Hundreds of international students at three leading London universities are reportedly refusing to pay their fees because studying in their bedrooms has not justified prices of up to £29,000 a year.
Around 300 students at the Royal College of Art, two-thirds of them from overseas, launched a strike in January, withholding an estimated £3.4m in fee payments, in an attempt to force the RCA into issuing refunds for the past year.
The students pay £29,000 a year for a master’s course at the RCA and after a letter from the college threatened them with suspension, some conceded fearing it may cause issues with their visa. However, the institutions vice-chancellor confirmed on 4 March that 93 students had still not paid.
Many of the students are angry that the RCA actually increased its fees this year during the pandemic, despite on-campus learning and practical work in studios or workshops being restricted or completely impossible due to social distancing measures. Students, therefore, feel they have not received the immersive experience they were promised and paid for.
Elsewhere, around 100 students at Soas University of London are also refusing to pay their fees. Overseas undergraduates typically pay £18,630 a year to study here. A strike is also underway at Goldsmiths.
One master’s student from Singapore at the University of the Arts London, has helped to organise the strikes and now aims to target international students at her own institution.
The learner states that those studying arts and design courses at UAL and the RCA have struggled without time in studios and workshops. She says, “I’ve seen students who have been forced to do metal smelting at home and burned their hands, or have been painting in small unventilated spaces,”.
Calls are quickly growing for the government to issue a fee rebate with a new petition demanding compensation for international students having received nearly £25,000 signatures in just over a week.
Most domestic fees in the UK, of £9,250 a year, are paid to universities by the Student Loans Company. However, international students and those studying for master’s pay direct.
One master’s student at Goldsmiths says the students he has spoken to feel like they are being treated like “cash cows.”
At a Zoom meeting with students on 4 March, the vice-chancellor of the RCA said that if the college let students pay “what they felt was right” it would lead to “job losses… a curtailment of what we are offering at the moment”.
Further, the vice-chancellor stated that any student who could not pay the fees due to financial difficulties would be helped by the college.
The University of the Arts London says they reopened practical learning spaces on 8 March, the earliest legal date, and added that they have not been informed of any intention to launch a strike.
Goldsmiths meanwhile acknowledge the past year has been incredibly difficult for their students and point to their new range of funds and bursaries to provide support. Their warden has also allegedly written to the universities minister asking the government to offer more financial support to students.
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