Stu­dents de­mand strike re­funds

The Sunday Telegraph - - Front page - By Steve Bird

UNIVER­SITY stu­dents fac­ing a month of in­dus­trial ac­tion by tu­tors have de­manded com­pen­sa­tion for lec­tures they miss but have al­ready paid for in tu­ition fees.

Lec­tur­ers at 61 top uni­ver­si­ties will strike next week in a row over pen­sions changes, walk­ing out for up to 14 days over a pe­riod of four weeks. Sev­eral on­line pe­ti­tions have now been launched call­ing for the uni­ver­si­ties to re­fund stu­dents for tu­ition time lost due to the in­dus­trial ac­tion.

Last night nearly 2,000 stu­dents had signed one of the pe­ti­tions, or­gan­ised by Con­rad White, 18, a stu­dent at the Univer­sity of York, de­mand­ing a “fair” £300 re­fund if the strike went ahead.

The in­tro­duc­tion of tu­ition fees has turned stu­dents into con­sumers. Oc­ca­sion­ally, this is mis­in­ter­preted by some as an en­ti­tle­ment to a good de­gree: a grad­u­ate re­cently sued Ox­ford Univer­sity over his fail­ure to get a First (his case was dis­missed). A much more pos­i­tive con­se­quence is that stud­ies are now be­ing taken more se­ri­ously by young peo­ple who want value for money. No won­der that, as we re­port to­day, so many stu­dents are up in arms about a planned lec­tur­ers’ strike.

There was a time when stu­dents would prob­a­bly back in­dus­trial ac­tion, in some mis­guided dis­play of the­o­ret­i­cal class sol­i­dar­ity, but tu­ition fees have taught them a les­son in the mis­eries of union mil­i­tancy. Any strike in the pub­lic sec­tor hurts the pub­lic that uses that sec­tor hardest of all; the pain is even greater when one is pay­ing £9,000 a year for the priv­i­lege. Stu­dents are call­ing for re­im­burse­ment. One of them elo­quently ex­plains to this news­pa­per that it is hyp­o­crit­i­cal to take his money without ex­tend­ing the ba­sic cour­te­sies of con­sumer rights.

In fact, stu­dents should use their pur­chas­ing power to de­mand more in­no­va­tion, in­clud­ing shorter, flex­i­ble cour­ses and greater use of dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy to al­low re­mote learn­ing. This would en­cour­age the pro­vi­sion of high-qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion at a much lower cost, re­duc­ing ex­cess debt. The fun­da­men­tal prob­lem is that some uni­ver­si­ties are still push­ing use­less, over-priced de­grees un­der the false pre­tence that all are equal. Ap­pli­cants should re­mem­ber the old say­ing, “caveat emp­tor”: buy­ers be­ware aca­demics of­fer­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tions that one does not need at prices one can­not af­ford. It’s time to push the con­sumer rev­o­lu­tion one step fur­ther.

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