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Coronavirus - CS072101

A student was on a one-year Bar Professional Training Course. In March 2020 the higher education provider stopped all face-to-face teaching because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The student complained to the provider and asked for a refund of tuition fees, saying that in not delivering face-to-face teaching the provider was breaching the terms and conditions of the course. The provider refused to give the student any tuition fee refund.

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

  • 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 thought the provider had taken reasonable steps to make sure that students were not academically disadvantaged by the changes it was making. The student did not complain that they had been disadvantaged academically.

Four modules were affected by the move online. We decided that the provider had put in place measures to ensure that it could deliver something broadly equivalent to its usual arrangements for three of those modules.

The fourth module was in Conference Skills and would normally be delivered through role-play exercises and assessed by a filmed performance using actors. Students had not received any face-to-face teaching when the course moved online and had not had the opportunity to practise skills. The provider decided it was not possible to conduct the role-play exercises or to ask students to submit a recording of a live oral assessment. Instead students were asked to submit a written assessment. The change had been approved by the Bar Standards Board, but the external examiner had reservations about it.

We decided that it was reasonable for the provider to switch to a written assignment to ensure students would not be assessed on skills they had not been taught. But Conference Skills is a skills-based module focused on practical learning and, while the provider took reasonable steps to mitigate academic disadvantage, we do not think its delivery of Conference Skills was broadly equivalent to its usual arrangements. This is because students did not have the opportunity to practise soft skills such as communication and giving advice, which were central to conducting an effective conference with a client. We thought the provider could have thought more about how it could deliver the practical learning students reasonably expected to receive. For example, it could have considered how students could undertake role play activities virtually. We do not think the replacement of this teaching with recorded materials was enough to replicate the practical skills students expected to learn. For these reasons, we do not think the University’s decision to reject this complaint was reasonable.

We recommended that the provider should pay the student £1,000 for the disappointment they experienced because they were not able to practise the skills they expected to gain from the module.

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