More students could be given financial compensation for university strikes after successful claims

Refunds should be given to students if universities fail to make up lost teaching time, regulator says

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Friday 22 February 2019 20:42
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University Strikes: Staff protest at University and College Union HQ

More students could be awarded financial compensation for lost teaching time during the university strikes after the higher education complaints watchdog has ordered institutions to pay up.

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA), which looks at complaints across higher education, has told individual universities to pay back hundreds of pounds to students for the disruption.

The adjudication comes after 14 days of teaching were lost when staff, including lecturers and academics, from 65 universities walked out in February and March last year in a dispute over pensions.

The University and College Union estimated that the strike action, which was eventually called off in April, affected more than one million students, and a total of 575,000 teaching hours were lost.

Three case summaries, published on the OIA website, show that complaints from three students about the disruption caused by the industrial action were partly justified.

The watchdog recommended the students be refunded hundreds of pounds each. In one case, the university was told to pay back more than £1,000 to a student as the OIA said it had failed to take any steps to make up for the lost teaching hours.

These reports could pave the way for more compensation claims from students – who pay up to £9,250 a year in fees if they are from the UK, and even more if they are from outside the European Union, experts say.

Students have up to a year to bring their complaint to the OIA after filing an original complaint with the university.

The watchdog said it is possible the cases may encourage more students who have already complained to their university, but have had no success, to come to the OIA.

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute think tank, told The Independent he believes the successful compensation claims may lead to more successful cases for students.

“I am sympathetic to students who want some sort of refund,” he said. “But many universities are likely to defend themselves by saying they have their own bespoke arrangements in place.”

Students have been joining together to claim compensation for the strikes. More than 6,300 students have signed up to a class action lawsuit to claim compensation for lost teaching time.

Asserson, a law firm, set up a website to help students claim back fees after they lost teaching time. It is understood the claim will process later this year.

A second-year student from the University of Kent, who wished to remain anonymous and who is part of the joint claim, hopes the OIA cases will open the door for more compensation claims.

He said: “If other students have received compensation for the strike then in makes me feel confident that we might receive some compensation.”

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of regulator the Office for Students, said: “We recognise that last year’s strikes caused significant disruption for some students, and it’s right that students have various avenues of redress open to them where their studies have been disrupted.

“These helpful case studies show that the OIA considers complaints on their individual merits, including suggesting that universities should make every effort to ensure that there is mitigation of any lost teaching time, disrupted assessments or other lost support, wherever possible.

“Where this is not possible, partial refunds should be offered. In the event of future industrial action, we will be expecting universities to take robust action to mitigate the impact on students.

“Universities will also need to clearly explain to students both how they might be affected and the steps that the university will be taking to ensure that the impact is kept to a minimum.”

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A spokesperson for Universities UK said: “Universities worked hard to minimise the impact of last year’s strikes on teaching and learning.

“The Office of the Independent Adjudicator provides important oversight if students aren’t satisfied with the actions taken by their university to resolve a complaint.

“Overall, though, student satisfaction levels remain very high across all UK universities. The latest National Student Survey found that 83 per cent of final-year students were satisfied with their university experience.”

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