/ Money, Parenting

Should you expect more from university?

Uni degree

Do you ever cast your mind back to your uni days? Wonder how many hours you lost to that pesky dissertation? But would you consider claiming back your losses if you didn’t think your tuition was up to scratch?

Most of us go through university facing the usual challenges – we study, learn how to live with people who aren’t our family, have fun, feel awkward, write essays and dissertations in the dead of night, sit our exams and finally leave with our shiny new degree classification in tow.

For some, the experience can have a few hiccups along the way – it could be personal, financial constraints, a change of heart about their degree choice or maybe even problems with the standard of teaching.

And some of those students may decide to take further action

University challenge

They may decide to notify their university, and look to consult the university’s academic appeals and complaints procedure to find out how the university deals with any extenuating circumstances.

Or they might decide to consult Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) advice published in 2015 which informs providers about their consumer law obligations to undergraduate students.

But, rarely is it the case that a graduate goes to court in a grade dispute, which is why we will be watching with interest an upcoming court case between Oxford University and one its students who graduated in 2000.

Following an initial hearing in November last year, the claim has been allowed to proceed.

There were three issues for the judge to consider at this initial hearing: alleged inadequate teaching by the university, alleged mishandling by the university of Mr Siddiqui’s medical information and the issue of limitation (meaning whether or not the claim falls outside of the legal time limit of when a claim can be brought).

Mr Siddiqui submitted that the claim was not time-barred because he did not possess the requisite knowledge to bring the claim until October 2013.

The university’s application to strike out Mr Siddiqui’s claim was refused by the judge on the grounds that he believed there is a case, both in relation to the teaching quality and medical information, for the university to answer.

The judge also stated that Mr Siddiqui had a real prospect of succeeding in persuading the court that the claim was not out of time, and ordered that the claim proceed to trial.

What’s next?

Well, whether the former student is successful with his upcoming claim or not, the court’s view on this will certainly be interesting.

So, should expect more from university education? Or do you think you get what you pay for? Were you aware of the complaints procedures at your university?


I’m very glad to see Which? is expanding its consumer remit to cover different areas. Hopefully this will soon include medical treatment, hospitals, education, politics and the police – for which we all pay one way or another.

I’d be happier for Which? to expand its remit if it dealt with some of its current consumer areas better. 🙁

I wish Mr Siddiqui every success with his claim and look forward to reading further details on how his court case goes. However, I am hoping that Which?’s extended remit will also enable it to pay a bit more attention to the concerns of those who don’t get a chance to go to university, and have been badly let down by the system in various ways. Perhaps some of them are not articulate enough or confident enough to unpack their problems on a consumer website so will need assistance and to be interviewed to reveal how they have been denied social care, or welfare benefits, or help in the home, or a training place. Just seeking some balance.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

This comment was removed at the request of the user

I’ve limited experience with degrees but from that limited evidence what a student gets varies considerably from course to course, uni to uni. Luckily, the one I’m part funding as a parent, has had extremely high expectations and ensured their students have the right modules to stretch themselves, appropriate contact time and quality feedback to improve. However, that’s not the case for all their peers on other courses. Quality definitely varies. I don’t see why this area of education shouldn’t be subject to being brought to account through our justice system just like anything else but that’s not to say it can be simply qualified on contact time and/or achieved grade.

I have some awareness of students’ problems through running the student-staff committee for a large department. It soon became evident that many students don’t let their module leaders or personal supervisors know when a problem arises. Mistakes happen and can be rectified, but it is essential to know that problems exist. It’s not only in the interests of students to do well but this is good for the reputation of their department and university. It is very heartening that some students are keen to help others have to confidence to seek help.

We faced the problem of being unable to deliver a final year module because the key member of staff had an emergency coronary bypass just before the start. The problem was discussed with the small group of students involved and a pragmatic solution was found. Common sense suggests that contingency plans should be made to cover for the non-availability of any member of staff but this can be a challenge when covering specialist subjects at final year or masters level.

That’s true but there must be certain problems that in themselves mean the student doesn’t know they need to ask for help. Times the student might not even be aware they have problems because of the mental state they are in. I’m thinking, perhaps, depression, suicidal thoughts, or bipolar. For these issues staff need training to identify and need to have the confidence that university support services are there and well enough resourced to help the student.

Each of our departments had a disabilities officer, a member of staff responsible for even-handed treatment of relatively simple issues such as allowances for dyslexic students through to mental issues. She worked closely with the university support services. If any member of teaching staff suspected a problem we referred the student to her or ask the disabilities officer to contact the student. Confidentiality was preserved unless the student had volunteered information information to their supervisor or other member of staff.

The same applies at school, although the students then have family to spot possible problems – if you can get teenagers to open up; easier said than done. University in my day brought several stressful situations about at once – leaving the security of home and parental support, having to deal responsibly with your finances, apart from the hard work involved in tackling rather unknown courses and worrying whether you’ve made the right decisions. Most youngsters are adaptable enough to sort this out relatively quickly but some will struggle. We had tutors, but they were really aimed at the academic part of life. I don’t know whether these days they are assigned to personal tutors more attuned to their university life, to give help and advice on money and other personal issues.

I cannot speak for other institutions but our students were assigned to an supervisor and urged to keep in regular contact to discuss their academic progress, including performance in assessment, module choices and other options, career plan, etc. A great deal of support was provided centrally. For example, students could obtain advice on financial matters and I expect they would be invited for interview if they were late in paying their fees.

One of the major problems that became more common after the introduction of £9000 tuition fees was academic performance being affected by students doing paid work during the semester. In some cases students would skip lectures because unthinking employers would not fit in with their availability. I once had a student plead with me to speak to his employer to ask if he could take time off to attend one of my tests. I did, and politely explained that he was a full-time student and that his course must take priority. Doing paid work or working as a volunteer can do wonders for students’ interpersonal skills and self-esteem but if this infringes on study time and the opportunities to tackle the hard work with peer support from fellow students – which is what campus-based study is all about – then students are not making their best of their time at university. Our disabilities officer handled cases of homesick students and I can’t make any useful comment.

I have no idea what help was available in our day, Malcolm.

Yes, I have heard of a case like this. The basis of financial calculation does not help. To some extent the fees are a red herring as they are covered by a loan (although the worry that causes a young person cannot be underestimated). A major problem lies in the maintenance funding. It’s based on parental income but with no necessity for the parent to pay. So, if a parent won’t support or can’t (perhaps they have very high outgoings themselves) the student has no option but to work. Accommodation fees are particularly expensive and are rarely covered by the basic maintenance that all students can get irrespective of parent income.

Nicola Eaton Sawford, Customer Whisperers says:
30 January 2017

If the result is not just the settlement of individual claims but an acceptance by people across education that they really do have CUSTOMERS to whom they are accountable – brilliant! Its a concept that is taking too long to sink in in this sector and change is long overdue.