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Enough is Enough: King’s Tuition Fee Reduction
'Would you buy a banana that's ten days old for the same price as you would one that's just been picked?' That is the glib, yet no less forceful, sentiment of the students behind the initiative to reduce King's tuition fees.
20 August, 2021

The King’s community is diverse – we come from all over the world, with different backgrounds, and we descend upon King’s with different aspirations. We study a variety of courses (at five different campuses!), and we all embark on different paths. But if there’s one thing that we all have in common as King’s students, it’s tuition. We all have to pay to receive an education, one way or another. And while the issue of whether or not the prices levied by universities is fair (and indeed, whether or not students should be paying at all) has always been around, since the pandemic began, the question of tuition and accommodation came to the forefront of virtually every student’s mind as we attended our virtual seminars and tutorials. Should we still be paying fees, even as the university transferred to online teaching? Especially since many other universities in Europe have decided to reduce fees in response to the pandemic – for example, in the Netherlands, the government itself mandated universities to lower their fees. But we moved forward as King’s students, trying to remain resilient and focus on whatever reading we had assigned for the week as the world rapidly descended into chaos, keeping our sentiments to ourselves or within small groups. But one more thing we have in common as King’s students is those university-wide emails we all receive from the administration – a lot more these days since the pandemic started. And just when we thought we could forgive the university all their missteps from last year and chalk it up to a collective learning experience – we all received that one email. King’s College London decided it was going to raise fees for the Academic Year 2021/2022. And that was when the students behind the Instagram page of King’s Tuition Fee Reduction decided it was time to do something about it.

On the face of it, the group behind the page could not seem more different. Their degrees range from Physics to Comparative Literature. Abdus, a second year Physics student at King’s, led the charge, and found Sudi and the other students behind the group to update the page and let the voice of an upset student body be heard. The comparison, Abdus says, could not be clearer: what if he had booked an all-inclusive holiday with a tour in Jordan worth £3,000, and then the pandemic hit. It would not stand to reason for the tour operator to say, ‘hey, please still pay me, it’s non-refundable, and I’ll just film the tourist spots for you and you can watch the video via Zoom’. It’s simply not fair. Furthermore, they argue that this situation is a lot more dire than a cancelled trip – it concerns our futures. They tell the story of a friend who has had to accept that he might not be able to pursue his graduate degree at King’s or even in the U.K. at all, because his family can no longer afford it. It has been his dream since he was a child, and it is dying in the worst way possible. These experiences, no matter how universities would like to write them off as isolated casualties for which they are quite sorry yet not at all responsible, are pervasive throughout the King’s community. Sudi, another student behind the movement, recalls the overwhelming number of responses they received from the student body when asked about how this past year affected them. There was an outpouring of grief, anxiety, frustration and even anger towards the university’s handling of the year past. And while many understood and supported the need to transition to virtual learning, the sentiment toward paying the same – and for this upcoming year, more – fees, was ubiquitous: It was just not fair.

Lest they be misunderstood, the founders are clear – they are not here to protest the measures put in place to protect the students and staff from contracting and spreading COVID-19. In fact, some of the founders even laughingly prefer the study-at-home situation that we are all currently experiencing (personally, I’ve heard many a classmate laugh about how for the first time in their life they have perfect attendance!) They also expressed sympathy for the teachers and staff at King’s, having to adapt to virtual learning and the changing needs of students, and emphasised that the goal of the page was not a critique of the teaching staff. It is simply logic: would you buy a banana that’s 10 days old for the same price as you would one that’s just been picked?

The group released a set of demands they feel is representative of the sentiment of the whole student body. One of those is to lower fees by at least 30%. Those of us who are cynical may ask: is this realistic? After all, this has been attempted before, and on a national stage too. Flashback to early in the first term of the Academic year 2020/2021: a nationwide petition was going around asking Parliament to consider lowering tuition fees at universities in light of online teaching due to the pandemic. The petition, as most of us know, was promptly reviewed and thus (unsurprisingly but disappointingly) rejected. But the students remain optimistic – they are in contact with other organisations, and societies at other universities that have staged successful protests among other activities. But most importantly, they find that it is important to communicate the message that this is not a problem of a small number of students – that this is effectively an ‘us’ problem. That even if you are a student that wasn’t financially affected by the pandemic, it is upon all of us to support the cause of those students who quite literally had to sell an arm and a leg (and pander this trauma just to get an extension on a fee payment) just to be able to attend a meeting via Teams. If King’s is serious about tackling mental health issues within the student body Sudi points out that financial difficulties in the midst of a pandemic are tied to a student’s mental health and could negatively impact their studies among other things.

Both Abdus and Sudi are unwilling to make this article about themselves – rather, they say that they are only the messengers. What they wish for King’s to understand is that they must show more compassion towards what their students are going through. In a time as grave as the one we are in, it is imperative that they go above and beyond. Our education should not be treated as strict business. It is high time for universities to hear that their students are not satisfied and that they must try harder – a phrase that students no doubt have heard too many times before.

The group behind the KCL Tuition Fee Reduction movement on Instagram is open to hearing from you! Send your thoughts, experiences, and suggestions to kcltfr@gmail.com and their via their Instagram page @kcl_tfr. They’d love to hear different viewpoints from students, faculty members, and anyone else!

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