Judge orders student to pay up in University of Worcester fees dispute

University withheld degree certificate when postgraduate, claiming tuition had been inadequate, refused payment

November 23, 2015
Scales of justice on courtroom table

A student who refused to pay some of her course fees because she believed that the tuition she received had been inadequate has been ordered to pay the full amount by a court.

A judge said that the University of Worcester had been within its rights to withhold release of the student’s degree certificate because of unpaid fees. The student now faces a bill of several thousand pounds – the outstanding balance, plus interest, and a contribution to the institution’s costs.

As previously reported, the student, who does not want to be named, enrolled on Worcester’s two-year MSc in nutritional therapy in 2011. All went well in the first year, but she believed that the tuition in the second year was of poor quality.

Although she passed the course after resubmitting her dissertation, the student told the university that she was willing to pay only half the second-year tuition fee of just over £3,000. Worcester then declined her requests to release her degree certificate, and attempts to reach a negotiated settlement were unsuccessful.

In a letter to the student last July, John Ryan, the pro vice-chancellor for students, wrote that her completing the course indicated that the university had “discharged its responsibilities for supporting you”.

At Worcester County Court, a judge ruled that the student had accepted the terms and conditions of her contract, which, a university spokeswoman said, “clearly set out any consequences of non-payment”. The spokeswoman said that the court had noted that there was “no evidence of a breach of contract” on the university’s part.

David Palfreyman, director of the Oxford Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies and co-author of The Law of Higher Education, said that the case “neatly illustrates how difficult it is for students to challenge what they see as poor value for money involving allegedly inadequate teaching, whether by way of its quantum or quality”.

The Worcester spokeswoman said that the university was “pleased” with the ruling, adding that court action had been a “last resort”.

“Once full payment has been received, the university will release [the] degree certificate,” she said.


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