Credit: Sam Oaksey/Alamy

Students take legal action over lost learning

By Charlotte Christian

The ‘Student Group Claim’ sees nearly 20,000 students seek compensation from UK universities over the disruption to learning caused by Covid-19 and strike action.

Students across the UK have begun taking legal action against their universities over the learning time and university experience lost out on since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Law firms Asserson and Harcus Parker are leading the ‘Student Group Claim’, arguing that many UK universities broke their contracts to provide a certain set of services and access to facilities in return for tuition fees. The group claims that students are entitled to compensation as “from 2018-22, there was a material difference between what students paid for and what they actually received”, they continue- “no other service provider would get away with cancelling a service or replacing it with a lower-value substitute without offering a price reduction”. If the no win, no fee claim proves successful, domestic students are estimated to win around £5000 each and this sum could be considerably higher for international students.

18 universities including University College London, LSE, and the Universities of Manchester have already begun seeking damages. In February, the High Court will make the first ruling on whether UCL students can bring their claim forward against UCL as a group. A claim is yet to be sent to a Scottish university.

While some students enjoyed the flexibility of online learning, many found the pandemic learning experience epitomised by technical difficulties, class cancellations and a lack of support. Ombudsman, Office of the International Adjudicator (OIA) received a record number of student complaints in 2021, most often related to the practical experiences disrupted by the pandemic. In its annual report, the OIA said “students complained about lack of access to laboratories, cancelled or changed projects, placements and study abroad opportunities”.

In addition, ongoing industrial action saw further class disruption. In a press release, the Student Group Claim argues that while students understood the inevitability of closed campuses, and that universities could not necessarily prevent strikes, they propose that “students’ losses should fall on the shoulders of the universities, which can afford to bear that burden, rather than falling upon students who cannot afford to do so.”

Universities, as businesses, financially thrived during the Covid period. The 18 universities already being challenged earned profits of over £1 billion (2020-21). Harcus Parker partner, Ryan Buleavy commented “these universities pushed the financial impact and burden of Covid and of their own staff striking onto their customers, the students. Unlike the universities, a significant number of which increased their income over the pandemic period, those students largely survived on limited financial means and loans”.

Over this period the University of Glasgow also prospered, reporting an operating surplus (pre-tax and other expenses) of £122.8 million in the 2021 fiscal year, a substantial increase from the £36.6 million operating surplus of the prior year. In UofG’s financial statement for 2021, this was “a result of one-off savings given the uncertainty with Covid, combined with an increase in student recruitment”.

Further information about the student group claim can be found here.


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