UK universities told to compensate students over campus strikes

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

A group of British universities have been told to pay compensation for failing to make up for teaching hours lost during last year’s wave of campus strike action by lecturers and other staff.

The payouts, each worth hundreds of pounds, were ordered by the higher education ombudsman for England and Wales in a string of cases where students complained they had missed out on lectures and seminars or suffered distress from the university’s response.

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator said it has received more than 80 individual complaints relating to last year’s industrial action, which totalled 14 days across 65 campuses. It released details of 19 cases that have concluded, with nine upheld and one settled independently.

“Some providers have been better than others at finding ways to make up for the learning students have missed out on. Some providers have made lecture recordings, podcasts, and additional online materials available to students, or allowed them to sit in on other classes. Others have done nothing, and we don’t think that’s fair,” said Felicity Mitchell, the independent adjudicator.

“We have made recommendations in a number of cases for partial refunds of tuition fees and payments for distress and inconvenience where we have decided the student has not been treated fairly.”

In one case a university was ordered to give a tuition fee refund worth £1,154 to a student on a part-time course who said they had lost earnings because they had taken time off work to attend lectures and seminars that were cancelled during the strike.

The university rejected the student’s complaint, saying that the strikes were outside of its control. But the OIA partly upheld the complaint, saying the university had offered no additional material or recorded lectures to make up for the lost teaching.

In another case, a university had to refund £1,284 to an international student after they complained about lost teaching on their one-year master’s course. The university rejected the complaint by invoking a force majeure [unexpected circumstances] clause in its regulations.

“We were concerned that the clause was too wide in scope and that the university didn’t bring it to the student’s attention: a clause which permitted the university to cancel an entire programme could be considered a surprising or important term under the consumer protection legislation,” the OIA said.

But the ombudsman also rejected a claim by a second year undergraduate that the university had “broken its promise” over teaching hours, and who had turned down a £130 payment from a fund established to compensate students.

Another student on a master’s course received a £630 refund after the university offered to let them attend missed seminars the following academic year, but the student was by then in full-time work.

Source: The Guardian