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More than 100,000 students try to sue universities over disruption to their studies

More than 100,000 students are attempting to sue their universities over disruption to their studies because of the pandemic and strike action.

When COVID hit in 2020 much of students' learning went online, classrooms were shut, and social events cancelled.

Shannon Barnes, who is finishing her final exams at UCL where she studies physiology and is seeking compensation, said: "We were given a kit of weighing scales and an origami microscope and various simplified versions of equipment that you'd have in a lab, week on week we were told to do these simplified experiments from home, one of them was making a cake.

"Having had one year of fully in-person, seeing lecturers, completing practicals, going to tutorials, yet I'm going to come out of with a debt of more than £40,000 or £50,000, it just doesn't seem right."

Students who are unhappy with their teaching can complain directly to their university and then the Office for the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIAHE), who received a record number of complaints in 2022, and awarded more than £1 million in compensation.

Now students from over 100 universities are taking part in this "no win no fee" dispute and have joined group cases via StudentGroupClaim.co.uk to seek compensation of up to £5,000.

For international students it could be more due to the higher fees which they paid.

This legal action focuses on students enrolled during the pandemic, along with others who had learning affected by strike action by lecturers from 2018-2022.

The first case to reach court is against University College London (UCL), who say they followed UK government guidance and "ensured that a high-quality academic experience was provided to students".

They say going to court is premature and want students to go through their internal complaints' procedure and then the OIAHE.

But lawyers for the students disagree.

Ryan Dunleavy, a partner from Harcus Parker said: "We're arguing, like any other consumer and like any other person in this country, that they have article six rights which gives you the right to a fair trial, and we believe that fair trial should be heard in court."

At the hearing at the High Court, a judge will decide whether the students at UCL are allowed to pursue their claims in court.

If the claim against UCL is allowed to proceed, similar claims will be brought against other universities, therefore the outcome of Wednesday will set a precedent.

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'We are proud of how universities adapted'

It comes amid ongoing industrial action by the University and College Union, who are continuing a marking and assessment boycott over pay and working conditions, leaving many students across the country unclear if they will even graduate this summer.

Universities UK said: "The COVID-19 pandemic threw two years of unprecedented challenge at the higher education sector and our students, and we are proud of how universities adapted and managed in adverse circumstances.

"During some periods of lockdown, universities were not permitted to offer teaching and learning as usual, and instead universities adjusted quickly and creatively to ensure students could learn and graduate."

Professor Kathleen Armour, Vice-President (Education & Student Experience) at UCL said: "We recognise that for many students, the last few years have been a disruptive and unsettling time.

"During the COVID-19 pandemic, we followed UK government guidance and prioritised the health and safety of our community.

"Our lecturers and support staff worked tirelessly to make our campus and all UCL premises as safe as possible and ensured that a high-quality academic experience was provided to students.

"We have also been fully committed to minimising the impact of industrial action, to ensure students are not academically disadvantaged."