Are universities the next financial mis-selling scandal?

University, some of the best years of our lives. Endless parties, countless new friends and access to world-class education. However, the current COVID-19 pandemic has brought frustrating barriers to higher education establishments and their students. 

Most of us go to university with the expectation of independence and intermingling but with many current students now referring to their halls of residence as prisons, it’s clear that the higher education experience in 2020 is far from normal. 

Surprisingly however, despite the pandemic, the number of confirmed university admissions has increased significantly. As of the end of September, 515,650 UK-based students have places, an increase of 4 per cent from last year. Additionally, the ongoing fears over the summer of mass deferrals were quashed with only 0.3 per cent more students opting to defer than in 2019.  

But why is there such disparity between the ongoing pandemic and the higher-than-average university attendance? Were students truly made aware of the severity of the impact COVID-19 has had on the higher education system, or has more emphasis been put on the importance of positive financial spreadsheets over student wellbeing and satisfaction?

Rogue marketing

Social media was still abuzz with university marketing during the spring months, television adverts were still running and higher education institutions were still pouring money into targeted advertising. 

The overwhelmingly fantastic promise of university life was continuously pushed by marketing and communication teams, and students’ expectations were high. 

But the reality couldn’t be much further from the created fantasy. Some students are now having to isolate, some unable to even buy food for themselves, let alone being able to have proper access to world-renowned tech, tools and tutors. 

This is especially true for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, of which there has been a significant rise this year, who may not have the equipment required to gain sufficient access to online lectures and seminars. 

Consequently, it is expected that, across a large proportion of the student population, there will be a significant rise in cases of mental health issues like anxiety and depression, all classic symptoms that go hand-in-hand with isolation and loneliness.

No discounts available to students 

Despite all of this, there has been no reduction of fees, with all institutions still charging new students £9,250 per year of study. This has been met with a large degree of friction from students and their families alike, with a petition for reimbursing student fees reaching over 350,000 signatures and now being taken to Parliament.  

However, it is feared that despite these calls for concern over the standard of teaching and the rose-tinted expectations new students were given this summer, reimbursements simply won’t happen because of the volatility of higher education. The purse strings have never had to be so tightly held, and it is unlikely they will be let go of in this instance. 

Is there a case for financial mis-selling?

If you were sold a mortgage that didn’t work for you or were advised to have a financial loan on a car that was unnecessary for you, this would be a viable case for financial mis-selling. The golden promise of university during a pandemic is no different, especially as you are still having to part with a large sum of money which you may feel has no evidence of worth. 

Of course, like with anything, a case for financial mis-selling works on a strictly case-by-case basis, but there is no doubt that we will see a rising tide of upset and angry university students at both undergraduate and postgraduate level reaching out for legal help if complaints and reimbursement claims are rejected.