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Settlement following “Mickey Mouse” degree claim could lead to further claims against Universities

Consumer law solicitor Harriet Bass discusses the recent case of Pok Wong who secured an out of court settlement from her former University after claiming that it had overpromised on the career prospects resulting from her degree.

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Harriet works as a solicitor in the product liability and consumer law team and has experience in medical device claims and breach of contract law.
Universities could face more legal claims from students after Pok Wong, aged 30, received an out-of-court settlement of £61,000.
 
It was reported in the news media this week that Ms Wong graduated from Anglia Ruskin University with a first in international business strategy, but claimed that the University had “exaggerated the prospects of a career” after completion of the course and “fraudulently misrepresented” its business course when she enrolled in 2011.
 
Ms Wong, who is said to have prepared many of the court papers herself, also disputed the University’s claim to offer “high-quality” teaching, calling it a “Mickey Mouse” degree. She has warned that Universities should be careful about what they say in their course prospectuses, and prospective students should also exercise caution when enrolling on courses, as the reality of the course delivered can be very different from that which has been promised in the University’s marketing materials. Ms Wong claims that for her degree there was a shortage of teachers at the University, contact time was suddenly cut mid-course, and the business rules and concepts were poorly explained in unstimulating lectures.
 
Last year the Central London County Court found in favour of the University and ordered Ms Wong to pay £13,700 for the University’s legal costs. However, despite this, the University’s insurers wrote to Ms Wong and offered to pay her £15,000 and a further £46,000 for her legal fees. A spokesman for the National Union of Students has stated “Students do have clear rights under law, and the report of the settlement does indicate a way students can seek recourse”.
 
The University has stated that it does not support its insurer’s decision and that Ms Wong’s claim “has been rejected numerous times and has never been upheld”.
 
It is encouraging that Ms Wong has been paid compensation for the losses she suffered. As Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, has stated “students are buying an education and they have a right to get what they have been promised”.
 
The Advertising Standards Authority has cracked down on false advertising claims in recent years and hopefully Ms Wong’s case will be a wake-up call to Universities to review their advertising campaigns for any misleading content in light of the fact that students are becoming more aware of their consumer rights and are not afraid to fight for compensation given the vast tuition fees they are paying.
 
Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (CRA 2015) students at Higher Education Institutions in the UK are legally classed as ‘consumers’, which means they are entitled to the same protection as any other person in the UK who has purchased an item or a service. The CRA 2015 requires that Universities deliver courses to students with ‘reasonable care and skill’. This involves, but is not limited to:
 
  1. Providing prospective students with clear material information about the course (e.g. entry requirements, how the course will be delivered, methods of assessment, total course costs etc.) so that they can make an informed decision when choosing a University and course;
  2. Having fair, accessible and transparent Terms and Conditions which set out the obligations for students and the University; and
  3. Ensuring that the University complaint handling processes and practices are accessible, clear and fair to students.
 
Unfortunately, some students feel short-changed by the delivery of their course, claiming that that they were under-informed and/or misled by the University. This can have a knock-on effect on a student’s career and also on their financial position given the expense of tuition fees.
 
Leigh Day acts for students in legal claims for breach of contract against their Higher Education Institution. If you have paid tuition fees for a course and have not been provided with the service that you expected when you enrolled on the course, please do get in touch with our team at Uniclaims@leighday.co.uk or by telephone at 020 7650 1200.
 

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