Class action

Here’s a thing to gladden the hearts of my lawyer friends. Let’s say you’re a student and you’ve just got your exam results. You didn’t do as well as you were expecting. But you’re made of tough stuff and get on with your life. Some years later you think, hang on, if my result had been a little better I’d be a lot richer now. So why not sue the university and let them make up the difference in money.

As I suspect many readers of this blog will already know, that is not a far-fetched scenario. Pretty much exactly that happened in the case, now before the courts, brought by Oxford University graduate Faiz Siddiqui. He graduated in 2000 with a 2.1 in modern history. He went on to become a solicitor, but thinks he could have been a high-flying commercial barrister if he had got a first class degree. He values the difference in income to him at £1 million, and he has sued the university for that sum.

In fairness, there are some issues of concern worth mentioning here. It is admitted by the university that the quality of education in his course may have suffered, mainly because in one key module the availability of staff that year had been compromised by sabbatical leave. The university’s defence does not appear to be that nothing untoward happened, but rather that it happened too long ago too be a legitimate subject-matter for litigation now.

Of course this case raises all sorts of issues. Is the difference between a 2.1 and a first really £1 million in income? Do we think and agree that the primary value of a degree is measurable in pounds, dollars or euros? What kind of legal (as distinct from moral and educational) obligation does a university have regarding the quality of its courses? How can a court judge whether the degree classification of a university is appropriate?

It is expected that the High Court will issue a decision in this case before the end of the year. The judgement will provide us with a whole new insight into the relationship between higher education and the law, and indeed into the legal relationship between students and their universities. The impact could be huge.

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5 Comments on “Class action”

  1. Vincent Says:

    I suspect the HC will come down on the side of the universities. But that will be a mistake. For more and more the universities are treating their students as customers and clients not fellow members of College. Businesses really.

    • Vincent Says:

      Ohh FYI. If money didn’t matter, meaning a trading transaction why would you send the sprogs to fee schools
      The IT

    • I’m not sure I quite follow your argument, Vincent. If the court decides in favour of Mr Siddiqui, it is then that we’ll be fully in a seller-and-customer relationship, because that essentially is how he defines his case.

      • Vincent Says:

        Yes, I hope that it does, but I think it won’t come down on Siddiqui’s side, for I think a crisper delineation will be better in the long run. All it will take is one class action organized by the SU or some such and the payouts will bankrupt institutions.
        And even if the HC strikes this, the price of a degree means it’s far from the last.
        Further, I don’t think there’s much doubt that the very wealthy see education in terms of seller customer. And get better outcomes partly as a result of this.

  2. John Bradley Says:

    Local authorities in England faced a similar issue when some very determined specialist solicitors brought ‘failure to educate’ cases on behalf of dyslexic pupils about 20 years ago. In many of the cases the arguments were similar to those being made here. ‘If you had done a better job teaching me I would have had a more successful adult life/career.’ In those cases I followed, the courts generally seemed to make quite sensible and measured judgements. They set the bar quite high for proof of ‘failure’ by the schools. At the time there was a fear that this would become a flood tide of litigation but it never really materialised. I think students and pupils should have recourse in the face of blatantly poor and unprofessional treatment. However the link between a failure by an educational provider and lifetime outcomes for the student is too weak to suggest that large financial payments are justified.

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