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Most undergraduates get no cash back during pandemic


Poll shows 66 per cent of students have not received refunds from universities or landlords

Two-thirds of undergraduate students say they have not been given any money back from their university or accommodation provider, despite pressure from the government, a survey has suggested.

A poll of more than 1,000 students carried out by the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) in March revealed that 66 per cent of undergraduate students had not received a refund from their university or accommodation provider since the pandemic began.

Just 2 per cent of students had received some level of refund from both their university and accommodation provider; 13 per cent from their university alone; and 19 per cent from their accommodation provider.

Some private accommodation firms have given students a rebate on their rent for the time they are not allowed to use their rooms due to Covid-19 restrictions, and universities minister Michelle Donelan has called on landlords to be lenient with their tenants when it comes to payment.

But the Hepi poll also revealed that 66 per cent of students are already living in their term-time accommodation, even though more than half of students (56 per cent) do not believe they will have any more face-to-face teaching time in this academic year.

There is still uncertainty around whether students will be allowed back to campuses this month. Although the government said students would be able to return to campuses on 12 April when it unveiled its roadmap out of lockdown in February, there have been growing concerns among universities that students’ return could be pushed back until May.

Uncertain times

Hepi director of policy and advocacy Rachel Hewitt said that although the government has published more guidance recently on easing lockdown restrictions, “the picture for students remains unclear”.

“There is talk about the student ‘return to campus’, but these results clearly show that many students are already in their term-time accommodation, despite most not expecting face-to-face teaching to return this academic year,” she said. “Governments across the UK should take heed of these results in developing their plans to ease restrictions.”

Meanwhile, the poll revealed that 63 per cent of students say their mental health is worse since the start of the pandemic, while 23 per cent say their mental health is the same as it was pre-pandemic.

Despite the high proportion of students who feel their mental health has become worse, 38 per cent say they are satisfied with their university’s delivery of mental health support services.

However, student satisfaction with online learning has increased since the pandemic began. A total of 54 per cent of students said they were satisfied in March this year, compared with 49 per cent in March 2020. It has decreased slightly from a high of 59 per cent in November 2020.

Hewitt said that although most students were satisfied with their online lessons and universities’ overall handling of the pandemic, institutions “will need to continue to be mindful of the impact that the pandemic is having on students’ mental health and what this means for the delivery of their support services”.

The Hepi and YouthSight poll of over 1,044 full-time undergraduate students took place between 11 and 16 March. It followed similar surveys in March, June and November 2020.