22nd March. 2021

What is the Best Path to Tuition Fee Compensation? – Part 3

In the first two parts of this mini-series, we considered the prospects of obtaining a tuition fee refund either through the Government or the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (the OIA). Sadly, the conclusion was both those prospects are rather slim. You can read our thoughts about the Government here, and the OIA here.

But what about the campaigns being run by students, such as UCL Union’s ‘Refund Our Fees’ campaign, and the national ‘Students United Against Fees’ campaign. Wouldn’t you be better off just joining one of those campaigns, and not bothering to join a group court claim?

This is a good question, and one we have been asked a few times. However, we feel the answer is a clear no, for the following reasons:

The Two Options are Not Mutually Exclusive

First and foremost, it is important to understand that there is no reason why you cannot pursue both options. Signing up for the Student Group Claim does not preclude you from participating in student-led efforts to pressure the government for tuition fee compensation. If the student-led efforts succeed, and the government pays out compensation to some or all students, you will keep 100%. Being a member of the Student Group Claim will not have an impact on this. We will only retain our legal and funding costs (up to 30% of any compensation) if UCL pays out as a result of our efforts. Looking at it the other way around, being part of student-led efforts will not preclude you from joining the Student Group Claim, and benefitting from any compensation we obtain on your behalf.

In other words, it’s a win-win – there’s nothing to lose by joining the Student Group Claim.

The Prospects of Success for Student-Led Efforts

We recognise the tireless work being put in by student leaders at UCL and nationally, raising awareness of the plight of students, and networking with decision makers within and without the universities. The campaign seeks a tuition fee refund from the Government for all students. Based on the Government’s response to the plight of students so far – obfuscation, deflection, and passing the buck (see our earlier posts here and here) – we don’t think there is much chance of the Government acceding.

There are currently around 2.5 million students enrolled in higher education in the UK. If the Government were to give modest compensation to each student – for example, £500 each, far less than we think ought to be paid ­­­­-­ this would amount to £1.25billion. Double that to £1000 each, and it’s £2.5billion. Given the current pressures on the Treasury, and the reluctance the Government has shown to take students’ complaints seriously, we don’t think the Government will take responsibility for such a step.

The Courts

In our view, the approach most likely to succeed is a group legal claim. Only in the courts will we be able to focus on the legal merits of the claim – and have that, and not the size of any pay-out, be the deciding factor.

It’s worth noting too that if a court action leads to the government stepping in to fund university’s obligation to pay compensation, that would still be a win. We think the chances of the Government stepping in this way, i.e. being compelled to do so as a result of legal pressure brought against the universities, are far higher than responding as a result of petitions and popular pressure, however justified and well-co-ordinated.