Over two million students at UK universities and colleges are distance learning instead of face-to-face tutorials and lectures in the academic year 2020-21 due to the coronavirus crisis.
Refund Students believes that while this measure is in the public interest to protect students and the wider population from the continued spread of the disease, it will inevitably mean a diminishment of their overall educational experience.
In removing personal contact from teaching, universities will be forced to offer a service noticeably inferior to that held out to students when applying for places. Yet university authorities are refusing to reduce fees to reflect this.
UK students pay £9,250 per year and nearly 500,000 from overseas pay between £10,000 and £26,000 per year. These are significant sums and are generally financed by loans that take many years to pay off.
But in not being able to deliver the full teaching experience of face-to-face tuition we believe universities and colleges should be obliged by law to refund their customers on the grounds that are not fulfilling their contractual obligation to them.
Refund Students believes there are grounds for students to claim a rebate on their fees if and when they are not offered the full educational service that was held out to them by their college or university when they applied for their place.
It is worth considering that the Open University, which students use almost entirely remotely, charges £18,567 for a 360-credit Arts & Humanities Honours degree, including course materials, compared with £27,750 for a comparable three-year degree course – without course materials – at a conventional university.
We invite students to join our action group by clicking on the link below and providing details about their university course and fees they have paid. Students who register will join a Group Litigation Claim that we will submit for registration with the High Court.
We will seek to raise funds through crowd funding to cover the cost of a senior Queen’s Counsel’s legal opinion as to the merits of the cases, as well as administration costs. These are expected to total around £35,000.
If Counsel is of the opinion there is a good case in law for a claim for fee refunds we will undertake a major fund raising to bring the case to court.
Bringing Group Litigation Cases to court is expensive. It requires money for case management (the handling and processing of client information), fund raising, legal fees and insurance should the case be lost in which case the defendants can claim their own legal costs.
In recent years the law on how cases can be funded has been changed – in the so-called Jackson Reforms – and now allows third parties to pay for cases to be brought to court in return for a share of the compensation won.
This means that not only students themselves can pay a small sum to contribute to their case, but their friends and family can also support them to do so.
Building a significant war chest of this size would show the university authorities that the claim is a serious one with sufficient financial backing to take the case to court, would be enough to meet our legal costs and pay for the other side’s if we lose.
Once the court rules that universities have not fulfilled their contractual obligations to students, a further hearing will be held to settle the amount it believes they should be awarded in compensation. Our lawyers will, of course, argue for the maximum amount they believe this should be.
Illustrative figures before costs would be £4,625 for a 50 per cent award, £2,313 for 25 per cent or £925 for 10 per cent based on the standard fee of £9,250.
The Jackson Reforms allow for up to 35 per cent of an award to be paid to the funders to cover all the costs of the legal action, with 65 per cent being paid over to the claimants.
Funders will be entitled to a pro-rata share of the 35 per cent after legal and case management costs have been paid. Claimants who are also funders will have the amount they have contributed added to their award.
First and foremost Refund Students will not expose its claimants to the risk of paying third party costs in the event of losing the case in court. Two conditions need to be met. First that there is extremely solid opinion from one of the country’s top litigating Queen’s Counsel barristers that the case will be won. Second that it will not be proceeded with unless there are sufficient funds to meet the defendants’ costs if the case is lost or that there is adequate insurance in place to pay them in this event.
Refund Students can give no guarantee that the case will be won, and therefore the money you contribute to the case could be lost if the case is. However we expect only to proceed to a court hearing on the basis of sound legal advice.
If the case is settled without going to court, as most often happens, then funders will still be paid their full percentage of the award.