The SU called the current system “unsustainable and unjust”LOUIS ASHWORTH/VARSITY

The Cambridge Students’ Union (SU) has signed an open letter to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) calling for the regulator to stand up for students’ rights during the pandemic. The SU joins the Student Unions of 19 other universities, including Oxford, Durham, and Manchester, as well as the President of the National Union of Students (NUS).

Claiming that the promise of “blended learning” has not been delivered this academic year, the letter argues that it has become apparent that students are not afforded the same rights as other consumers, and that this reveals deep flaws in the fee-based model of Higher Education in Britain.

Ben Margolis, the SU’s Undergraduate President, told Varsity: “We support the demands made by Students’ Unions across the country that students have a right to protest the financial price they have paid for this academic year, all whilst being forced to return to unsafe conditions in October, and expected to adapt to online learning in isolated conditions.”

“We agree with the contention of the letter that the pandemic has shown that students are not treated like other ‘consumers’,” he continued, “and that ultimately a system that poses education as a product is both unsustainable and unjust.”

The letter calls on the CMA to take a number of steps to empower students as consumers.


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Firstly, the regulator is urged to clearly advise students of their right to withhold fee payments if they have lost out on educational experiences and facilities due to Covid-19. The letter says that the CMA has failed to provide clear guidance for students seeking redress.

The letter secondly recommends an overhaul of the complaints system through which students claim refunds. The current system, whereby students appeal to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA), is criticised in the letter for putting “an undue burden on students to force through their complaints”. The letter also criticises the OIA system for awarding compensation on a course-by-course basis, which they argue makes blanket fee refunds impossible.

The letter also encourages the CMA to explain how students who do want a refund can prove that the delivery of their course has not met the required standards for full tuition.

Finally, the letter calls on the CMA to address the issues facing students renting in private halls of residence, noting that the majority of these students have continued paying for accommodation they have not been able to occupy as a result of lockdowns.