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Industrial action - CS021906
Case summary February 2019 | Partly Justified
The student was on a part-time MA programme at the time of the industrial action. They complained to the University that they had lost earnings because they had come to the University for lectures and seminars that were cancelled; that the University delayed in handling their complaint; and that the University did not explain how it would remedy the missed classes.
The University said that to mitigate the effects of the industrial action on the student it had:
- Amended assessment topics;
- Set essay questions only on topics where teaching was not disrupted;
- Ensured that students would not be assessed on materials which they had not been taught;
- Given deadline extensions;
- Used academic judgment to ensure appropriate mitigation was put in place to ensure that students were not academically disadvantaged; and
- Awarded standardised marks for presentations that were disrupted.
The University rejected the student’s complaint. It said that during the industrial action students still had access to assessments, feedback, independent learning and access to learning/welfare facilities. It said that the industrial action was beyond the reasonable control of the University because it couldn’t have prevented the industrial action from happening, and the Regulations said that in those circumstances the University was not liable for delays in the delivery of the course. The University intended to use any money saved from staff salaries for the benefit of the wider student community.
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. But the University had not taken any steps to make up for the lost teaching hours and the learning opportunities they represented. We explained that, in our experience most students do not study at higher education providers purely to gain a qualification. Students who expect to learn about a particular subject but who do not receive the teaching they are supposed to get on that subject are not adequately compensated by a provider’s undertaking not to test them on it. It is reasonable to expect providers to make some attempt to make up for what has been missed. This does not have to be like-for-like replacement teaching hours. The University had not considered other means to mitigate missed learning opportunities such as additional teaching sessions; recorded lectures; additional written and/or online material for the missed teaching sessions; and opportunities to audit the modules during the following academic year.
The University’s regulations limited its liability for delays but did not relate to a situation where learning opportunities had been lost altogether.
After we had issued our Complaint Outcome, the University offered to allow the student to sit in on some of the missed sessions in the following academic year. The student was not able to take up that offer because they could not take any more time off work to attend additional sessions. If the offer had been made at an earlier date they might have been able to make arrangements to attend.
We recommended that the University should offer to refund tuition fees of £1,154.50. This was 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.