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Sussex Uni law student leads call for tuition fee cuts as lectures move online

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COVID-19: Petition received almost 300 student signatures

A University of Sussex law student is leading the call for cuts to tuition fees as classes move online amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Shanavi Dessai, 18, has written an open letter urging the university to consider course fee reductions for international students. Some, Dessai writes, pay upwards of £23,000 each year, which is substantially more than their British counterparts.

“I don’t feel like this is the education that we were promised and therefore does not match the amount we are paying,” Dessai, a first-year law student from India told this website, adding:

“I do agree that this is an exceptional situation. But at the same time, the university should acknowledge the plight of students considering we pay double the amount the domestic students are paying for the same content.”

In the letter, which has been signed by almost 300 Sussex Uni students, Dessai explains that in the second term they “barely had four weeks of in-person classes” due to the pandemic, and so the university’s decision to continue to apply tuition fees as “normal” fails to “acknowledge the various ways in which international students (undergraduate and postgraduate) are more adversely affected”.

The letter continues to outline the “different circumstances” facing international students.

The school’s closure has meant they are unable to access library resources and facilities, making it difficult to write term papers. They’ve had to modify their plans at short notice which for some “requires complete re-thinking and choosing a different option instead (e.g. projects instead of work placements)”.

The letter further states that international students are finding it “increasingly difficult to pay fees” due to the impact of the COVID-19 crisis, continuing:

“There is a differentiated impact for students coming from countries with weaker economies where the value of the currency has significantly dropped against the British pound… Many of us have lost part-time jobs which we depended on to fund a portion of tuition fees. On top of this, many of our parents have been furloughed, or are unable to work, further making it difficult to afford tuition. All this has led some of us to consider dropping out.”

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It adds that students who travelled to their home countries may not have access to the “requisite technology or sustained internet connections”. Zoom is banned in China, for example. Plus “students living in the Asia-Pacific or North and Latin American region have a significant time difference which would significantly affect their performance and attendance”.

A University of Sussex spokesperson insists normal tuition fees will continue to apply for all students in line with government guidance.

“Although the mode of delivery has moved online, the university is continuing to provide all of its students with their courses and learning outcomes,” the spokesperson said.

“That said, we are aware the move to online learning may create additional challenges for students, both undergraduate and postgraduate. It’s for this reason the university continues to take into account the impact upon students due to the COVID-19 situation — and especially so for international students. We have written to all taught students to let them know the university will be applying a policy of ‘no detriment’ in the awarding of students grades for the year.”

Meanwhile, Dessai told Legal Cheek the response she’s received from fellow students has been overwhelming. “We have more and more students approaching us and encouraging us to proceed with this movement,” she said.

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