work on line from their student houses and be in a bubble with their friends which, for some may be preferable than being at home with parents. It may even allow them to self isolate (within their bubble) and not infect their parents/grandparents.
    The accommodation is available to them until the summer and it is up to them when and how they use it.
    I sincerely hope the universities will get back to normal very quickly. I have heard of many many students who have had virus and have only been mildly affected. Generally, they not a substantially ‘at risk’ group.

    • Jasper
      Posted January 14, 2021 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

      As much as it grieves me to part with my money to my sons landlords I have to agree with you. Both my boys returned to student houses after Christmas and my husband and I were quite relieved as it reduced our risk. Both boys have now had Covid one had a high temperature for 24 hours (no one else in his house tested positive, there is 10 in his house) my other son lost his sense of smell, so because the rest of the house were bored they went to get a test – all 5 were positive but not one was ill!! Leave the students to get on with it, vaccinate lecturers and teachers and let their education commence .

  33. anon
    Posted January 9, 2021 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    Keep the state out of the way. Law courts are for this not thwarting democratic leave votes.

    Look to the contract first and its clauses regarding frustration terminations acts of God etc.

    Get some test cases funded and fast tracked through the courts.

    Then after the outcome of the cases consider Public Policy & Provision for Massive Online learning for a much larger base, timelines deliveries etc.

  34. lojolondon
    Posted January 9, 2021 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    Not one healthy child in the UK has died from Covid-19, and I believe that young people are almost as resistant, so I believe that schools should be open without exception, and the same should apply to Universities and College.

    Who would sign up for £9k remote tuition at a redbrick university for 2021 when they can get remotely educated at the Open University for £3k ?? (which has been doing distance learning since 1969!)

  35. David Rees
    Posted January 9, 2021 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    There is no easy answer to the ‘equation’ eg: students/landlords/universities….who should pay £. DfE / HE sector need urgently to undertake a ‘re-think’ forecasting which Uni’s are likely to become financially un-stable post-C19 and:
    a) plan for mergers where appropriate-based on geography/need etc
    b) those which are not financially viable change into University Technical Colleges {UT’s} based on geography and low skills for post- C19 and the New Green Agenda-World Class leading
    c) those Uni’s which become redundant re-model into:
    1- accommodation and basic skills training centres for the unemployed/homeless/a new start for people leaving prison
    2- low-rented accommodation for people saving up a deposit to purchase ‘first time housing’ to get them on the ‘housing ladder’
    It is not ‘rocket science’- Robert Jenrick/Gavin Williamson together with their officials should do some joined up ‘Government Thinking’
    Perhaps please Sir John could encourage them?, thank you

  36. William Long
    Posted January 9, 2021 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    I have attended a number of meetings on-line and have been very impressed with the clarity that is achieved. This is particularly true with limited ‘Tutorial’ sized numbers, and on a one-to-one session, it is pretty well as good as having the tutor in the room. Much obviously depends on having the right kit, but the Government having insisted on the lockdown, should make sure that is available and and the taxpayer should pay for it, but given that, I see no reason why Universities should not charge full fees.
    The question of un-occupied accomodation is more difficult, but again, if the tenant, the student, is prevented by the Government from occupying accomodation, surely the responsibility for the rent must become the Government’s? I think the taxpayer is on the hook until he makes such a fuss that his representatives in Parliament turn out the Government.
    I trhink a much bigger question is whether Universities should be closed in the first place.

  37. Max Taylor
    Posted January 9, 2021 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

    The background/trend is many university businesses and their suppliers/dependent economies have over-expanded and/or have an uncompetitive business model (vis a vis increasingly high quality and free online courses, more and more free books and online learning tools etc, …the exception would be tellingly those courses where the students still need to attend, i.e. where they can still command a premium/are worth it).

    However, as the sector is really a great UK export success I think there is leeway for the government to support them for this reason alone, i.e. for their export success , I think that makes sense for everyone, keep selling those degrees to the rest of the world!

    But in the short and long-term, I think this has flagged up (again) that what students are being sold and provided is not regulated enough and there isn’t the right law/public administration to protect them (as with many other consumers) from predatory businesses in this space, whether that’s the unis or the landlords: I would argue this is the situation with or without COVID conditions., COVID has just made it super clear.

    The whole higher education sector needs to be better regulated and/or provided with law to govern their activities if they will not responsibly regulate/govern themselves/run their own businesses with provision for uncertainty. Nobody else gets a free ride for law or money issues, why should they get one?

    For the COVID affected students, I think these students should have some form of fee reductions for less provision where that is the case, and the unis should have to suck up the cost/losses themselves. Or the students should be allowed to quit their courses and have no debt from it (if it was never provided in full as they were expecting), and then reapply for new courses online, which will be considerably cheaper.

    If the unis are good exporters the government should be giving them money back for that/cutting them a new deal for their export business, but if they’re not exporting enough they need to go bust/scale-down.

    The taxpayer should not be picking up the bill for so many reasons.

    I don’t think UG students should be paying such high fees anyway, but I also think universities are not the right place for most students and they could get the same or likely better education and training other ways at much less or almost no cost to themselves. I’m afraid it’s all a bit of a scam for many UK UGs and the unis have been rumbled.

  38. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted January 10, 2021 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    On the face of it students should get a discount if they get less than they paid for. Is the Government sure that if students brought a class action against it, it would win? I’m not.

  39. XY
    Posted January 14, 2021 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    Yes, I think it is the right answer.

    They entered into a contract in which, like any contract, there is an inherent risk. If anyone else pays then those people will be out of pocket whether that is the taxpayer or a landlord.

    The students can only complain IF their education can be seen to be worse, when viewed in retrospect. In that event, they have recourse to the law, like anyone else.

    Expecting to be given money on the assumption that their guesses regarding quality have validity, with no obligation to repay if they are proved to be wrong… that is actually unfair on everyone else.

    If it turns out that they pass their exams then they should be quite happy – they got what they paid for, at a price they were clearly prepared to pay. Any other solution smacks of opportunism/greed.

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  • About John Redwood

    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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