The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper

Law firm encourages students to take legal action against UoM

Solicitors at Asserson believe that students have a case against the university, and that it’s the only viable way to get compensation for missed lectures

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Asserson law firm is compiling a group court action against all universities which were affected by University and Colleges Union (UCU) strike action in February and March 2018.

Shimon Goldwater, senior solicitor at Asserson, stated: “for any hope of fair compensation for lost teaching time, students need to go to court.

“The stakes are much too high for universities to give in to petitions or letters.”

Asserson intends to make a Breach of Contract claim against the pre-92 UK universities. They claim 1,000 students have already signed onto the action, and aim to obtain the support of around 20,000 students across the country.

“Going to court is a last resort, but in this case, it seems that the students who lost teaching time have nowhere effective to turn other than to the law.”

Goldwater told The Mancunion the assertion that universities are only contractually obliged to provide students with a degree is “ridiculous”.

He said that students are promised an education, and that if universities break that promise, exclusions from liability clauses in their contracts can be ignored — making them liable for financial damages.

University contracts contain what are known as ‘force majeures’, which, in effect, free the university from liability of contract breaches in cases of industrial action. Goldwater told The Mancunion that he intends to “draw a red line” through this exclusion clause by accusing the universities of negligence.

The University of Manchester did not wish to comment on how they would respond if legal action was eventually brought against them, nor on whether or not they thought Asserson had a strong case against them.

Students can join the group for free here.

Asserson is a dispute resolution specialist law firm. The firm recently helped a group of green energy companies recover £60 million in damages and costs from the UK Government in a Human Rights Act claim, the largest sum ever recovered in such an action.

On Monday, Professor Clive Agnew, Vice-President of Teaching and Learning, said, “we have taken advice on this and the contract is to deliver a degree, that is the focus.”

Agnew’s statement sparked anger from students, as he then allegedly refused to answer if the contract was not also to deliver an education.

Vice-Chancellor Dame Nancy Rothwell addressed the outrage at a student meeting for the School of Biological Sciences on Wednesday, the 18th of April: “I apologise, that’s a complete misinterpretation.”

She clarified: “the bit about ‘not education’ was not added by the speaker, it was added by someone from the audience. What we were trying to say… contractually we are not required, nor do we necessarily say: you have a contract promising 20 lectures. You know, in other words, one year you might get 18, and the next year you might get 22.

“That’s the point being made. The contract is to give you an education that will lead you to a formal qualification… I admit that it got taken out of context and so on”.

The Vice-Chancellor also explained the university’s position on student and staff compensation.

She claimed that calculating student financial loss “would be off by 100 per cent” because of variations between courses.

When asked if it could be calculated individually per programme, she said: “no… Impossible”.

Rothwell stated it would be difficult to compensate striking staff because: “you have to ask about the fairness of people going on strike and not being at work, and those that chose, you know, taking that hard decision which was hard, and being at work.”

Rothwell was faced with heated exchanges at student meetings throughout the week.

When confronted by a compensation activist from the Take Action! campaign on Wednesday, Rothwell said brusquely: “we do not treat your education as a business. Don’t put words in my mouth.”

Take Action! is a student-led campaign on the University of Manchester campus demanding financial compensation for lost teaching time.

Dorian Loetzer, a Take Action! lead organiser, told The Mancunion: “this has been an interesting and insightful week for students. As a group, we try to attend all the meetings held by university management, so we can get a better picture to feed back to the larger student body.

“The [University’s] statements have said more through implications than actual content, building towards a narrative that seems more concerned with keeping students calm than providing satisfying results.

“We posit that students cannot (nor should they be expected to) bring forward solutions when they are not given the information necessary to provide said solutions.

“We will continue to pressure the university for concrete answers through all avenues available to us, including working together productively with the SU.”

The Students’ Union held an open meeting at 1pm in Academy 2 on Thursday 19th April in which students were able to ask questions about what course of action is being taken post strikes. The Take Action group made a clear commitment to working with the Union on any steps that are to be taken next.