Belfast Telegraph

Contracts plan could let unhappy students sue their universities

By Alison Kershaw

Universities could face lawsuits in the future from students who believe they have not been given the education they were promised.

All institutions may have to draw up contracts with new students setting out what they can expect from their degree courses - such as the amount of lecture time, assessment and feedback - under plans being considered by ministers.

The move would give students more rights and protection - similar to those of consumers - over the university education they are paying for, it was suggested, including the ability to take action, including legal action, if they feel they feel this has not been provided.

Speaking at an event in central London yesterday, Universities Minister Jo Johnson said he will be asking the new Office for Students (OfS) to consult on introducing contracts between students and universities.

"These would set out what students can expect from their providers in terms of resource commitments, contact time, assessments, support and other important aspects of their educational experience," he said.

Contracts do exist in some institutions, but these are often light on detail or do not let students know what they can expect from their university, Mr Johnson said.

He said he wanted the OfS to look at how these contracts can be improved and introduced across higher education and indicated they could become a requirement for universities.

Students who then find that there is a "material divergence" in their degree course from what they expected would be able to seek redress, which could include measures such as suing their university.

"I is in the nature of a contract that someone who feels that the benefits promised in the contract are not getting delivered would have some form of redress," Mr Johnson said.

"Clearly, through the consultation options that we will be publishing in the course of time, we will see what those options will consist of, but legal remedies are certainly not excluded."

He later added: "I think we should always allow for universities to be able to make reasonable adjustments in terms of how they deliver courses; we don't want to tie people down in fine print that might be inappropriate.

"But the general framework of how a course is going to be delivered should be clear to the student and where there is a material divergence from what's been promised, and that is what the consultation will explore and that is a first for the system," the minister said.

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