Students receiving £100,000s in compensation as complaints rise
The news comes as some students announce they're suing their universities for millions over contact hours lost during the lecturers strike.
The number of students complaining to the university watchdog is at its highest in five years, with the figure in 2017 totalling 1,635.
This amounted to an 8% rise in complaints when compared with 2016, and resulted in £650,000 being paid to students in compensation and refunds.
An annual report by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) revealed that students in 2017 were especially unhappy with their universities. Among the reasons for complaints were poor facilities and dissatisfaction with the number of teaching hours.
However, academic issues were the main reasons for complaints, including disputes concerning assessment marks and final degree grades.
Why are students complaining?
Many students complained that their degree courses were too dissimilar to what was promised to them in prospectuses.
Other academic issues which arose concerned grades and the number of teaching hours.
It's unsurprising that the academic side of university was where the majority of issues lay. Students are becoming more critical of teaching standards since the increase of university fees, and this is only likely to continue with the introduction of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).
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Human rights and discrimination, on the other hand, only accounted for 5% of the overall complaints to the university watchdog.
Students also complained about university facilities, accommodation and disciplinary matters, suggesting home comforts are of high priority for today's students!
The manner in which universities handle student mental health was also a source of complaints. International students in particular felt that there were instances when visa issues were handled poorly, and that this simply wasn't good enough.
Which students complained to universities?
When you dig down into the numbers, it appears that students on law or business courses were the most likely to complain, and to persevere with appeals to the independent adjudicator.
According to The Guardian, the adjudicator said that these groups of students “tended to be more aware of their rights than other students”.
Interestingly, international students were far more likely to complain than UK or EU students, making 23% of the complaints despite accounting for just 13% of the UK's student population.
Almost one in four (24%) cases were justified or settled – the highest rate in several years. This was up from 22% in 2016, and 18% in 2012, when the total number of complaints hit a record level.
Nearly 200 students were offered payments after complaining, which amounted to £583,321 in total. A further £70,000 was then offered through separate settlements agreed after students complained.
Notable examples include a student who received £47,000 in compensation and refunds after his university terminated his studies for a “lack of engagement” following his complaint about a postgraduate supervisor.
A contrasting case saw an international student receiving £17,000 after his university failed to terminate his degree. The student was making little progress with his studies and there wasn't much chance that he would complete his degree, meaning he unnecessarily paid for fees and living expenses for 18 months.
The adjudicator even went so far as to advise universities against making insincere or empty apologies that do nothing to help the situation. For example, one university apology read:
I apologise for any perceived mistakes that have been made by the university and wish you luck for the future.
What about the strikes?
Students have done well to either get their money’s worth or else demand compensation.
During the recent lecturer strike, students across 65 UK campuses lost fourteen days of teaching. The strike was over Universities UK's plans to overhaul pension provision for university staff, including lecturers, researchers, librarians, technicians, and administrators.
Many students began to demand compensation for lost teaching hours, and the Universities Minister, Sam Gyimah, weighed in to support this notion. More recently, over 1,000 students have signed up to a formal lawsuit that could cost universities millions of pounds.
One student, Milan Vaskovic, is in the second year of an intensive law course at the University of Leicester. He paid for his fees using savings and bank credit, and the strikes meant that in some weeks where he was meant to have 13 teaching hours, he had just three.
Another affected student, Joanna Moss, who’s studying philosophy at Northampton, told The Guardian:
I think it’s unfair that we’re paying a lot of money and not receiving all our contact time.
This is such a big thing that is being brushed to one side, and you only have to see all of the comments from frustrated students on my petition page to illustrate how this has impacted on them – as it’s been pretty much a whole term.
How to claim compensation from your university
If you’ve been affected by lost teaching hours due to strikes, or feel particularly dissatisfied with any aspect of your university experience, you're entitled to consider a claim for compensation. You’re paying a lot in fees after all!
Just ensure you go about it in the right way – our guide to claiming compensation from your university has all the dos, don'ts and how-tos.
For example, you need to check the CMA’s Rights for Students, get clued up on your uni’s complaints policy, collect the evidence, and know exactly what you want before even submitting your formal complaint.
After mastering this, you should be good to go!
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With the recent rise in tuition fees, which may increase further in the coming years with the TEF, students should feel able to demand value for money from their universities, just like any other product or service you buy.
Some students have already taken matters into their own hands, such as the Anglia Ruskin graduate suing her uni over her ‘Mickey Mouse degree', or the Oxford graduate suing his famous old uni because he didn't get a first! The latter student wasn't successful, so maybe make sure you have a stronger case than his…
Have you submitted a complaint or tried to claim compensation from your university? Get in touch and let us know your story.