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Industrial action - CS021905

The student was on a one-year MA programme at the time of the industrial action. They complained to the University that they had paid for contact hours that were not delivered and that their examination results had suffered as a result.

The University said that to mitigate the effects of the industrial action on students:

  • Boards of Examiners had procedures to ensure that students were not disadvantaged by the industrial action;
  • A Task Group had been addressing complex questions from the Boards of Examiners to ensure a consistent approach was taken across the University.
  • Boards of Examiners could mitigate up to 30 credits where there was an indication that performance in an affected module appeared to be out of line with performance elsewhere.

The University did not uphold the student’s complaint.  It relied on a force majeure clause in its terms and conditions that said:

“[The University] may need to change or cancel part of or an entire Programme due to circumstances beyond its reasonable control and foreseeability and may do so without liability provided that notice of the change or cancellation is given. Examples of such circumstances include industrial action …”

The student complained to us.

Outcome: Partly Justified.

We decided the University had taken appropriate steps to mitigate the academic impact of the industrial action.  If the student felt there had been an impact on their assessments they could have made an academic appeal. 

But the University had not taken any steps to make up for the student’s missed learning opportunities.  We explained that, in our experience most students do not study at higher education providers purely to gain a qualification. Other things are important to them too, such as attending lectures and seminars led by academics. The student had missed a quarter of the contact time they had expected that term and the University did not do anything to make up for those learning opportunities.

We decided that it was not reasonable for the University to rely upon the force majeure clause as a reason for not upholding the student’s complaint. We were concerned that the clause was too wide in scope and that the University did not bring it to the student’s attention: a clause which permitted the University to cancel an entire programme could be considered a surprising or important term under consumer protection legislation.

We recommended that the University should offer to refund £615 in tuition fees. That represented the notional cost of the missed teaching 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. We also recommended that the University should review the wording of the force majeure clause, and how it is brought to the attention of students.