Student guide to industrial action

What are your rights?

All students have a contractual relationship with their university/college, which means they are protected by consumer protection law. This means that universities and colleges must continue to offer the service they have promised to students, even during periods of industrial action.

Universities and colleges must also continue to comply with the OfS’s conditions of registration during any period of disruption, meaning they must maintain the quality and standards of their courses.

The steps different universities and colleges take to reduce the impact of strikes or other industrial action will vary depending on the type of disruption, which courses or learning resources are impacted and other factors. You might expect your university/college’s response to include the following:

  • Your university/college should be proactive in resolving issues related to missed teaching. If teaching time is lost, it may be appropriate for catch-up teaching to be offered at a later time, missed course content to be delivered in a different way, or for partial refunds to be offered to affected students.
  • Your university/college should take steps to ensure that you are not disadvantaged in assessment by any disruption. It might be appropriate for coursework deadlines to be extended or moved, or for certain topics to not be examined if they have not been delivered in time.
  • Your university/college should explain clearly to you any changes made to how your course is delivered and how they will affect you. They should keep you informed of the impact of ongoing disruption and give you reasonable notice of any new arrangements.
  • Universities and colleges should consider the needs of all students in responding to industrial action, particularly those who may be more affected than others, or may have difficulties accessing replacement learning.

It is preferable for students and their universities/colleges to co-operate to resolve potential issues before they adversely impact students, while there is still time to make up for disruption. If you have concerns about your university/college’s approach, we have outlined the steps you can take in our page on what to do if you're unhappy with the impact of industrial action.

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) has produced FAQs for students which provides further information on how industrial action may affect your studies.

Under consumer protection law, contract terms which give unreasonable power to change what is offered are likely to be considered unfair. Your university or college should not try to rely on these contract clauses to limit their liability for missed teaching. The OIA has sometimes decided that this is unreasonable, where universities or colleges have sought to do this in the past.

You can find more information on consumer protection law in the Competition and Markets Authority’s full guidance on consumer rights for students, or the condensed summary

Published 09 November 2021
Last updated 24 November 2022
24 November 2022
Minor updates: changed 'providers' to 'universities or colleges', and link corrected.

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