The Open University has been accused of misleading students after it altered the terms of a supermarket points-for-fees scheme.
Since 2007, students have been able to use Tesco Clubcard reward tokens for full or part payment of course fees. A token worth £10 if redeemed in store is worth £40 towards OU undergraduate course fees. The scheme has been highly successful, and by the end of 2009, Tesco tokens had been used to pay towards 16,000 courses.
But it has proved expensive for the OU, which has announced that it is changing the terms of the deal so that the vouchers can be used only for level-one (first-year) course fees.
The change, which will come into effect in June, has prompted outrage from students who are relying on the vouchers to help finance their studies.
The students have set up a Facebook page titled “Every little doesn’t help OU students” to protest about the move, subverting Tesco’s advertising slogan, “Every little helps”.
Kerry Gamecho, who is studying for a law degree at the OU and has three more courses to complete, said: “Each course costs £1,990 and my Clubcard rewards would help to the tune of about £400 for each course.”
She said that students had taken out Tesco credit cards and “bought things they wouldn’t normally buy” in order to boost their reward points because of the scheme.
“They have already invested too much to stop, yet are worried about how they will finance their studies,” she said, adding that as they are part-time, they are unable to apply for student loans.
The OU said the decision had been taken because of the worsening financial situation. A spokesman said: “In the current economic climate, the university has to re-evaluate its budgets… Students will still be able to book level-two and level-three courses before the end of May 2010 [and pay towards them using Clubcard tokens]. These courses start any time up to and including February 2011.
“This gives those people considering studying a higher-level course a whole year to do so before the changes to the scheme come into effect.”
He added that 48,000 current OU students – more than a quarter of the total – currently receive financial support from the institution.