The students who want their money back

By Ollie Smith Journalist,
Emma Bentley Filmmaker,
and Alpha Kamara Filmmaker

Thousands of current and former students want refunds from universities because of time lost to strikes and the impacts of Covid

We spoke to current and former students across the UK about their experiences

Students have lost a lot of in-person teaching in the last few years.
Since 2018, there have been 52 strike days called by the University and College Union (UCU).
The most recent strikes in November 2022 were to ask for higher pay, more secure contracts, and better pensions.
The strikes affected various universities and students differently but many lost a lot of teaching hours. 
During Covid, many university buildings were closed and lots of teaching moved online. 
All this means many students had a different experience to what they may have expected.
Some students have been successful in getting some money back from their universities. Kareena, who studied Law at the University of Kent, told us she got a refund of about £50.
We went along to one of the picket lines at the London School of Economics (LSE) in November to chat to students and lecturers about the strikes.
The striking university staff were keen for students to ask for refunds from the university for any teaching time lost.

Two law firms have launched a service to try and win money back for students for strikes and Covid conditions

Harcus Parker and Asserson law firms have created Student Group Claim. The group says it's signed up nearly 20,000 students and has sent letters to 18 universities.
The group estimates that domestic students at university during the pandemic could get around £5,000 back with international students perhaps getting more.
It’s no win, no fee, so they only charge the students if they win them money back. In this case it’s up to 35% of whatever they win.
There’s going to be a court case in 2023 to decide if the lawyers can represent students collectively against University College London (UCL). If they’re successful, there could be more cases. We’ll update on that when we know more.
The group says millions of students could benefit from this and claims it could cost universities hundreds of millions if enough students won money back.

What do the politicians and universities say?

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Robert Halfon is the politician responsible for overseeing universities

Before the November strikes, we asked the government what they thought about the strikes and students seeking compensation.
The politician responsible for overseeing universities, Robert Halfon MP, told us that:
“It is hugely disappointing that students who have already suffered during the pandemic face further disruption to their learning due to industrial action.
“I urge all sides to work together so that students do not suffer with further learning loss, and I encourage any student worried about the impact of strikes on their education to raise this with their university.”
The government told us that students with complaints should contact their university first. But, they can also raise complaints with the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) which is free for students.
You can find out more about that here.
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We reached out to UCL, LSE, Kent and Newcastle because the students we interviewed for this article studied at those universities.
University College London sent us this response to the legal action: “During the Covid-19 pandemic, UCL prioritised the health and safety of our whole community and followed UK Government guidance. Our lecturers and support staff worked tirelessly to make our campus and all UCL premises as safe as possible and ensured that a high-quality academic experience was provided to students.
“Throughout, we kept all our policies and procedures under constant review and introduced an emergency no detriment policy and package of support to aid our students’ wellbeing and academic progression.
“We are also committed to minimising the impact of industrial action, to ensure students are not academically disadvantaged and are able to complete their studies and graduate on time.”
LSE, Kent, and Newcastle haven't commented yet but we will update this article if they do.