Abigail MeadowMarch 13th
2020

In recent years universities have handed out nearly £3m to students for lost teaching hours.

Students were handed as much as £4,500 in tuition fees but the majority of institutions did not award cash payouts during the strikes in 2018 and 2019.

In fact, at one university, students were given Amazon vouchers rather than cash as a 'goodwill' gesture after hundreds filed complaints.

The figures emerge as the current industrial actions are coming to a close, meaning that students now in their final year have had lessons cancelled in their first year and have now dealt with strikes this academic year too.

According to data acquired by The Independent at least 18,500 students have been handed cash payments equating to £2.9m for university strikes that took place in 2018.

In addition to this, it has been reported that only 11 institutions have given out money as compensation due to demands from students.

This news comes after universities were brought to a standstill after the Universities and College Union (UCU) called upon its members to take part in a two week strike at 65 institutions in the continuing row over working conditions, pensions and pay.

Similarly this year, students at 60 universities were forced to deal with another two weeks of strikes over the same issues.

Figures obtained by The Independent show that 16 out of 20 Russell Group institutions that responded to a Freedom of Information request said that they did not offer money out as compensation despite numerous complaints.

Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) said he was surprised by the low number of universities that offered cash payments to students.

He said: "I am sympathetic to students who make financial claims to cover missed lectures and seminars.

"On the face of it, anyone who pays for something they are not getting has a moral and legal right to recompense.”

He went on to say: "My biggest worry is not financial. It is about gaps in students’ knowledge from which they might suffer long-term disadvantages.”

A former University College London masters student, Jess, said she sought compensation after she missed out on half of her contact time in her final term but her request was denied.

She told The Independent: “The main impact it had was on my stress levels. It meant limited access to academic resources and less chance to see tutors.

“This limited what we could confidently study and made me, and others, far more worried about the quality of our work.”

She also added she was frustrated as she had saved money to partake in a masters course and her money had essentially gone down the drain. UCL said refunding money was 'not part of its policy in respect of industrial action'.

Other universties who also didn't hand out cash refunds took other precautions such as changing exam timetables and coursework deadlines.

Jo Grady, general secretary of UCU, said: “Students have shown phenomenal support for staff throughout the strikes, and understandably want to hold their institutions to account for the disruption they have faced, so it’s no surprise they are seeking compensation. 

“Students should demand transparency from their institutions on finances and how pay withheld from striking staff is being spent – these are significant sums that should be used for the benefit of students and staff. 

“We would also urge students to put further pressure on vice-chancellors by asking what specific actions they are taking to help end the disputes and avoid any further disruption.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Students rightly expect to get a good deal for their investment in higher education and in the event that any student was seriously affected by strike action we would expect universities to take appropriate action, which could include compensation.”

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