The student group action seeking compensation for classes cancelled by universities during the lecturer strikes earlier this year has swelled from 1,000 to 5,000 members in a matter of weeks, and continues to grow at around 500 new sign-ups a week.
With 5,000 students now signed up, Asserson, the law firm that specialises in precedent-setting high value litigation and brought together the compensation claim group, estimates that this claim against Universities has already risen to £5million, with the potential to rise to £20million.
The claim has also received formal advice from one of the UK’s leading barristers which concludes that the claims are likely to succeed, stating: “The overall merits appear to favour the students; they are consumers who have paid a significant fee in exchange for tuition, a proportion of which has simply not been provided.”
Analysis of the 5,000 student sign ups from the website (www.universitycompensation.co.uk) found the top five universities with the most student sign-ups are – The University of Nottingham (446 students), Durham University (371 students), University of Kent (295 students), Kings College London (265 students), and the University of Bristol (256 students).
Asserson analysis also shows that 16 per cent of those signed-up are from outside the EU. They have paid on average £13,800 for their 2017-18 tuition, significantly more than the maximum of £9,250 which UK and EU students pay, and could be entitled to higher compensation.
Shimon Goldwater, a senior solicitor at Asserson, said:
“The compensation claim against Universities is building rapidly. Not only are we receiving 500 new sign ups a week, a leading barrister’s advice reaffirms our long-held view that that this claim is likely to succeed. Students are telling us that they have been following advice from their unions and the universities to use standard complaints procedures when asking for compensation, with absolutely no sign of progress. In fact, we have not heard of a single instance of a student receiving proper financial compensation for cancelled teaching time. Universities are presumably hoping that this problem will go away, but this claim shows that thousands of students are not willing to sit by and pay for a service which was cancelled. The size of this claim, based on £1000 compensation per student, has already risen to £5million, with the potential to hit £20million. If a more generous method is used to calculate damages, the sums at stake could double.”
Universities have saved millions of pounds by withholding salaries from lecturers for days they were on strike. According to responses to Freedom of Information requests, the prestigious Russell Group universities alone have withheld c. £8 million in salaries from striking staff. So far, no university has offered to pay any of that saved money directly to students affected by the strikes, with some universities suggesting the money could be spent on general services for students or on providing free graduation gown hire. But many students do not view this as acceptable, and want to receive proper financial compensation.
Shimon Goldwater concluded:
“With the UCU estimating in March that strike action affected a million students, with the loss of 575,000 teaching hours that was not rescheduled, it is not surprising that the claim has attracted 5,000 students in the space of a few weeks. This is already one of the largest student group legal actions ever to have been launched in the UK.”
 Asserson estimates that students on average will receive £1,000 compensation on the basis that students should be compensated for the market value of the teaching lost, and the market value is by reference to international students, not UK tuition fees, which are capped by the Government, so therefore artificially low. There is the potential for 20,000 student sign ups – so a £20million claim.