It’s not just the COVID-19 pandemic that has shaped our understanding of what a good university course should look like. The Office for Students (OfS) has continued to set out rules for minimum acceptable outcomes that students should expect from their degree. This considers factors like course completion and employment opportunities, of which there is a threshold universities must meet to avoid being penalised. 

Yet, some university courses have drop-out rates as high as 40% – a figure that the government and OfS see as unacceptable. The question is whether universities will try harder to provide stronger courses if students have the option to obtain refunds. This possibility comes in line with the government’s plans to decrease the number of students doing degrees that provide limited graduate employment.

Over the pandemic, thousands of students were granted refunds by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator, unhappy with the way courses or services were offered.

The universities minister, Michelle Donelan, said that students are consumers, so deserve refunds if they are unsatisfied with their degrees given the substantial investments they have made.

“I have had to really say to vice-chancellors, you need to ensure that you are delivering on what you promised to students […]”

Universities UK, who represent university vice-chancellors and principals, said that they would continue to work with the OfS as it considers the content of different consultations and proposals.

The ability to obtain refunds for unsatisfactory degrees may fundamentally change the landscape of university courses, as institutions seek to limit the number of students applying for refunds and avoid punishment for weak course outcomes. This means subjects in the arts and humanities will be increasingly scrutinised for their ability to provide graduate employment, casting further shadows over creative industries in the UK.

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