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Student launches legal action over missed lecture time following strike action

Student begins legal fight over missed lectures following strike action by academics over pension reforms

Posted on 27 April 2018

A first-year student from Lancashire University is launching a legal challenge with group claims specialist Leigh Day against her University following the strike by academics over pensions, demanding a refund for the fees she has paid for missed lecture hours.

Cathy Olphin, a student at Lancaster University who is studying Natural Sciences is taking the legal action after she missed tuition time.

Ms Olphin says the cost of her tuition at Lancashire University will leave her with ‘crippling debt’ at the end of her course. She has now set up a CrowdJustice page which launched today to cover her legal costs in her fight against the university. On her funding page she states:

"I'm fighting to hold the university authorities to account for their breach of contract with thousands of students. Together we have lost thousands and thousands of hours of expensive teaching time which we have paid for.

"This campaign is not in opposition to striking lecturers. It is in support of students who have borne the brunt of a dispute that could have been resolved and we will be launching similar cases in universities across the country."

Lawyers from group action specialists Leigh Day, who are representing Ms Olphin, believe universities could be liable for claims from potentially hundreds of thousands of affected students totalling millions of pounds.

Bozena Michalowska, from the Consumer Law and Product Safety Team at Leigh Day, one of the country’s leading legal experts in group claims, said the law firm was planning to act on behalf of a group of students against the universities involved for breach of contract and under the Consumer Rights Act.

Ms Michalowska said that the legal action was not a judgement on the strikes themselves, but was about the universities paying back the money it owed students under its obligation under the Consumer Rights Act.

Leigh Day, who are currently the joint lead lawyers in the claims against Volkswagen as well as the lead lawyers in the largest group action currently going through the courts in relation to faulty hips, have said the claims could be worth as much as £1000 per student, depending on whether a university provides adequate replacement lessons and the effects on the individual student.

Universities want to change the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) from a defined-benefit scheme, which gives a guaranteed retirement income, to a defined-contribution scheme, where the pensions for lecturers would be subject to changes in the stock market.

Academics who are members of the University and College Union are angry at the proposed changes to their pensions, which they claim could leave them up to £10,000 a year worse off in retirement.

Ms Olphin and her lawyers have stressed that these cases brought against the universities are not to undermine the striking lecturers, but rather to reimburse students who are expected to pay average tuition fees in excess of £9,000 per year for lessons which are not being provided by universities. The tuition fees paid by overseas students are higher.

Lawyers have urged universities to seek the earliest resolution to the dispute to ensure that students are not further inconvenienced by the strikes.

Bozena Michalowska, from the Consumer Law and Product Safety Team at Leigh Day, said:

"We would urge universities to settle this dispute quickly as they could be liable for a vast number of claims from students who have paid many thousands of pounds but who have, quite simply, not got what they paid for.

"Consumers who are not provided the services they were promised under a contract are protected by the law and we are currently investigating legal action on behalf of students from across the country."