Students could resort to law for breach of contract

March 17, 2006

Students may seek to sue universities if their educational or employment prospects are damaged due to the academic boycott of exams and other assessment, writes Alan Thomson.

Local student union leaders have made it clear that they will support students who seek legal redress for any damage caused by the assessment boycott by the Association of University Teachers and its sister union Natfhe.

While the AUT and Natfhe may bear the brunt of students' anger in a prolonged dispute, student leaders believe that any legal action would be directed at institutions because they will be deemed to have breached their side of the learning contract.

Dave Lewis, president of Reading University Students' Union, told The Times Higher : "If students have to finish coursework to uphold their side of the bargain and if, having done that, the university does not uphold its side, then we may have to look at legal action."

Chileya Kasuba, president of Portsmouth University Students' Union, said:

"If this industrial action drags on for weeks, then it will affect students. If any of our students are adversely affected, they can complain to me. We are going to monitor the situation in case we need to make any claims in future."

Daisy Noble, president of Gloucestershire University Students' Union, said:

"If assessment is delayed or does not happen this year, then all institutions will come in for criticism and we would have to support students bringing forward complaints."

Andy Wilson, president of Southampton University Students' Union, said:

"Why should students be put at a disadvantage now when, for instance, they have studied hard for a degree for two and a half years?"

Molly Heinrich, president of Bournemouth University Students' Union, said:

"As sympathetic as we are to academics, we have to look after our members.

We may have to deal with institutions in an appropriate and firm manner."

The National Union of Students supports the industrial action but Kat Fletcher, the national president, has raised concerns about the AUT's refusal to set exams. Natfhe members, concentrated in post-92 universities, will set exams but will withhold marks.

Sian Jones-Davies, head of the national student issue group at law firm Eversheds, said: "As a general point, if institutions do not deliver to students what they said they would deliver, then it could mean they are exposed to complaints.

"We will have to wait and see how much disruption is caused and whether students suffer any damage."

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