It is no longer far-fetched for students to litigate against their universities if they perform poorly in a degree course
Law lecturers often joke about the fact that they are providing students with knowledge that could be used against them. If a law student slips on a wet floor, their instinctive reaction is likely to be a personal injury claim in the county court. And if they don't like their grades, well they can sue.It may seem far-fetched to litigate against your university if you perform poorly in a degree course, but this week has seen another high profile attempt to do just that.
Andrew Croskery, a student at Queen's University Belfast, has brought a judicial review to overturn his 2:2 in electrical engineering, claiming that if he had received better supervision he would have instead obtained a 2:1.
Press reports suggested that to take a case of this nature to the high court is extremely unusual. But it has been done before.
Just last year Amanda McKoy, a midwifery student at Oxford Brookes, successfully argued that the high court was competent to interfere with the university's claim that she would not make a fit midwife because she had performed poorly on the course.
The court quashed Oxford Brookes' decision to withdraw McKoy from the course and her lawyers received £16,000 in costs.
More commonly though, enterprising students have sued their universities for breach of contract. In 1995 Joanne Clark, a student at the University of Lincolnshire and Humberside, sued over a finals paper about the Tennessee Williams play A Streetcar Named Desire. Her computer crashed the day before deadline and she lost all her work. She was awarded 0 and when she resat was awarded a third because it was her second attempt.Her case went all the way to the court of appeal, which said that Clark had at least an arguable case and that she should have had the opportunity to do better.
In 2002 a law student at the University of Wolverhampton put some of his newfound knowledge of contract law to the test, also suing for breach of contract. Mike Austen, a retired airline pilot, said the university had given an "inflated" picture of the course in its prospectus and that the quality of teaching was not up to scratch.
"The most laughable was a CD-Rom which the university published with a student saying: 'I was offered Oxford, I was offered Cambridge, but it had to be Walsall'," Austen said at the time. Less laughable was the payout he secured from Wolverhampton – £30,000 in an out-of-court settlement.In 2006 a Belgian PhD student claimed £3m from Oxford University for failing his thesis. George Van Mellaert said the examiners of his oral viva were "out to get him", that they grilled him for almost three hours and had great prejudice against him. He also claimed the examiners were inadequate and ignorant.
The court was less impressed with this claim, stating that "the claimant's thesis is a matter of academic judgment with which it would be inappropriate for the court to interfere".
I wouldn't be surprised if there are more of these claims to come. There has arguably never been a more dangerous time to do badly at university.
For example, teaching careers could soon be out of the reach of graduates with a third thanks to the prime minister's "brazenly elitist" stance on the subject, something which a recent study showed could wipe out as many as one in 10 current teacher trainees.Competition for places at university plus the shortage of graduate jobs and the general economic climate are all going to increase pressure on students.
The courts have already said they are willing to entertain these kind of claims, and what better way to clear those students debts than with £30,000 plus in damages?
Article by Afua Hirsch guardian.co.uk
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