More than 1,000 students have joined a legal bid to force UK universities to pay millions of pounds in compensation for teaching time lost during the recent strike action, according to the law firm running the claim.
The move for direct compensation for students affected by the industrial dispute over pensions could cost some larger universities as much as £10 million each, according to law firm Asserson, which has previously promoted the claim in the media.
Students have signed up for the proposed class action at the University Compensation website.
Passing the 1,000-student milestone means that the group claim has a sufficient number of students to apply for a group litigation order, said Shimon Goldwater, a senior solicitor at Asserson, which created the website.
“No other service provider would get away with charging for 25 weeks of a service and cutting that to 22 with no price reduction,” said Mr Goldwater, adding that there is “no question that universities owe students fair compensation”.
Of the first 1,000 students, 13 per cent are from the University of Kent, 9 per cent from the University of Manchester and 6 per cent from the universities of Bristol and Nottingham, as well as King’s College London, respectively, according to Asserson.
“If the class action is accepted, universities would pay out millions of pounds, said Mr Goldwater, stating that a university with more than 20,000 undergraduates might need to pay out about £10 million if £500 compensation was given to each student.
He added that universities have saved millions of pounds by withholding salaries from lecturers for the days that they were on strike in February and March over proposed reform to the UK sector’s main pension fund, the Universities Superannuation Scheme. The scheme covers about 190,000 people working in higher education, mainly at 65 pre-92 universities that have been hit by industrial action that has now been suspended.
Mr Goldwater added that no university has so far offered to pay any of that saved money directly to students affected by the strikes, although some universities suggest that the money could be spent on general services for students.
But many students do not view this as acceptable and want to receive direct financial compensation – a move backed by Sam Gyimah, the universities’ minister.
“This is already one of the largest student group legal actions ever to have been launched in the UK,” said Mr Goldwater.
“With the UCU estimating in March that strike action affected 1 million students, with the loss of 575,000 teaching hours that will not be rescheduled, we’re expecting a surge of sign-ups over the coming weeks,” he added.