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Coronavirus - CS112009

A second-year, international student was studying four modules during the year for which they had paid fees of around £13,500. They complained to the provider that it had cancelled half of the expected on-campus learning because of coronavirus lockdown and asked for a refund of tuition fees.

An international student was in their second year, studying four modules during the year. The student paid fees of around £13,500 for the year. They complained to the provider that it had cancelled approximately half of the expected on-campus learning as a result of the nationwide coronavirus lockdown in March 2020. They asked for a refund of tuition fees.

The provider rejected the student’s complaint because it was about a policy decision taken by the provider and its complaints process did not permit complaints about policy decisions that had been properly carried out. The provider said that it had made appropriate and necessary changes to the course and provided adequate online learning and support. It relied on a clause in the terms and conditions that gives the provider the right to change or cancel part or all of the programme.

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

We concluded that it was not reasonable for the provider to reject the student’s request for a refund without first properly addressing the issues they had raised. We thought the clause saying that the provider could make changes to the programme was too wide in scope because it allowed the provider to cancel an entire programme without taking steps to minimise disruption for students, and that it would not be fair to refuse to consider the student’s complaint on that basis of the clause.

Normally if we decided that a provider had not considered a complaint properly we would ask it to take the complaint back to consider it. But in this case the provider had explained to us in much more detail how it had responded to the pandemic and so we were able to reach a decision on the complaint.

We looked at the following relevant factors:

  • 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.

The provider had needed to adapt teaching, learning and assessment as a result of the pandemic in order to comply with public health advice and protect the health and safety of students, staff and the general public. It had taken steps to adjust assessments so that students could show that they had met core learning outcomes through online assessments. This included reducing the number and changing the format of assessments. We decided that the provider had taken sufficient steps to ensure that students were assessed fairly so that they were not academically disadvantaged by remote learning and were able to meet what it had decided were the required learning outcomes.

We went on to consider whether the provider had delivered what was promised to students and what was broadly equivalent to its usual arrangements.

The provider had told teaching staff to cancel all classes and not to give the students access to teaching material related to new content for a two-week period. After that some teaching had resumed.

The student was studying two modules and we looked at what the provider had done to mitigate the disruption in both modules. One module included a significant element of practical group work. In that module the module leader adjusted the group task, had encouraged students to contact other members of their group, and arranged online support and discussion sessions and regular feedback sessions. We were satisfied that the actions the module leader had taken mitigated the disruption to the student’s learning opportunities and ensured that the delivery of the module was broadly equivalent to usual arrangements.

For the second module four weeks of teaching were cancelled which meant that four topics (out of ten) were not covered. In addition a final project that was originally worth 60% of the module was cancelled which meant that the student lost the opportunity to develop their written work and research. The provider did not replace the project with another assessment with similar objectives, as described in the module guide. We concluded that the provider had not taken sufficient steps in relation to this module to mitigate the disruption to the students learning experience or to ensure that the delivery of the module was broadly equivalent to its usual arrangements.

We recommended that the provider should pay the student compensation. The starting point for our assessment was the notional cost of the teaching hours for the one module missed. We decided that it would also be reasonable to compensate the student for the loss of the project and we assessed that compensation at £500. We recognised that providers must also provide and maintain facilities, infrastructure, administration and other student services, and that although the student could not access facilities on campus they did have access to services remotely including pastoral and other support services and online library facilities. We reduced the amount we had assessed by 30% to take account of this, making a total of just over £1,000 in compensation.

We also recommended that the provider should change its complaints procedures so that students with complaints about how their course has been delivered or about access to facilities are not excluded from the process without proper consideration of their concerns.

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