education

Universities told to compensate students after Covid disruption


Universities have been made to compensate students for the effects of coronavirus on their courses, with one individual receiving £5,000.

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) has released a series of complaints by students about the impact of Covid-19 on their studies.

They included fears about accommodation, disruption to learning and a lack of vital practical experience.

One international medical student, who was paying £38,000 fees to an unnamed institution, was awarded £5,000 after the university stopped all clinical placements because of coronavirus, meaning they lost out on invaluable practical course time.

The OIA said it stipulated the payout due to the “severe disappointment and inconvenience” the student experienced and because their final year of study had been “less valuable” than anticipated.

Another healthcare student on a master’s course was given £1,500 to compensate for “inconvenience and significant disappointment” they faced after a lab-based research project was cancelled.

The student was moved to remote learning by their university and said this meant they missed out on practical techniques demanded by employers – putting them at a disadvantage on the job market.

While the institution involved had taken a “number of steps” to ameliorate this situation, the promised lab work could not be delivered, the OIA concluded.

A third student fell foul of social distancing rules, but saw their exclusion from accommodation reversed following the OIA’s intervention.

The international student, who had a mental health condition, received a visit from a friend in breach of the rules, and was thrown out.

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.

But the OIA said it considered that penalty “harsh” and the university agreed to reduce it to a formal warning.

In another instance, however, a student was denied a refund by the watchdog after paying their halls of residence 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 institution had taken a “fair approach” in a “very challenging” situation by allowing students to stay at the accommodation during lockdown.

Felicity Mitchell, the 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 spokesperson 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.”

Additional reporting by Press Association



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