A class of students has made legal history by winning a lawsuit against their college for poor teaching, even though some gained their qualifications, writes Phil Baty.
Six students won their case against Rycotewood College in Oxfordshire this week, when the Oxford county court found the college liable for failing to equip them for careers after a two-year higher national diploma course in historic vehicle restoration. Damages will be set at a later hearing.
The students' lawyer, education specialist Jaswinder Gill, said the case set a precedent because although three of the six students had quit the course before the end, the others stuck it out and were awarded qualifications.
"This is wholly different from previous cases," he said. "Previously, students have sued when they have not been given a service and have failed to gain qualifications. But it is not now good enough for universities and colleges to turn around and say to aggrieved students: 'You've got your qualification, so what's the problem?' It is not about gaining the qualification, it is about the quality of that qualification."
The lawsuit was led by Lee Buckingham, who was awarded an HND in historic vehicle restoration and conservation, and by Jason England, who withdrew from the course. All six mature students had intended to pursue specialist careers restoring and conserving historic vehicles, but not a single student has been able to find work in the field.
The students said that promises made in the college prospectus, in course material and by course representatives during interviews were not met. The course began in 1996, not 1995 as planned, which cut the time available for tuition. Promised placements in industry failed to materialise, as did the promised 50 per cent practical and vocational work. The students also said basic tools had not been available.
Judith McIntyre, principal of Rycotewood College, said: "The course was taught in accordance with the scheme that was approved by BTEC (now Edexcel), which was externally moderated three times a year. The practical content provided fully complied with the course scheme in the amount, the level, the content and the quality that was delivered."
The course was closed in 1999.