As the Covid-19 pandemic ravages every sector of our society, we have had to retreat to protect the most vulnerable among us. Once facilitating the busy lives of 30,000 students and almost 3,000 staff, the UCD campus is now completely deserted. It is the same campus which many of us chose to pursue our degree in and paid thousands for. Yet, nobody seems to dare question what importance our campus played in our academic achievement and quality of teaching, especially in relation to our tuition fees.
It is not unreasonable that nobody was prepared for such circumstances. The university have had to quickly devise plans to make big adjustments and all teaching has been moved online. Unfortunately, when I say ‘teaching’, it does not mean that all modules are running virtual classrooms for students. Excluding many hard-working lecturers, there are still many module coordinators who are happy to get their job done by uploading lecture slides once or twice a week. Even if all modules offered perfect virtual classrooms and videos to accommodate every student, the fact that we can no longer avail of the campus services should warrant partial refund. Bear in mind what is usually included in our tuition fees; classrooms, labs, library, gym, among other sports and academic facilities. The importance of study space and social interaction the campus provided is not to be taken lightly.
It should be noted that depending on which department the module belongs to, the cost of a single five-credit module can fall between €468.84 and €725.34. These figures go up to €2,455.92 for non-EU students. Now, multiply them by 6 modules for one semester and you get the idea. Do any of us think it is fair to pay such a high price for online courses?
It is indeed a sad reality that the lockdown has taken such a great toll on students’ abilities to commit to their studies. The closing of the campus along with numerous businesses impacted all of us differently depending on students’ living situation, mental and physical health, to speak of only a few difficulties. While the government is doing their best to support its economy and citizens, students continue to face financial difficulties. This includes those students who have been let go of their employment, the ones whose parents are in essential services and have had to leave their younger siblings or other less-able members of their family in their care, or those who have been left without a home. There are also many international students who are unable to return to their countries but have had to vacate their accommodation. Under these circumstances, it seems right that universities step up to take some of the burdens off of students.
Still, UCD’s refund policy has been one of the slowest to change. The policy still dictates that any students who haven’t withdrawn from their programme before February 1st are liable for full tuition fees. The only change that happened due to the Covid-19 pandemic pertains exclusively to incoming students whose programmes were scheduled to commence in September 2020 but cannot join. Therefore, it is apparent that the changes do not have the totality of the students’ best interests.
As a result, the majority of students have no choice but to finish this semester as they cannot afford to waste their money or time, even if they are in no position to do so. However, UCD’s recent decision on students’ grading has been less than clear. On April 16th, our Academic Council Executive Committee passed legislation to help students through this difficult time but this was woefully inadequate. The only leeway they are allowing is with late submission and repeats. Most of the policy simply talks about being generally considerate but without specific details of how this should work. This means that most professors will continue to grade as they usually would. On the bright side, there is no reason why students cannot start a formal petition to get partial refund on their tuition fees, taking an example from the US and the UK. There have already been numerous petitions filed against universities in these countries with favourable results.
To conclude, UCD has not offered any financial relief for students so far despite the campus being completely shut down. From the lack of changes in the refund policy, one can only assume that the university is committed to its own financial interest. If the university continues not to allow students any alternative, it is certain that many students will end up having their grades suffer which may have terrible implications on their futures.