The first legal proceedings have begun by a student attending a UK university to reclaim tuition fees following a strike by academics over pensions.
Lawyers Leigh Day, acting on behalf of first-year student Cathy Olphin, have written to the Vice Chancellor of Lancaster University, which is currently ranked as the University of the Year by the Times newspaper for 2018, to make him aware of the claim for missed tuition time against the university.
In the Pre-Action Protocol letter marking the start of formal legal proceedings, lawyers from the consumer law team at Leigh Day state that they are taking legal action on behalf of Miss Olphin against Lancaster University for breach of her statutory rights under the Consumer Rights Act, and consequent loss of ‘contact hours’.
These ‘contact hours’ comprise lectures, workshops and other lecturer led activities as a result of strike action taken at Lancaster University for just over a two-week period between February 22 and March 16.
The letter points out that the legal action is being taken under the Consumer Rights Act, making clear that all students at Lancaster University, and all other universities across the UK, benefit, as consumers, from the statutory contractual rights that are imposed upon the universities.
For a period of just over two weeks Miss Olphin missed a number of lecture hours and scheduled lecturer led contact time.
She was also not provided with any alternative means of accessing lectures.
Miss Olphin’s legal team claim that Lancaster University failed to ensure delivery of the services to which she was contractually entitled with ‘reasonable care and skill’, or indeed, at all.
Miss Olphin, who is studying Natural Sciences, is enrolled in the Lancaster Environment Centre. In the Code of Conduct for Students and Lecturers, within the LEC Handbook, it states: “Attendance at lectures, practicals and tutorials is compulsory. Attendance will be routinely monitored. The primary purpose of monitoring attendance is to help students.
“Past experience shows that students that repeatedly miss lectures are likely to fail or gain very low marks. By monitoring student attendance we seek to identify any problems and rectify them before it is too late.”
Sarah Moore, from the Consumer Law and Product Safety Team at Leigh Day, said the legal action was not a judgement on the strikes themselves, but was about the universities paying back the money it owed students for breach of contract and under the Consumer Rights Act.
Miss Olphin, who has set up a CrowdJustice page, said: “I’m fighting to hold the university authorities to account for their breach of contract with thousands of students.
“Together we have lost thousands of hours of teaching time that we have paid for.
“This is not, however, a statement about the strikes by the lecturers, but against the university for the non-delivery of services for which I have paid.”
The Crowdjustice page is at https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/compensate-students/
Lancaster University did not wish to comment on the proceedings.