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International firm first off blocks to build student group action over university strike

Goldwater: Enough cake for everyone to have a slice

A law firm is attempting to build a group action to win compensation for students who miss out on teaching time due to the ongoing university lecturers’ strike.

Asserson, a practice with offices in London, Tel Aviv and New York, yesterday launched its bid to create a group action – permitted by the Consumer Rights Act 2015 –  with a website aimed at students, universitycompensation.co.uk [1].

The strike has been against proposed pension changes that the University and College Union (UCU) contends will move its lecturer members from a defined benefits package to a defined contributions scheme, which is less expensive but riskier.

In the past month, lecturers have carried out 14 strike days in some 65 universities. Further strikes are planned if no settlement is reached.

According to newspaper reports, the teaching of up to 1m students has been affected and over 100,000 have signed a petition calling for compensation.

Shimon Goldwater, a dispute resolution specialist associate at Asserson, told Litigation Futures that he expected a sufficient number of students would be willing to spend “two minutes to register via our website – that’s literally all they have to do at this stage”, potentially to qualify for “hundreds of pounds of compensation” at no risk to themselves.

He added: “The reason I’m confident we are likely to get that is that more than 100,000 students have signed petitions saying they want compensation and a petition doesn’t get you any money.

“Almost all universities have responded to those petitions by saying ‘we won’t be paying any compensation’.

“So if people are prepared to spend time filling in a petition which has next to zero chance of getting them compensation, my view is they will be prepared to spend the time filling in the form on our website.”

The claim will be brought on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis, and Mr Goldwater said his firm had been speaking to a litigation funder – “one of the big players” – which was “very interested” and to TheJudge as a broker.

He anticipated other firms would attempt to build similar actions, but that with the large number of students potentially affected, “there’s enough cake for everybody to have a slice”.

He said he would not be surprised if there were “four or five different group claims” in the end.

He said the firm had informed the National Union of Students of the claim and would be “very happy if they wanted to recommend a group claim to their members. So too with the UCU”.

Mr Goldwater said the 14 days of strike so far was significant: “You normally have 25 to 30 teaching weeks per academic year in the average university, so to lose three weeks out of 30 is [a lot].”