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Industrial action - CS051911
Case summary May 2019 | Partly Justified
An international student was on a one-year master’s programme at the time of the industrial action. They complained to the University about teaching hours that had been missed during the action.
The University said that to minimise the impact of the industrial action:
- Boards of Examiners had procedures to ensure that students were not disadvantaged by the industrial action
- A Task Group had been established to address complex questions from the Board 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 affected modules appeared to be out of line with performance elsewhere
- Limited lecture materials were made available online.
The University did not uphold the student’s complaint. It relied on a widely drafted force majeure clause in its terms and conditions.
The student complained to us.
We decided the complaint was Partly Justified.
We asked the University if it wanted to try to settle the complaint because we had concerns about the scope of its force majeure clause, but it declined.
We decided that the University had taken appropriate steps to minimise the academic impact of the industrial action. If the student felt that there had been an impact on their assessments, they could have made an academic appeal.
But the University had not done enough to make up for the student’s lost learning opportunities. We explained that, in our experience most students don’t study purely to gain a qualification. Other things are important to them too, such as attending lectures and seminars led by academics.
We decided that it was not reasonable for the University to rely on a 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 didn’t 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 the consumer protection legislation.
We recommended that the University should offer to refund £1,283.75 in tuition fees. This was based on 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.