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Student Action for Compensation: Why a ‘Free’ Gown is not Enough!

Following the strike action earlier this year resulting in the cancellation of lectures and seminars across the UK, students need more than a free gown at graduation to compensate for the weeks of education missed

Graduating Students
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Sarah Moore specialises in product liability and claims for groups of people who have suffered an injury because of unsafe products. She has written a number of articles on topics such as drug regulation, cigarette packaging and food safety.
The UCU Strike Action earlier this year resulted in the cancellation of lectures and seminars across the UK and left many students wondering whether they were getting ‘value for money’ in return for payment of their annual tuition fee. For many undergraduates those fees are now in excess of 9000GBP per year, and for international students the figures are higher still.

In the weeks following the Strike Action thousands of students, from more than 60 universities across the country, signed petitions demanding that their universities provide individual compensation, refunding the portion of annual fees for which students had been denied lecturer access.

For the main part, students expressed their solidarity with striking lecturers, supporting their demands for UUK to rethink the planned cuts to academics’ pension packages: Anger was instead focussed on senior management figures within striking universities, who appeared to expect students to ‘shut up’ and ‘pay up’, whilst the ‘grown ups’ argued about pensions and remuneration in the other room.

In that context recent reports that some Russell Group Universities, including York and Manchester, are offering students affected by the strikes free graduation gowns in recognition of the inconvenience caused by the Strikes, might be seen at best as patronising, and at worst as a cynical attempt to dissuade students from seeking full compensation.

Other universities, including SOAS and Edinburgh, have announced that they will use money saved during the Strike Action to set up ‘Student Hardship’ funds, to which all students impacted financially by the strikes can apply.

As all universities across the UK are well aware, students studying in the UK not only pay more than ever before – but their statutory rights are also better protected - courtesy of the Consumer Rights Act 2015. Under the CRA all students studying in the UK have enforceable legal rights, including the right to a refund when services to which they are contractually entitled, and for which they have already paid, are not delivered. Importantly that legal right to compensation is specific to every individual student and is not means tested; as such whilst the constitution of ‘hardship’ funds with monies saved during the Strike Action should be welcomed, it does not dispose of the statutory obligations which each university owes to each individual student affected by the strikes.

It is estimated that the value of individual student claims under the CRA may be around 1000GBP per student: On that basis, students being offered ‘free’ graduation gowns may consider that unless those gowns come with an expensive label and a designer price tag, they are a poor exchange for the weeks of education missed and for which students have already paid.

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