Strike action justifies tuition fee refunds – OIA

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator has recommended students receive partial refunds following USS pensions-related industrial action

Loss of teaching time to strikes justifies partial tuition fee refunds, the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) has said.

In its report, the OIA made recommendations to universities in response to complaints from students following USS pensions-related industrial action.

Felicity Mitchell, independent adjudicator, said: “Some providers have made lecture recordings, podcasts, and additional on-line 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.

“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.”

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 – Felicity Mitchell

The report considers student complaints and whether the higher education provider mitigated the loss of teaching owing to strikes.

Mitchell said: “In the cases we have seen, most providers have gone to some length to make sure that students have not been academically disadvantaged, and this is good to see.”

In one anonymous case study, the OIA recommended the university repay £630 of tuition fees to a student despite the provider adjusting the weighting of assessments and removing material that had not been taught from the assessments. The HEI had also moved exam dates, provided online teaching material and offered the student a goodwill payment of £130.

In its response, the OIA said: “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.

“We decided that a considerable amount of teaching time was cancelled for some of the student’s modules, and that the learning outcomes for the modules couldn’t have been delivered in full and to the expected standards simply by putting material online.”

In another case, the OIA recommended refunding £1,283 to an international one-year master’s student. The university argued its force majeure clause exempted it from further action, but the adjudicator concluded “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.”


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