Nearly 1,000 students and alumni are taking UCL to court over refunds for lost teaching
A hearing will decide whether the students can sue the uni as a group
A London court hearing will see whether at least 900 current and former students can sue University College London (UCL) as a group instead of filing individual complaints through institutional procedures. The date will be announced soon.
These student are a portion of the over 4,000 UCL students involved in the campaign Student Group Claim. They’re seeking compensation from UCL for disruptions due to strikes and Covid, arguing the university breached the contract between them by not offering the promised education and amenities.
More than 75,000 students from 18 universities nationwide have joined the campaign as of this article, and UCL will be the first to face its students in court this Thursday.
The hearing will set a precedent for all students in their claims. And since Student Group Claim estimated compensations of around £5,000 for each student involved, top UK universities might lose up to half a billion pounds in refunds if it goes in the students’ favour.
At the hearing, Student Group Claim’s lawyers hope to get the judge to grant them a Group Litigation Order (GLO). This would allow all students’ claims to be processed collectively rather than individually, which reduces cost, time, and the possibility of different outcomes.
On the other hand, a UCL spokesperson told The London Tab that they’d argue that the GLO is “unnecessary and premature.” They said students should exhaust existing, “well-established,” complaints procedures of UCL and the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) before bringing their complaints to court.
These processes have been described as “designed to frustrate complainants into defeat” and are estimated to take more than 18 months by some.
Student Group Claim’s lawyers described this argument by UCL as a “delaying tactic.” They said these processes are never mandatory and involve “UCL acting as both defendant and judge in a claim against itself.”
They’d also argue that it’d infringe upon students’ contractual right to go to the courts if UCL argues for them to use existing systems instead. UCL denied this, saying they won’t be suggesting students should be able to use the legal system at all, but just not before they’ve run out of other options.
Shimon Goldwater, one of Student Group Claim’s lawyers, said: “Does the university hope that if they create enough hurdles and draw out the process the students will give up and go away?
“Students at UCL and across the country simply did not receive the service they paid for, and, like any other consumer, they deserve fair compensation for the loss they have suffered.
“UCL should stop attempting to delay proceedings and face their students in court so that these matters can be addressed and decided in the proper forum.”
The London Tab previously reported on the university experiences of UCL students involved in Student Group Claim. These students highlighted the academic and emotional impact of the learning environment during Covid, saying they found their studies impacted “one thousand per cent” and “even became unwell” due to the lack of social opportunities.
Jowita, who did their crime and forensic science Master’s at UCL, said: “We should have been compensated from the start. Open University, which is online-only teaching, is a fraction of the price.”
When contacted for comment, a UCL spokesperson said: “We have a well-established complaints procedure, which gives students the option of complaining to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education if they are not satisfied with our response. This is the appointed independent body for dealing with student complaints with powers to recommend that UCL make awards of compensation to affected students where appropriate, and this is free for students to use.
“We believe this process represents the best, most efficient and swiftest way for our students to resolve any complaints. In proposing this, we are not suggesting that students should not be able to seek access to the courts, but given that they have not yet used appropriate and available ways to resolve their complaints through our established processes, the Group Litigation Order is unnecessary and premature.
“During the Covid-19 pandemic, UCL prioritised the health and safety of our whole community and followed UK Government guidance. Our lecturers and support staff worked tirelessly to make our campus and all UCL premises as safe as possible and ensured that a high-quality academic experience was provided to students. We are also committed to minimising the impact of industrial action, to ensure students are not academically disadvantaged and are able to complete their studies and graduate on time.”
Related articles recommended by this author:
• These London students are suing their unis for refunds over disruptions since Covid
• Meet the London student who wore an ‘I want a refund’ banner to her graduation ceremony
• Meet the student who got ‘kicked off’ his programme at Goldsmiths after a fee strike