Students in England should apply for refund if unsatisfied, says minister


Michelle Donelan says students are ‘consumers’, amid plans to punish universities for poor value for money


Sat 22 Jan 2022 11.40 GMT

The universities minister, Michelle Donelan, has encouraged students to apply for refunds on courses if they are unsatisfied.

Donelan said students should “absolutely” apply for refunds, adding: “They are consumers, at the end of the day. They’re paying a substantial amount of money that’s an investment in their own lives. They deserve that appeal right.”

She told the Daily Telegraph that there had been “tens of thousands” of refunds issued to students by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator during the pandemic.

Tens of thousands of students in England are studying for degrees at institutions that could soon be punished for low quality and poor value for money, under plans drawn up by the higher education regulator.

The Office for Students has already published a consultation detailing its minimum acceptable outcomes for students, which sets thresholds for drop-out rates, course completion and graduate employment that universities and colleges will have to pass to avoid further investigation.

Universities UK, representing vice-chancellors and principals, has said it is looking forward to continuing to work closely with the OfS as it considers the consultation and the proposals.

Donelan also criticised universities that have not returned to face-face-face learning, high vice-chancellor salaries and what she described as “mickey mouse” courses.

“I have had to really say to vice-chancellors, you need to ensure that you are delivering on what you promised to students because, as the prime minister outlined, we’ve got to learn to live with this virus now.

“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. Students have been leading the way in the [vaccination] stats.”

Donelan said she would not defend some vice-chancellor salaries, which she called “eye-watering and staggering”, and said drop-out rates for some courses were as high as 40%.

“Universities try to entice pupils to the front door and say that’s social mobility. Actually, that doesn’t help anybody,” she said.

She added that part of the reason she had entered politics was to ensure that young people were not “hoodwinked” on to courses that, she said, were not going to deliver what they expected them to deliver.

The MP, who was the first member of her family to go to university, said the wouldn’t shy away from using the term “Mickey Mouse” to describe poor-quality courses.

She added: “People from my kind of background, they just see a course. They’ve not got those advisers telling them this course is far superior to that one, and they can just end up doing a course hoping it’s going to lead them somewhere, and it doesn’t.”