Will cases open as courses close?

London Met's bonfire of the humanities may spark breach of contract concerns. John Morgan writes

April 28, 2011



Credit: Alamy
Moving on: Some students may need to transfer, London Met's v-c has said


London Metropolitan University's "big bang" approach to course closures may leave some current students unable to complete their courses at the institution.

The university, one of the largest in the UK, will cut the number of its courses with registered students by 70 per cent by 2012 as management bid to prepare the institution for the new fees and funding regime.

Courses including history, philosophy, performing arts and Caribbean studies will be completely axed - potentially leaving some students unable to complete their degrees and facing transfers to other institutions.

When Times Higher Education asked Malcolm Gillies, the vice-chancellor, whether the university could guarantee that all current students would be able to complete their courses at London Met, he responded: "Yes, or we shall mutually agree on suitable transfers."

However, Cliff Snaith, the University and College Union branch secretary at London Met, said the institution had "no idea of the total number of students who will not be able to complete the degrees for which they enrolled".

Dr Snaith said the subjects with the most students affected by the closures were performing arts, which has about 50-60 students a year, followed by history, which has about 30.

The university has not disclosed how many jobs it expects to cut, and UCU members are expected to ballot for industrial action.

Although he said he could not comment on the specifics of London Met, Andrew Johnson, a specialist in education law at Walker Morris solicitors, said that, in general, course closures could leave universities open to legal action by students.

"If the institution does not provide that which it contracted to provide, then prima facie there may be a claim for breach of contract," Mr Johnson said.

"I do not believe that it could be said that the student has an absolute right to complete a course on which they have embarked. However, a failure to provide the balance of a course may, in certain circumstances, amount to a breach of contract.

"Students do bring claims arising out of course closures - I have defended some in the past."

Mr Johnson added, however, that the "overwhelming majority of student claims are brought by way of complaints to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator".

Aaron Porter, president of the National Union of Students, said: "Students currently studying on courses that are to be closed to new entry should be able to complete their studies without disruption.

"Government policies have of course left universities with difficult decisions to make, but the impact on the student experience must be at the forefront of considerations when any changes are made."

john.morgan@tsleducation.com.

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