Guidance for students affected by recent industrial action in relation to the USS pension scheme dispute
This note provides general guidance to students affected by the recent industrial action. A ballot of UCU members is taking place this week, with the possibility of further industrial action in some universities recommencing next week.
It is not for the OfS to get involved in the substance of this dispute. But we do have a clear remit to seek to mitigate the impact on students.
This note contains general guidance. We are not able to give advice to individual students.
Contacting your university
If you have had or will have your studies, assessments or other services disrupted, then you should contact your university in the first instance to discuss whether it is possible to make up for any lost teaching, and whether any other loss of services and support can be rearranged so as to minimise the disruption that you have sustained.
Where lost teaching has had an impact on assessments or other work that has had to be submitted, you may be able to submit a claim for this to be taken into account as part of the university’s mitigating or extenuating circumstances process. For instance, it may be appropriate to agree that deadlines for course work or dissertations should be extended. You should discuss this with your tutors or other university staff as notified by the university. Your student union may also be able to offer advice.
If you’re not happy with your university’s response
If the issue is not satisfactorily resolved, then you have the right to complain through your university’s complaints processes, and beyond that to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (‘the OIA’).
The OIA is an ombudsman scheme which looks at whether a higher education provider has fair procedures, whether it has followed those procedures correctly, and whether the outcome for the student is reasonable. The OIA has published useful guidance about its approach to complaints by students affected by the industrial action. There is no charge to students for lodging a complaint with the OIA.
Consumer Rights Act 2015
A summary of the position of students under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 provides clarification about the protection that might be available to students in these circumstances. It is general guidance and does not constitute legal advice to individual students, who are each likely to have different contractual arrangements with their universities depending on the requirements of their course, the extent of the disruption they have experienced, and their own individual circumstances. If you do wish to explore your legal options, you will need to take your own legal advice.
The OfS’ regulatory powers in the event of future industrial action
If the industrial action resumes in the future, then the OfS’ regulatory powers are likely to become relevant. Universities whose students access tuition fee and maintenance loans or Tier 4 licences (and that is likely to include all the universities affected by the strike action) will need to register with us over the next few months.
As part of the registration process, universities will need to demonstrate to us that in developing and implementing their policies, procedures and terms and conditions, they have given due regard to relevant guidance about their compliance with consumer protection law. If the industrial action resumes, we may therefore ask providers to explain how they have done this. We would expect to see that they have taken all reasonable steps to reduce the impact of the strike action on teaching, learning and assessment, and have communicated clearly to students what the impact of any industrial action will be, particularly in relation to exams and assessments.
Universities should make clear to students how they intend to avoid or mitigate the impact of the disruption caused by the strike action, and how certain groups of students, for instance international students, will be affected and what mitigations will be put in place. They should also make clear to students whom they should contact if they wish to discuss the impact of the industrial action on them and get advice.
Office for Students, 11 April 2018
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