Should students be eligible for compensation following teaching disruptions caused by the Covid-19 lockdown?

6 January 2021

Thousands of unhappy students have signed petitions calling for tuition fee refunds following the disruption caused by the pandemic, with many courses being forced to move online and thus limiting the amount of face to face teaching that is delivered. In some instances, teaching modules have even been cancelled.

Approximately 200 complaints have been made to The Office of the Independent Adjudicator (the ‘OIA’) as of 6th January 2021, with more expected to be received once students have exhausted the internal complaints procedure at their own university. The need to exhaust the internal complaints process has also led to a time lag in the OIA receiving complaints. The OIA has published several case summaries highlighting in each case if they are justified.

There have been a number of case summaries reviewing wide ranging complaints.

Three case summaries reveal complaints from students in the 2019-2020 Academic year were either justified or partly justified with one university being told to pay a student just over £1,000 after a month of teaching and a final project worth 60% of a module was cancelled.

In another case, it was ruled that a complaint was justified as the university had “not engaged” over concerns about the loss of face-to-face teaching.

In other cases where students have demanded tuition fee refunds due to online learning during the lockdown, it has been ruled that institutions had taken the necessary steps to ensure the students could still achieve their expected learning outcomes.

Let’s not forget, the majority of students obtain loans to complete their university course and to cover tuition fees. These loans take years to repay and interest on such loans accrue. It is understandable that students want to ensure that they obtain value for money.

What to do if I have been effected?

In the first instance students should raise a complaint with their university directly. After exhausting the internal complaints process, students have up to a year to bring their complaint to the OIA.

Earlier this month, the OIA announced plans to allow university students who have been affected by the same events to have their complaints addressed collectively. Under the proposals, the OIA would have discretion to accept complaints that have not yet completed the university’s internal procedures. The Education watchdog said it wants to be prepared in case the coronavirus pandemic leads to a large group complaint from university students.

In June, thousands of students who missed out on their education due to the lockdown were urged by the Office for Students regulator to sign up to “mass action” to win compensation. This is clearly a hot topic and further guidance and precedents will be set on a student’s entitlement to compensation by the OIA in due course.

If you have been effected and would like any further advice, please do not hesitate to contact our dispute resolution team.

This article was drafted for Redkite Solicitors by Caitlin Tew, Solicitor. Click here to visit Caitlin’s profile.

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.

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