The University of Liverpool has come under fire after it emerged that students have been charged for long-term assignment extensions they requested because of medical needs.
Felicity, a disabled postgraduate student, was charged the £50 fee for an extension of three months, which then increased to £200 when she appealed to extend it further.
She told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme that she felt this could amount to discrimination, as the requested extension could be considered “a reasonable adjustment,” this would have to be implemented under the Equality Act of 2010.
Another student, Kayley, said: “I am locked out of my university account because I’ve been charged for an extension and I can’t pay for the charge at the moment.” This £200 ‘tuition fee’ left her with no access to her emails or documents needed for her dissertation.
Julia, a student who suffers from chronic pain caused by Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, said her studies “became a test of my pain tolerance, and not my academic ability.”
The university responded to these claims by saying that in line with their policy, “a £50 tuition fee charge is applied for each three-month extension period, which covers access to study services as well as tuition and supervision.”
Since 2017, undergraduate tuition fees for home and EU students have increased by £250 – the total amount is currently set at £9,250.
International students pay substantially more, with Liverpool charging between £16,550 and £34,550 per year for 2019 undergraduate entry. The University of Liverpool said they were “reviewing the [extension tuition fee] policy.”
These events have sparked outrage and camaraderie online. Kirsteen Paton, a sociology lecturer at Liverpool, tweeted: “Solidarity with our brilliant University of Liverpool students fighting disability discrimination. Universities need to be held accountable.”
She went on to say that these students had the support of Liverpool’s branch of the University and College Union.
Solidarity with our brilliant University of Liverpool students fighting disability discrimination. Universities need to be held accountable. @ULivUCU2 support you, well done speaking out and making visible what all too many universities try to hide https://t.co/r4gLB2PK4p— Kirsteen Paton (@KirsteenPaton) April 29, 2019
Student wellbeing has attracted media attention, particularly in light of the university mental health crisis. Many students identify as disabled because of their mental illness, while those who are physically disabled often experience poor mental health.
In 2018, a study by the Institute for Public Policy Research reported that the number of freshers who reported a mental health condition was five times greater than in 2008.
Mental health problems now affect a quarter of UK university students; the number of student suicides has reached a record level and those dropping out has trebled.
According to the largest ever survey on student mental health, one in ten think about self-harm often or all the time.
“It’s not good enough. We’ve fallen short of our high expectations,” said Paul Redmond, Director of Student Experience and Enhancement at Liverpool.