TEF may open door to student litigation

December 3, 2015

I was interested to read the outcome of the litigation initiated by a student who claimed that the teaching she had received in her two-year MSc course in nutritional therapy at the University of Worcester had been of such poor quality that she proposed to pay only half the fees for the second year (“Judge orders student to pay up in University of Worcester fees dispute”, News, 23 November). The judge found against her and she now has to pay the fees with interest and some of the university’s costs. The court took the view that the contract the student had entered into had not been broken.

The Competition and Markets Authority guidance published in March reflects among other things the CMA’s concern about the practice of withholding degree certificates and not permitting graduation when a student owes money, for example, for accommodation or library fines. But the imminent introduction of the teaching excellence framework and this landmark case seem to open up new questions. If a student feels disappointed in the teaching received and cites a poor TEF rating as evidence that this disappointment is justified, will a court see things differently? Some students are bound to try, perhaps whole cohorts in universities that are given low teaching ratings.

Worcester seems to have been protected by the terms of its student contract. Providers will be busy redrafting contracts to give themselves a similar safety net. “Disclaimer” notices may already be seen online. But the CMA is also pressing for the elimination of unfair terms in student contracts. A feast of student litigation seems bound to follow.

G. R. Evans

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