The Best Student Life. Bristol SU

blue image with text 'Fee justice now'

Take Action Now

#1 Write to your MP

#2 Use our template letter to write to Hugh Brady, Bristol's Vice Chancellor

#3 Share your story with us

#4 Join the mailing list 

#5 Sign the national petition

#6 Add a Frame to your Facebook Profile Picture

#7 Change your Email Signature

#8 Share the campaign on social media

 

Campaign Resources

Fee Justice Now Campaign Kit

Download Email Signature Banners

Download Social Media Campaign Animations

Add a Frame to your Facebook Profile Picture

 

News

Read your UG Education Officer David Ion's Article in WonkHE: Students have no viable route to claim fee refunds

Read our letter to the Competition and Markets Authority

Fee Justice Now

We're campaigning for fee justice, joining student voices united across the country against excessive fees for a severely impacted educational experience.

We are organising a number of actions, coordinated locally and nationally, that we're asking you to complete to drive the campaign forward - check out the list on the right! This is a difficult campaign so we need as many of you involved as possible to give us the best chance of winning for students.

We've already met with the university senior management team and our conversations so far have been constructive.

Will you join our fight for Fee Justice Now?

This week's main action: Write to your local MP or embassy

This week, we're encouraging all students to write to their local MP to ask for three very specific things:

  1. To raise this issue to the government in parliament on behalf of all the students in their constituency, asking the government how they will mitigate the impact of the pandemic on university students’ higher education and pushing the government to stand up for students’ rights. 
  2. To raise this issue within their own political party; asking the party leadership to take action to protect students' rights, and incorporate support for free compensation into their party's policy.
  3. To raise the wider issue in both their political party, and parliament, of how the fee system of funding higher education is failing both students and universities.

You can find out who your local MP is, and tips for writing to them in our handy guide to writing to your MP.

International students can write to your MP in Bristol, but also to your embassy or home government.

 

What have we done so far? 

  • We’ve held forums to gather feedback and concerns 

  • We’ve supported student complaints through our Just Ask Advice Service 

  • In collaboration with International Student Officers from other Russell Group (RG) universities, Roy has submitted a petition to the Parliament’s Petition Committee and sent an open letter to the CEO of the RG and Vice Chancellors of RG universities, calling for compensation for the experience of International students this year, for the reduction of international fees in years to come and for the government to provide a bailout to help the higher education to adequately support students through the pandemic. 

  • We met with the university senior management team on 12 March and have another meeting planned later this month. Our conversations have been constructive and we hope to continue working together with the university on the issues raised in our campaign.

  • We held a virtual town hall event to launch the campaign and gain student feedback and input

  • We have encouraged students to take part in the actions on the right, as of 30 March, 820 people have filled in our survey, with many students also emailing Bristol's Vice-Chancellor Hugh Brady to ask him to support the campaign.

  • We have met with Darren Jones, MP for Bristol North West and Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee to discuss the campaign.

  • We have written to the Competition and Markets Authority along with signatories from 20 other SUs to ask them to take action to uphold students' rights during the pandemic.

 

Take Action Now 

 

What’s next? 

We’ll be taking regular action over the coming weeks to get your voices heard locally and nationally. This will likely include:

  • Writing to MPs 

  • Submitting mass complaints to the Office for Students 

  • Lobbying the university 

  • A dedicated week of action 

 

Get regular updates on what we have planned and how you can join in here

SU Officer Statements

15 March 2021 - Campaign Launch Statement

This year the promise of ‘blended learning’ has been far from the reality. We’re calling for compensation on tuition fees for the experience received this academic year by the ‘Class of Covid’. Students really appreciate the immense effort of staff to put their teaching online. Our campaign is not trying to undermine the work staff continue to put into students' education, but is in recognition of the blatant fact that covid has impacted students' educational experience. Students across the board have missed out on opportunities they would have in a normal year, and students feel that the university experience sold to them over summer has been far from the reality. 

International students have been particularly badly hit, some having travelled across the globe to be in Bristol for no reason, and some not even making it to Bristol the entirety of this academic year. Having to pay up to £38,000 a year with fees set to rise again in 2021/22 seems wholly unjustified given the circumstances. 

Our campaign for fee justice requires collective action to pressure universities and the government to recognise these problems and compensate students accordingly. We’ve held forums that have allowed students to relay their respective concerns and sentiments and we will be asking for your help to gather further evidence in a more comprehensive way. 

There has been extensive student criticism of astronomically high fees and so far the University has failed to engage with students in this conversation meaningfully. There are very valid fears that the cost of blanket tuition fee reimbursements could lead to mass redundancies and a diminished student experience which we want to avoid at all costs. Justice on fees must be backed by a government bail-out of higher education. Ultimately, the pandemic has proven that the fee-based system of funding universities is broken, and higher education should be free. Fee justice for this year is the first step on that road. 

We are launching our fee justice campaign to gain compensation for the ‘Class of Covid’, reduce the amounts paid for international tuition fees and show the government the pandemic has proven the current tuition fee model is unworkable. 

We will be organising a number of actions, coordinated locally and nationally, that all students can get involved with to drive this campaign forward. Students this year are united against excessive fees for a severely impacted educational experience – it's time we organise collective action to make our voice heard. 

FAQs

Below you can find answers to the most common questions we get asked........

Students knew they were signing up for a year that was going to be impacted by Covid. Should they not have just deferred if they didn’t want to pay full fees?

Students knew the year was going to be impacted but could not have predicted the extent of this. As well as knowing this year would undoubtedly be impacted by COVID in some ways, students also received reassurances from their universities that the quality of their educational experience would be maintained. These reassurances contributed to the decisions students made about this year, but they have not been fulfilled.

We appreciate that universities would also not have been able to predict exactly how COVID was going to impact this academic year, but they had more information than their students with guidance from ministers and Public Health England. Deferral was not a route that was proactively promoted to students over summer as many universities would have been concerned about the number of students they could charge fees from this year. Finally, even if deferring had been presented to students as something they may wish to consider, it would not have been a viable option for everyone, especially Widening Participation students. Young people have been hardest hit by loss of employment from the pandemic. If you had planned to go to University, or return to university, students may have been left without income or accommodation by deferring.

Everybody’s hurting because of the pandemic. Why do students deserve special treatment from government?

We do not believe students deserve special treatment over other groups who have also been detrimentally impacted by the pandemic. Rather that students are simply one of those groups most in need of support and justice. The government have given support to many sectors of society who have been impacted by the pandemic but have completely ignored students and universities, providing just £50m, the equivalent of £25 per student, of extra hardship funding in England. This campaign will try and rectify the government’s complete inaction over the needs of students and the higher education sector as a whole.

If fee compensation is granted, won’t it just take money off our loans that we might not repay? We need support now!

For international, postgraduate and other self-funded students fee compensation will have an impact now. Not all students have loans.

We acknowledge that the situation is more complicated for home students who have student loans. Therefore, we are focusing our efforts on first securing recognition that all students deserve compensation for lost educational experiences. If we can secure this acknowledgment, we can then turn to how best to compensate the Class of COVID.

If you are struggling financially now due to the impact of Covid-19 then you can apply for the university’s covid impact fund for support.

Isn’t your campaign going to add insult to injury to academic staff who have worked tirelessly this year to move their teaching online?

This campaign is not about criticising the effort of staff, who we know have worked tirelessly to deliver the best learning experience to students in the circumstances. Covid-19 has made 2020/21 an unprecedented year for the university. We recognise the unique challenges staff at all levels have faced and overcome, and we appreciate the work that has gone into making this year as good for students as possible.

The campaign is about recognising the detrimental impact the pandemic has had on students’ educational experience, and the disparity between the promise and reality of ‘blended learning’. Throughout this year, we have had constant feedback that students are losing out on the educational opportunities that they would normally expect, and that their experience of ‘Blended Learning’ is not what they were told to come back to university for over summer. It is important that students’ very valid concerns are heard, understood, and acted upon by the university. We are launching this fee campaign to ensure that this happens, and we hope staff will recognise these problems exist for students through no fault on their part and despite their herculean effort.

Won’t a fee campaign diminish the student experience in the long run by damaging university finances, and so their ability to deliver a high-class education?

We recognise that blanket fee compensation would place a huge financial burden upon the university, and we want to ensure that our campaign does not result in staff redundancies and the lowering of Bristol’s ability to provide a great student experience. Any fee compensation must come with financial support from government, and we are keen to work collaboratively with the University on efforts to lobby at a national level.

The officer team met with the university senior management team on 12 March and have another meeting planned later this month. Our conversations have been constructive, and we hope to continue working together with the university on the issues raised in our campaign.

Doesn’t a campaign like this harm the long-term goal of campaigning for free education? Shouldn’t you be tackling the wider issues around the marketised education system by campaigning for free education rather than compensation for just this year?

Ultimately, we believe that this pandemic has proven that the fee system of funding higher education is broken, leaving students out of pocket and universities at financial risk of having to pay refunds. Students do not want to be seen as consumers, but while universities continue to charge tuition it is important that their union stands up for their rights. We hope that by pushing for the government to help universities provide compensation on tuition this year, we will show that universities are not suitable to be run as businesses, and that the current system is failing students, staff and universities alike. Fee justice for this year is the first step on the road to free education.

The SU has most influence over the university, so why aren’t you asking the university to fund refunds themselves?

Blanket fee compensation would place a huge financial burden upon the university, and we want to ensure that our campaign does not result in staff redundancies and the lowering of Bristol’s ability to provide a great student experience. Any fee compensation must come with financial support from government, and we are keen to work collaboratively with the University on efforts to lobby at a national level.

The officer team met with the university senior management team on 12 March and have another meeting planned later this month. Our conversations have been constructive, and we hope to continue working together with the university on the issues raised in our campaign.

By working together with other SUs and mass engagement from students across the country, we can take our case to government. Students already have support from many MPs, and once we make the whole sector realise that it is in their best interest to push government for money to compensate students, the campaign will be amplified to a point where even the government can’t ignore it.

A large part of the campaign will be aimed at government and other national bodies. Does Bristol SU really have any influence over these organisations? Is this campaign purely symbolic?

We have spent a lot of time researching for this campaign and are proceeding with the actions that we believe are most likely get results for students. There are three separate but interlinked routes to fee justice:

  • Successful student complaints through the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA, which is the ombudsman for students) – This is the route government wants us to take, putting complaints through our local university complaints process and onto the OIA. This process is (deliberately) convoluted and long-winded, and is designed for individual course-specific complaints. This means it is not a viable route for collective fee justice for all students. We are, however, walking some course reps through the months long process to try and get outcomes for courses that have the strongest case for having lost key aspects of their educational experience. We are hoping that successes in these cases will provide a framework for showing the wider problems that all students have faced this year.
  • The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) steps in on behalf of all students – While the OIA is specifically for student complaints, the CMA deals with protecting all consumers and can help offer the collective fee justice the OIA are denying. The CMA has so far been completely silent on the issues facing students, but we are going to join up with other SUs to publicly call on them to act. We believe that ultimately, students should not be consumers, but while universities are treating them as consumers by charging tuition fees, they have certain rights over the money they are paying that are currently being denied. They should be allowed to withhold money for ‘services’ not delivered, given a viable route to claim money back, and should not be made to pay for accommodation they cannot use. The CMA could enforce these things in the higher education sector. Currently, students are only treated as consumers when it benefits universities and the government, but not when it benefits students. We do not think that this is justified and will be appealing to the CMA to intervene.
  • Government supports compensation – This is the overarching theme of any fee campaign, as we need to recognise that universities cannot afford to compensate students without government intervention. To get government to listen, we need to have as many students engaged as possible, as well as having worked through the OIA and CMA to prove that students deserve compensation and government needs to step in to support it. It will be the most difficult part of the campaign, which is why we need as many students as possible to take action and make this a talking point. We will be providing you with easy and effective ways you can help us make our case to government throughout our campaign, so check this webpage to stay up to date.

We hope that this outline of the routes to fee justice we are engaging with shows that we are serious about getting outcomes for students and are not running this campaign just as a symbolic gesture. It is going to be a difficult campaign to win, but that is why it is so important that as many students as possible take action.

Will taking part in actions to complain to the university about my fees result in disciplinary action or my standing with staff? Will engaging with actions affect my visa status as the university is my sponsor?

No. We’ve been in direct conversation with the university about our campaign and the university are aware that students will want to take part. 

The pandemic has affected all students, but it hasn’t impacted all our learning equally. How will your campaign recognise these different levels of impact?

We acknowledge the different experiences of and impact on undergraduate home students, international students, postgraduate students, and other self-funded students. We are working with these different groups to understand their specific issues and to submit specific complaints through the University complaints process.

We are also aware that some courses have been particularly affected in losing key aspects of their educational experience. We are working closely with course reps for these courses to support student complaints.