The first law firm to announce its intention to build a group action on behalf of students affected by the university lecturers’ strike says it now has enough claimants to apply for a group litigation order.
London firm Asserson said it now has more than 1,000 students signed up and claimed universities could pay £10m each in compensation.
But it said it needed several thousand more students to ensure that the claim was adequately funded.
The firm said the claim would likely be for breach of contract to seek damages for lost teaching time.
While some universities have clauses in their contracts with students excluding liability for loss caused by strike action, “under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 Asserson considers that such exclusion clauses could be ruled void”.
Senior solicitor Shimon Goldwater said: “No other service provider would get away with charging for 25 weeks of a service and cutting that to 22 with no price reduction. There is no question that universities owe students fair compensation.”
“If the class action is accepted, universities would pay out millions of pounds. Over 20,000 undergraduates attend each large UK university. Paying approximately £500 compensation each to 20,000 students would cost £10m.”
The firm claimed that, while universities have saved millions of pounds by withholding salaries from lecturers for days they were on strike, so far, no university has offered to pay any of that money directly to students affected by the strikes, with some universities suggesting the money could be spent on general services for students.
Mr Goldwater added: “Many students do not view this as acceptable, and want to receive direct financial compensation.
“With the University and College Union estimating in March that strike action affected a million students, with the loss of 575,000 teaching hours that will not be rescheduled, we’re expecting a surge of sign ups over the coming weeks.”
The firm said it would also consider a group complaint to the Independent Adjudicator – the quasi-regulator of the higher education industry.
“But the adjudicator has limited powers to force universities to compensate students and its powers have never been tested in respect of ‘recommendations’ to pay millions of pounds in compensation.”
Some 13% of the students signed up so far are at Kent University, the largest group so far, while 27% of sign-ups are overseas students.
Leigh Day is also looking to build a group.