BY JASMINE VERMEER and SIMONE KEALY
University students across Australia are demanding they be refunded 70 per cent of their student fees for semester one, as learning moves online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A Megaphone petition calls for the 70 per cent refund to apply to both domestic and international students' fees, while also insisting “all long-term financial costs” (eg parking permits) be refunded.
The petition, addressed to the vice-chancellors of Australian universities, has 3,245 signatures as of April 1 and was spearheaded by first year Monash University student Leo Crnogorčević.
Mr Crnogorčević said it is logical that if education is compromised, fees should reflect that.
“I really think [universities] need to get their act together in terms of supporting students,” Mr Crnogorčević said.
“We should have some sort of reprieve in the thousands of dollars of fees we received.”
Mr Crnogorčević said he recognised 70 per cent was a significant amount, but wants to use it as a starting point for negotiation with the universities, as well as highlighting the importance of free education.
“I think the sort of broad principle underpinning this campaign is eventually a returning back to free higher education and towards that principle of universality of higher education,” he said.
“We’d like to start with a position of power and if a university does come to the table, then we can negotiate down.”
But fourth year Monash University student Stephanie Malamas disagrees with such demands, believing the university is doing all it can in this unprecedented situation.
In a post on Monash Stalkerspace, Ms Malamas wrote she was “done with all the complaining”, emphasising that people need to understand that “we are all in the same boat globally”.
“I think the main thing I want to clarify is, I’m not saying that they’re not doing it tough…everyone is doing it tough,” Ms Malamas said.
As all classes move online, students are concerned the quality of their education will be compromised.
Yet as the situation is constantly evolving, Ms Malamas said Monash University is adjusting to the extraordinary events just as much as students are.
“I do think it’s worth the cost because at the end of the day, every single staff member behind the scenes is working even harder to make sure content is delivered,” she said.
“The decision from the [university] is one based on what’s best for everyone’s health, which I think trumps any sort of monetary amount.”
Monash University Dean of Arts Sharon Pickering said that the university will not be offering refunds on any course fees.
However, the university has extended the payment due date for course fees to July 17 and the Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF) has been reduced to $110.
“The university remains committed to ensuring students continue to have an excellent educational experience,” Ms Pickering said.
“The skills learnt from online learning will be just as valuable to the workforce and employers as an on-campus experience,” she said.
But Mr Crnogorčević remained hopeful.
“I think the sort of thing that we are aiming for is to show the university that we mean business,” he said.
“Solidarity is really important during this time, and we should all be looking after each other and working together to ensure that we’re all safe.”