University students want fee rebates for courses that can't practically be done online, saying that they're not getting the education they paid for.

Institutions across the country have had to dramatically change the way they operate by making the shift to online teaching because of the Covid-19 alert level 4 lockdown.

Meanwhile, the New Zealand Union of Students' Associations wants a freeze on student loan repayments to free up extra cash for those graduates struggling financially, as well as a universal student allowance for those currently studying.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said he was keeping a close eye on the impact Covid-19 was having on students.

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"We know that this is a tough time for many New Zealanders, and I have asked for advice on options to support students."

Lexie Etherington, who is completing a design degree majoring in fashion at Victoria University, said it was not practical to do some papers from home.

Her fashion construction course for example required students to create a garment.

"I have a sewing machine at home but I know a lot of people don't and that's not something you can exactly go out and get in the middle of a lockdown", she said.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins says he's asked for advice on option to support students. Photo / Mark Mitchell.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins says he's asked for advice on option to support students. Photo / Mark Mitchell.

Etherington said there was talk of adjusting the course to potentially just focus on pattern making.

"But that sort of defeats the purpose of doing a fashion construction course", she said.

Etherington suggested the university refund premiums students had paid for access to studios and equipment, which they could no longer use.

Victoria University of Wellington vice-chancellor Professor Grant Guilford said the institution was still wrestling with the question of fee reductions.

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He said if the change of delivery affected the quality of education, then students would have a case for a fees rebate to be considered.

Victoria has suspended all classes until April 28 due to the Covid-19 lockdown.

Guilford said part of what staff were doing over the next month was going through each course on a case-by-case basis and working out how to make up for experiences and maintain quality.

"There will be some that simply can't be delivered and in that case it's pretty clear-cut, if you can't deliver the education someone has paid for, then in that case there will be a refund."

Last month the university announced a scholarship of free study for new students affected by Covid-19 entering this year's second trimester, which has drawn criticism from some of those currently studying at Vic.

Victoria University vice chancellor professor Grant Guilford says institution is still wrestling with the questions of fee reductions. Photo / Sarah Ivey.
Victoria University vice chancellor professor Grant Guilford says institution is still wrestling with the questions of fee reductions. Photo / Sarah Ivey.

Laura Phillips, who is completing a double major in sociology and philosophy, said it was an issue of fairness.

"Where's the consideration for current students if you can afford to give fees-free to a whole bunch of new ones then why can't the university reduce the fees for people that aren't getting what they initially paid for?"

Amy McEwen, who is completing a graduate diploma in marketing, said she was "peeved" and felt she shouldn't be paying for a level of education she wasn't getting.

"To offer scholarships to new students next trimester and practically little to no support for those already studying is kind of like a slap in the face to current students."

The university has lifted the cap on its $500,000 annual hardship grant for current students and has experienced a 150 per cent increase in requests for help.

New Zealand Union of Students' Associations national president Isabella Lenihan-Ikin said universities should review fees for students paying substantially higher fees for access to labs and equipment in courses like design, science and engineering.

"If students aren't able to engage in the teaching that they paid for upfront then I think it's really unfair for students to not get some rebate or compensation paid for by the institution."

Lenihan-Ikin acknowledged it has only been one week since the lockdown began and it was a challenging time for decision-makers.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website

She urged students to continue with their studies.

"If students leave study they're going to be in a worse financial position generally than if they were to remain, because study is what's going to help them get through this period.

"It means they're in a better position once we've recovered from this economic and public health crisis, because they'll have skills to be able to go into employment."

Lenihan-Ikin said she supported a freeze on student loan repayments and a universal student allowance.