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Coronavirus: Group complaints - CS052205

A group of students were on a one-year MA in a practical arts-based subject. The course was new for the provider, and the group was in the first cohort, starting in 2018/2019.

The group complained to the provider about the course at the end of their first year. The complaint was about misleading promotional material, facilities and health and safety concerns, and the structure, delivery and content of the course.

The provider partly upheld the group’s complaint. It set out a plan for improving the course for the second year and for new students and offered the students a reduction in their fees for the year.

The group did not accept the provider’s offer and complained to us. We concluded that the complaint was Justified.

The provider had accepted many of the group’s complaints, including complaints about misleading promotional information, facilities and health and safety concerns, not delivering key skills, issues with the course structure and availability of materials. We decided that the provider had reached fair conclusions on most aspects of the group’s complaint, but that it had underestimated the impact these issues had had on the group and did not take into account the students’ distress and inconvenience. We concluded that the provider’s offer of compensation was not reasonable. We recommended that the provider should offer the students a refund of 50% of their tuition fees for the term that had been particularly impacted, and compensation of £3,500 for the students’ distress and inconvenience.

A second group of students joined the same course in 2019/20. The group complained to the provider about similar issues to the first group, and changes that had been made to two practical modules in the first term. The provider upheld the complaint and offered the students a refund of 50% of tuition fees for the two modules and some compensation for distress and inconvenience. It set out some practical measures it was planning to take to resolve the group’s concerns.

At that point the provider had to close its facilities because of the nationwide lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic. The provider told the students that it could not continue delivering practical modules but that other teaching would move online. This meant that the length of the course would be extended. Practical sessions were due to resume in the autumn of 2020 but delays occurred because of staffing issues caused by the pandemic, and another lockdown in the early part of 2021. The provider offered students some financial support during this extended period of study. The course eventually resumed in March 2021 and the students completed their studies in the early summer.

The second group of students made another complaint to the provider about issues with practical modules and the delay in completing the course. The provider offered further compensation to the group.

The group was unhappy with the provider’s response to their second complaint. They complained to us about the outcome of both complaints, and about how the provider had dealt with their complaints.

We decided their complaints were Partly Justified.

We decided that the provider had reached a reasonable conclusion on the group’s first complaint and offered practical remedies that were reasonable at the time. But the pandemic meant that the practical remedies could not be implemented, and the compensation offered by the provider was not reasonable. The provider had made considerable efforts to deliver practical teaching and learning that had been missed both during the first term and as a result of the pandemic, but those were hampered by further pandemic-related problems in autumn 2020.

We concluded that the provider’s final offer to the group to refund 50% of the total tuition fees was reasonable given the failings it had identified, the efforts it had made to try to make up for what had been missed, and the significant disruption caused by the pandemic. The group was able to complete the course, although not with the full content or learning experience they reasonably expected, and over a longer period.

But we also decided that the provider had not properly investigated the group’s second complaint and this meant that several issues raised by the group had not been resolved.We recommended that the provider should apologise to the students, should re-make its offer of a refund of 50% of the tuition fees, and should offer a further £6,250 for the distress and inconvenience caused by the issues raised by the group in both complaints and the provider’s handling of the second complaint. We also made some good practice Recommendations.