Introducing the litigious student
In recent years, across a number of countries, there have been occasional court cases involving actions brought by students against their universities. Where such claims concern services and facilities or the like they will not raise specific higher education questions. However, in a recent English case a student who had failed her exams claimed that this was the responsibility of the university, and that her failure was due to the inadequate support she had received. She claimed damages based on her assertion that the university had been ‘clearly negligent’.
The court did not accept her case, and the judge, Burnett J., ruled that she simply lacked the necessary aptitude, and that the university could not be held responsible for this.
It is of course important that universities should offer appropriate expertise and support to students, but this should not become a matter for courts to determine. At this current time funding cuts are placing major additional pressures on universities, and if this continues it is not impossible that such pressures will produce at least some reduction in student support. However, the social contract between universities and their students is to teach them and provide them with the best possible learning opportunities; it is not a guarantee of the student’s success, however, nor could it be. It was important that the court reinforced this point.
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