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Can you claim for lost teaching hours if you attended a UK university last year?

Lecturers and academy staff of University and College Union on their third day of protest against the slashing of their pension benefits in Southampton, UK on February 26, 2018. Source: Shutterstock

Students in several UK universities will receive their due compensation for lost teaching hours as a result of last year’s campus strikes.

Higher education ombudsman for England and Wales, the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA), ordered for the universities that have failed to make up for lost teaching hours to pay the complainant students several hundreds of pounds in compensation, The Guardian reported.

“Some providers have been better than others at finding ways to make up for the learning students have missed out on. Some providers have made lecture recordings, podcasts, and additional online materials available to students, or allowed them to sit in on other classes. Others have done nothing, and we don’t think that’s fair,” said Felicity Mitchell, the independent adjudicator.

“We have made recommendations in a number of cases for partial refunds of tuition fees and payments for distress and inconvenience where we have decided the student has not been treated fairly.”

The OIA is an independent body set up to operate the Student Complaints Scheme, as required by section 13 of the Higher Education Act 2004. The scheme came into effect on May 1, 2005.

Under the 2004 Act, higher education providers (HE providers), i.e. the ‘qualifying institutions’, are required to be members of the OIA Scheme. This now includes universities, other higher education institutions, further education colleges, sixth-form colleges that provide higher education, alternative providers and providers of school-centred initial teacher training. To find out whether your HE provider is included, follow this link.

Staff at 61 universities took part in 14 days of escalating strike action over a four-week period early last year. The industrial action is in protest against changes to UK higher education’s biggest pension scheme, a plan that would reportedly make members £10,000 a year worse off in retirement than under the current set-up.

The OIA published details of 19 cases it has concluded – either decided as Not Eligible, Justified, Partly Justified or Settled – out of more than 80 individual complaints it received.

In one of the complaints, a final year student of a BSc programme had raised concerns last March about the impact of the action on their assessments and the availability of their tutors, as well as their mental health. The university responded that it had minimised the effects of the industrial action through actions such as deadline extensions for the affected modules, making staff available on non-strike days, replacing group learning with online discussion boards, providing materials online etc.

The OIA decided the particular case as Partly Justified. Although it recognised the university’s response, it said it did not acknolwedge “the individual effect of the industrial action on the student, and had not considered whether it would be reasonable to take further action or to provide additional support because of the student’s individual circumstances.

“In particular, the University hadn’t thought about giving the student a deadline extension for their other modules so that the deadlines were spaced out; the student had explained at the time that grouping deadlines together was increasing their anxiety,” it continued. The student was awarded £500 in compensation “for the distress and inconvenience caused by these shortcomings”.

In another case, a working student on a part-time MA course complained that they had lost earnings when they had attended university for lectures and seminars that were cancelled. The university said the strikes were beyond its control. The OIA recognised that the university tried to mitigate the academic impact of the strikes (such as deadline extensions and amending tests to include only modules which were not disrupted), it partly upheld the complaint as it said the university had not taken any steps to make up for the lost teaching hours and the learning opportunities they represented.

“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 OIA said.

“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 OIA ordered for a refund of £1,154.50, based on the notional cost of the teaching hours missed, reduced by 50 percent (which is used for the maintenance of buildings, IT and library facilities, wellbeing and other student support and administration).

Another university was ordered to refund an international student £1,283.75 in tuition fees. The university had allocated up to 30 credits to be mitigated where there was an indication that performance in affected modules appeared to be out of line with performance elsewhere.

However, the OIA found: “… 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.”

Details of other cases can be found here.

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