Students at the University of Manchester have organised a collective non-payment of tuition fees, until an agreement is reached with university management for compensation following the ongoing industrial action by the UCU. Students involved in the movement to withhold tuition fees are also following the university’s formal complaints procedure, allowing compensation claims to be escalated to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator should the complainants remain unsatisfied.

The non-payment action is being organised through Facebook group ‘Last instalment withholding MA,’ with over 100 students currently taking part.

Postgraduates to withhold tuition fees

Postgraduate students pay tuition fees directly from their own bank accounts, and many have now cancelled the direct debit authorisation allowing the university to take the final instalment due in May. Students are set to withhold tuition fees payments of over £3,000, with the University of Manchester charging some of the highest fees for Masters courses in the UK.

The vast majority of the students affected fully support the plight of striking staff, placing the blame for the disruption with university management and Universities UK, responsible for the disputed USS pension scheme changes being challenged by the UCU. Likewise, lecturers are generally supportive of student action, with some reportedly encouraging their students to withhold tuition fees.

Cancelling the University’s direct debit authorisation can be done in seconds using online banking. This is touted as a relatively risk-free method of applying pressure on the university management, as it merely revokes the university’s ability to take money directly from students’ bank accounts. A late payment fee of £25 is not charged until the tuition fees become overdue in two months time, and is proportionally insignificant for those intending to withhold tuition fees of over £3,000.

Whilst UoM can prevent students from graduation until any tuition fees are paid, it is widely hoped the issue will be resolved long before Masters students are due to graduate this December.

Those students that intend to withhold tuition fees are asked to add their name here, allowing the scale of this collective action to be tracked.

Many students on Masters courses have suffered severe disruption to their second and final taught semester, with minimal, if any, timetabled sessions being held over four weeks. The remaining two weeks of teaching, following the three week Easter break, could also face disruption as UCU prepare up to another 19 days of strike action over April and May. Students have complained of being left with no communication from academics, including their dissertation supervisors, with union members continuing industrial action strictly ‘working-to-contract’ in addition to annual leave over Easter.

University of Manchester upholding firm ‘no compensation’ stance

However, in an email sent out to students this Friday afternoon, UoM’s Director of Communications & Marketing Michael Greenhalgh repeated the universities stance that it would be ‘impossible’ to calculate financial compensation:

“Many students have requested reimbursement of their tuition fee based on lost teaching however the University will not reimburse individual students for specific elements of missed teaching and assessment.
This is because we charge a composite fee for our courses – this means that the overall fee is made up of various different elements in addition to the face-to-face tuition which you receive. These include things like registration, examination fees, access to IT, use of the library, student support services (e.g. advice and guidance service, careers service, Students’ Union).
University finances are calculated and aggregated at a School level and not at a degree programme level so it would be virtually impossible to calculate a refund for every course, for each year and for each student as the amount would be different in each case.”

Students to bring compensation claims to Independent Adjudicator

This is contradictory to the financial compensation policy of the Independent Adjudicator, who regularly determine the amount of financial compensation that should be awarded to aggrieved students.

Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education - Financial Compensation Policy

An excerpt from the Independent Adjudicator’s annual report for 2016

The Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education awards compensation based on three factors, all of which could be said to be applicable to Masters students that have suffered an entirely disrupted semester, making up half of their entire taught course programme.

  1. Where a student has suffered actual financial loss (missed seminars)
  2. When it is not possible to return the student to the position they would otherwise have been in (cannot restore cumulative learning experience)
  3. For distress and inconvenience

The Adjudicator’s annual report contains dozens of case studies, detailing previous cases where students have been awarded full tuition fee refunds for disrupted or missold modules, alongside hundreds of pounds of compensation for distress and inconvenience.

Those postgraduate students that have suffered the most disruption in the face of the UCU pension strikes will surely have a strong case to bring to the adjudicator, should the University of Manchester fail to satisfy their demands for compensation.

Sam Warrenger

TheFestivals Editor ● Formerly The Tab Manchester Deputy Editor ● Politics postgraduate with a computer science degree [email protected]