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Coronavirus - CS032106

A student was in the second year of a three-year undergraduate programme. The student complained to their provider about disruption to their studies during the 2019-20 academic year resulting from industrial action and the Covid-19 pandemic.

The provider decided that the student’s complaint about the industrial action that took place in November and December 2019 was out of time, and so did not consider it. The provider rejected the student’s complaint about industrial action in February and March 2020, and the pandemic.

The student complained to us. We decided that the complaint was Partly Justified. The student had not complained about the first period of disruption at the time but had decided to complain when there was further disruption caused by the second period of industrial action and the pandemic. We decided that it was reasonable for the student to have decided to complain about the disruption that had affected the whole year of their studies. In the circumstances, it was not reasonable for the provider to treat the first period of what turned out to be ongoing disruption as out of time. We asked the provider to respond to the student’s complaint about the first period during our review.

When reviewing complaints about disruption caused by industrial action and 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.

We decided that the provider had taken appropriate action to minimise the academic impact of disruption caused by the industrial action and the pandemic so that the student was able to make progress with their studies and meet their learning outcomes.

The industrial action had taken place over 22 days. Although the provider was not able to deliver exactly the anticipated teaching and learning activities that were missed during the two periods, it did implement a variety of measures to minimise the disruption to students. These included: covering topics in other sessions, putting on additional discussion sessions, making available podcasts of lecture content and lecture notes, using discussion boards and email support.

But we found that around 14 hours of teaching had been missed during the periods of industrial action where the provider had not put in place replacement sessions or alternative provision of the missed content.

During our review, the provider offered the student the opportunity to sit in on sessions that had been missed during February and March 2020 in the following year and we decided that was a suitable practical remedy in relation to those sessions. But it was too late for the student to sit in on sessions missed in November and December 2019. We recommended financial compensation of just over £200 for the lost learning opportunities during the November/December industrial action. We assessed compensation based on the notional cost of the teaching hours missed, reduced by 50%, taking into account that higher education providers have to provide and maintain buildings, IT and library facilities, wellbeing and other student support and administration.

When teaching moved online in March 2020 because of the nationwide lockdown, the provider ensured that all the subject areas were covered, for example by offering podcasts, making tutors available during scheduled lecture times to answer questions, and holding online seminars. Although the student was unhappy about the move to online teaching, they had not suggested that they had missed out on any learning as a result. We did not uphold this part of the student’s complaint.

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