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Coronavirus - CS032105

An international student was in the final year studying Medicine at the provider. During their final year, medical students who passed their final exams were due to spend time on a series of clinical placements between then and their graduation in July.

The student passed their exams in January. In March 2020 the provider stopped all clinical placements as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Along with other UK medical schools, it arranged for all final year students who had reached the required level of competence to graduate early. Those students were then able to register with the General Medical Council and could apply for a special paid interim foundation year post (FiY1) with the NHS, before starting the standard Foundation Programme (F1) in August 2020. The student applied for a FiY1 post but was not offered one.

The student complained to the provider that they missed out on the practical experience that the clinical placements would have offered. They asked for a refund of tuition fees on the basis that they had paid higher fees for the clinical years and had not benefited from clinical experience that had been promised in the final year. The provider rejected the complaint because it said that it had no option but to cancel placements, and that students had not been disadvantaged through graduating early because they had reached the required levels of competence and would be able to pursue their chosen career. It said that, although international students paid higher fees for clinical years, the clinical placements were funded by the Health Education England (HEE) directly to NHS trusts, not through tuition fees.

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

We agreed with the provider that cancelling the clinical placements was unavoidable and that the provider had taken practical steps that many final year students would have benefited from. Students had met their learning outcomes when they graduated, even though they graduated early. Those who were able to take up an FiY1 position would have got practical experience that would have made up for the missed final year clinical placements. But the student wasn’t offered an FiY1 placement and so the measures put in place for students in their position did not work for them. The provider did not consider the impact of the lack of expected clinical placements on the student’s experience, and the significant disappointment and inconvenience this caused. It did not offer any additional online learning opportunities to help those who did not get FiY1 placements to maintain and develop the skills that would have been reinforced during the missed placements.

The student paid final year fees of £38,000, as well as incurring visa costs and the expenses of living and studying overseas. The provider wasn’t able to give us information about how international students’ fees are distributed, or why students paid higher fees for the clinical years when clinical placements were funded by HEE.

We decided that the student’s experience as a final year medical student fell well short of what they reasonably expected and that this was a considerable disappointment to them. The lack of clarity about what international students get for the significant increase in their tuition fees during these clinical years had contributed to this. We recommended that the provider should pay the student £5,000 in compensation for the severe disappointment and inconvenience they experienced because their final year of studies was less valuable to them than they expected.

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