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Coronavirus - CS032104

A student was on a one-year healthcare related Masters programme. The programme normally involved a lab-based practical research project.

In March 2020 the provider moved all students to remote learning as a result of the nationwide lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic. This meant that students could not complete the lab-based project. The provider put in place an alternative research project and told students that, alternatively, they could request a leave of absence and return the following year to complete the practical project.

The student complained to the provider. They said that because of the move to remote learning they had missed out on the opportunities to develop a research project based on their own practical lab work, had not learned practical techniques that employers require, and would therefore be at a disadvantage when applying for jobs. The provider rejected the complaint because the move to online learning was unavoidable, and it said it had offered reasonable alternatives to students.

The student complained to us. We decided the complaint was Partly Justified.

When reviewing complaints about disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic the relevant factors for us to consider include:

  • Whether the provider acted reasonably and treated the student fairly;
  • What the provider did at the time to minimise disruption for students affected by the circumstances, to try to put things right;
  • What the provider promised, and what the student could reasonably expect in terms of contact hours and other learning opportunities;
  • What the provider did to ensure that students were not disadvantaged academically and could achieve their learning outcomes;
  • What the provider delivered, and whether that matched what was promised and what students reasonably expected, and was broadly equivalent to its usual arrangements;
  • Where there has been a shortfall of delivery, what were the consequences for the student, and whether the provider has considered those consequences.

In this case, the provider had taken steps to make sure that students could complete teaching and assessments remotely and had been flexible in applying submission deadlines in relation to modules that made up 50% of the programme. For the research project, which made up the other 50%, the provider developed data analysis projects to replace lab-based research. The provider gave students access to its digital library services and to specialist software, and provided online supervision, to help with their research. The provider told students that the change in the project would enable them to meet their learning outcomes for the course, with the exception of laboratory experience. We decided that the provider had taken a number of steps to try to ensure that students were not disadvantaged academically, could meet most of their learning outcomes, and could complete their qualification.

But whilst a replacement data analysis project was an acceptable alternative for some students, it could not deliver the training in techniques or the experience of working as a lab-based researcher that had been promised and that were particularly important to this student.  Some students might have been able to benefit from the opportunity to do the practical lab work at a later date, but that was not a practical or affordable option for this student. Although the student had achieved the qualification, it was not as valuable to them as they reasonably expected.

We recommended that the provider should pay the student £1,500 for the inconvenience and significant disappointment they experienced as a result of the cancellation of the lab-based research project.

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