The initial coronavirus crisis period created huge challenges for both students and service providers. That initial crisis period has now passed, though, and the focus has shifted to the new academic year (2020-21). The context is still very challenging, but universities have had time to adjust to the emerging situation and to plan and develop their provision. This directly impacts what you can reasonably expect as a consumer/ student. We’ve broken this down for you below.
Consumer protection legislation applies to students in the same way as it applies to the rest of society. Universities need to deliver learning and other services that are consistent with students’ reasonable expectations.
What you can reasonably expect as a student, and what providers can reasonably be expected to deliver, is likely to change and evolve as circumstances change and evolve (especially where restrictions are relaxed or tightened). Ultimately, though, universities should deliver what was promised - or something at least close to it - and ensure that learning outcomes can be met. It’s unlikely to be reasonable not to do that.
As a student, you might be concerned if your university cancels field trips or placements, restricts access to equipment and facilities or limits in-person teaching unreasonably.
Where universities decide they cannot deliver what was promised, they will need to consider how to put that right. A blanket refusal to consider tuition fee refunds in any circumstances is not reasonable.
During the initial coronavirus crisis period, universities may have been able to rely on what’s known as ‘force majeure’ clauses to avoid legal liability for not delivering on their contractual obligations. However, you’ll be relieved to know clauses that attempt to exclude a university’s liability for failing to deliver the educational service to the required standard, and those giving the provider a wide discretion to change significant aspects of a course of study are unlikely to stand up to scrutiny despite what you might think.
Universities have now had time to prepare and plan for the longer-term effects of the pandemic, and so those effects are unlikely to be considered an extraordinary event outside of their control that is preventing them from delivering the service they have promised.
Different impacts on different students
Arrangements that might work well for many students may not work for all. Universities should be proactive about identifying and supporting students who may need additional help. For instance, students are likely to encounter all sorts of accessibility issues. If any of these things sound like they apply to you, book an appointment to see us and we will do our best to help!
The student perspective
If you’re worried about the ongoing situation and how it has or might impact your studies, you are not alone! Many students have real concerns, and we can help you to address these. You might want to complain to your university. We have advice that covers this over on our Academic Advice pages for both Exeter and Falmouth universities.
SU Advice Service staff are available to help and support you as a student in relation to a range of issues, including where you might feel your university is not delivering the education you are entitled to. Book an appointment to speak with one of our expert advisers here. Alternatively, email the team at email@example.com.