Universities Face Legal Action if Teaching Remains Virtual

22nd May 2020

Universities across the UK must continue to keep plans to deliver virtual-only teaching for the next academic year under constant review or face potential legal action from students, Education Law Solicitors have today cautioned.

The call to action comes after Cambridge University became the first institution to announce its plans to deliver virtual teaching for the next academic year; stipulating that it would be likely that social distancing would to be required.

And while Cambridge University has also said that it may be possible for smaller teaching groups to take place in person, within the measures set out for the full 2020-21 academic year, it announced that it will move all face-to-face lectures online for the duration.

A decision Education Law Solicitors say could be challenged if it is not kept under constant review.

Imogen Jolley, an Education Law Solicitor at Simpson Millar said,“The communication to date from Cambridge University seems to suggest that its approach to the Covid-19 crisis is very measured, in that they are simply putting a worst-case scenario contingency plan in place.

“However, the key here is that they must continue to review plans ongoing, and their students need to be front of mind when doing so from both a health and an educational wellbeing perspective.

“If we’ve learnt anything over the last few months it’s that the situation relating to Coronavirus is ever evolving, and we can’t assume that nothing will change between now and summer of 2021. Cambridge University need to be responsive to that.

“In addition, while Cambridge University may have given additional consideration to their approach to the pandemic given that the vast majority of students live on campus, this doesn’t give other educational institutions the right to simply follow suit.

“If others introduce a blanket online approach to a full year of learning which is considered not to be in the best interests of students, or where there is evidence to suggest that other measures could be taken to make the environment safe, they could find themselves facing legal action, let alone dealing with an onslaught of complaints regarding what people are really getting for their fees.” 

Imogen went on to say that while the initial response taken by Universities was considered necessary given the need for isolation and social distancing, they cannot assume that they can simply continue as they are.

She said, “Universities take the money of students in order to deliver a service. Like any businesses in that respect, they now need to take necessary action to make their ‘place of work’ fit for purpose for customers and colleagues.

“If they don’t, and if the quality of teaching suffers as a result of this, the students may have grounds to take legal action. We saw this previously when lecturers went on strike resulting in cancelled lectures and seminars and reduced access to support.”

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