University refunds students as masters course falls short

University refunds students as masters course falls short
Rosemary Bennett, Education Editor | William Ing
December 11 2017, 12:01am,
The Times

A university has refunded tuition fees to all first-year students on one of its masters courses after it failed to deliver on its promise to prepare the next generation of writers to “survive and thrive” in the industry.

Central St Martins (CSM) in London paid £5,000 to each of its 23 first-year dramatic writing students, and partially refunded most second years after they took their case to college authorities.

CSM tried to settle the dispute in the 2016-17 academic year by offering to repay 30 per cent of the fees but in the end it agreed a full refund.

However, it required those taking the refund to sign a contract allowing CSM to take back the money if they made the agreement public.

“I acknowledge . . . that if I disclose the fact or terms of the settlement that I will be in breach of this settlement agreement and the university shall pursue me for breach of contract and recovery of all sums paid to me,” the contract said.

The group reimbursement is thought to be the first of its kind, but some students said that getting their fees back was not enough because they had spent many more thousands of pounds supporting themselves in London. “I feel like I wasted one year of my life, and am in £4,700 of debt for it,” one said.

Others complained of the attempt to gag them. “I think it’s Central Saint Martins being worried about their reputation as a leading arts college, but at the end of the day word spreads,” one said. “It would have been better for them to deliver a good course.”

Formal complaints by students, disclosed under a freedom of information request, reveal a litany of failures.

Students had been told that “industry masters” would work with them, but many simply never showed up. Classes were often cancelled, sometimes with less than an hour’s notice. Students said that there was a lack of feedback, emails were not answered and work that was submitted went unacknowledged. The university admitted that last year’s course had fallen below its usual standards.

“We therefore reimbursed students on the course up to the full amount of their fee,” it said. “The matter was resolved to the satisfaction of all parties.

“We have made major improvements to how we run MA dramatic writing. We have recruited new staff, increased input from industry professionals and provided extracurricular opportunities for collaboration. We have every confidence in the changes and improvements that have been introduced for the new academic cycle in 2017-18.”

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute think tank, said: “We will see more of this. In the old days, when students were not directly paying fees themselves, it wasn’t clear who would be refunded, but now it is . . . Students usually get only one shot at a degree or a master’s, so it is right they get what they are promised.”

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