University told to pay student £5,000 for ‘less valuable’ educational experience
A university has been told to pay a student £5,000 in compensation for lost teaching time during the first Covid-19 lockdown, a higher education complaints watchdog has said.
The Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) has released a number of complaints students have made about the impact coronavirus has had on their studies.
They include concerns over accommodation, disruption to learning because of the pandemic, and that providers were unable to deliver important practical experience as part of a course.
Among the complainants was an international medical student who had been studying at an unnamed university with fees costing £38,000.
The student was awarded £5,000 after the university stopped all clinical placements as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, meaning they lost out on invaluable practical experience.
The OIA said it was awarded due to the “severe disappointment and inconvenience” the student experienced because the final year of studies had been “less valuable” than expected.
The case summaries reflect the hugely challenging and complex situations that students and providers have faced as a result of the pandemic
A healthcare student has also been awarded £1,500 for the “inconvenience and significant disappointment” they faced due to the cancellation of a lab-based research project as part of their master’s course.
The student had been moved to remote learning by the university following the coronavirus outbreak.
They argued this meant missing out on the practical techniques employers require, disadvantaging them when applying for jobs.
The OIA concluded that while the provider had taken a “number of steps” to ensure students were not disadvantaged academically, it could not deliver the promised lab work.
Another was granted £200 after missing out on 14 hours of learning time due to industrial action that took place over November and December 2019, along with disruption caused by coronavirus.
One case saw an international student’s accommodation penalty lifted after they were found to be breaching social distancing rules when a friend visited their room.
The student, who has a mental health condition, was excluded from the accommodation, despite giving reasons for the friend’s visit.
The OIA said it considered the penalty “harsh” and the provider agreed to reduce the penalty to a formal warning.
However, one student was denied a refund by the watchdog after paying their university accommodation fees in three instalments before the national lockdown was enforced.
The student had asked to be refunded fees paid in March 2020 after the provider contacted them to say they should consider returning home.
The university had decided not to ask any students to pay the third instalment when it became due in April, but refused to refund the amount the student had paid for the six-week period before that.
It was ruled the university adopted a “fair approach” in a “very challenging” situation by giving the option for students to stay at the accommodation during the lockdown.
Two other students had their complaints dropped over issues around teaching arrangements and exam-marking criteria.
Felicity Mitchell, independent adjudicator, said: “The case summaries reflect the hugely challenging and complex situations that students and providers have faced as a result of the pandemic.
“Where possible we try to reach a settlement and we are pleased that in many cases providers and students have been very open to this.
“The summaries illustrate our approach to deciding what is fair and reasonable in these kinds of situations. We hope they will be helpful to providers and students.”
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “We have been clear that the quality and quantity of tuition should not drop, and should be accessible to all students, regardless of their background. The Office for Students is monitoring online teaching to ensure this is the case.”
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