As the economic implications of the lockdown become increasingly dire, many families have lost jobs or faced significant pay cuts in the last few months. With reports suggesting that these financial pains are not going to get remedied any time soon, our institute has recognized this issue and has planned a donation drive to help some of these families. While this is a commendable initiative, refunding fees for the last semester could go a long way in mitigating the crisis. Students have also raised concerns regarding reimbursement as they believe it amounts to profiteering by institutions. With the institute yet to release a statement regarding the same, we attempt to understand the intricacies of this predicament and whether reimbursement is feasible
Tuition fees reimbursement
With the semester having been discontinued, rather than continuing it online, students missed out on a major portion of instruction this semester, bringing up the issue of refunding a portion of the tuition fee. Given that the tuition fee forms the bulk of our semester fees(about 85% for UGs), the issue of its reimbursement has a huge impact.
The tuition fees are charged for the instruction students receive, and with that having ceased, the simplest argument is that since we did not receive the entirety of what we paid for, a portion of it should be refunded. While certain counter-arguments could be made, saying that the study material was shared, and professors were available to clear doubts, it is fairly obvious that the students did not receive instruction at par with what they expect under normal circumstances, which is what they paid for. Adding to that, students’ normal stay on the campus is responsible for the utilisation of a lot of resources, which was not the case.
Although universities like Harvard and MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) have decided that they won’t be refunding the tuition fee for the spring semester even partially, they have a good reason for the same. The reason for their decision is that most of the professors were offering online courses; teaching and learning were not hindered. This reason doesn’t stand in our case as here the semester was discontinued, and only a minority of professors actually shared or held online lectures or conducted evaluations in any form for the remaining syllabus.
With the instruction having ceased, the institute should have saved a significant amount in operating expenses, which would have been spent on students otherwise. While the institute may require funds for various reasons in these trying times, including payment of salary to various stakeholders like professors, lab assistants, students TAs, etc., it does not mean that students are not entitled to a (partial) refund. In light of the institute’s need, students could be offered a partial refund, which they may turn down if they believe that the institute’s needs supersede their own at this time. Moving on to the smaller fees like examination fees; while there is a lack of clarity as to what exactly it is used for, we have only had, on average, half the exams we would have in a normal semester, so it is obvious that half of it should be refunded.
While there may be some controversy regarding the refund of tuition fees, the justification for a refund of hostel fees is a lot more intuitive, and we have a look at it in the next section.
Hostel/Gymkhana Fees Reimbursement
Given the updated fees structure, student and gymkhana fees roughly amount to ₹15000 ( the updated structure has some additional charges but we still arrive at the same ballpark figure). As most students left the campus after the announcement of the 15-day break in Mid-March, they have not utilized hostel or gymkhana facilities. The exact expenditure breakup is not available to us but we can assume that these charges are composed of both fixed and variable costs of maintaining hostel and gymkhana facilities. Many PHO workers, helpers, and other emergency staff that are still working to maintain the infrastructure still need to be paid. But it has been reported that many workers have been laid-off as the maintenance work has significantly reduced. This means that the cost of maintaining the facilities has also reduced and thus a certain portion of the money could be transferred to students. At the same time, the fees structure notes that some costs are purely variable like electricity and water charges, hostel rent which could be transferred back to students for the period post the closure of the institute.
With reference to the decisions made by internationally reputed universities such as Harvard and MIT- they have been quite considerate and have agreed to refund the housing, dining costs, and the student life fee to the students who left the campus before a certain date. Student Health fee is not being reimbursed at Harvard since Harvard University Health Service (HUHS) remained open and was available for consultation in the period of closure of the universities. The students at MIT who have been offered financial aid won’t be asked to return the aid – the students can use the full amount of their refunds for current or new expenses as well as to help offset lost paid opportunities in the summer.
The administration can present an expenditure break-up to maintain transparency regarding the fee structure and the changes in operating costs post the lockdown. This step would provide clarity to the students with regard to the use of the college fees.
Furthermore, given the financial problems that many families could be facing right now, the administration should take urgent steps to bring the stakeholders on board and take their advice to form a detailed plan regarding the same. This could be done by forming a panel with the elected representatives, but the administration should also try to take suggestions from the student populace through surveys or other means it deems fit.
With the spring semester having come to an unsatisfying end, the issue of fee reimbursement is a concern for a lot of students. While we agree that a lot of issues require attention from the institute in the time of this crisis, this is an issue affecting the student population at large in this crisis, and a stand on the issue from the Institute could be really reassuring. Decisions about fee reimbursement for the spring semester and plans for the upcoming semester are awaited. We have emailed the administration regarding the same and will follow up if and when we get a reply.
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