The so-called “lockdown students” are seeking thousands of pounds of compensation each through group legal action, claiming they received a sub-par educational experience during the disruptions.
Leading solicitors are helping Student Group Claim members make their claims on a no-win, no-fee basis.
Letters have already been sent to 18 universities seeking damages on behalf of current and former students. These include University College London (UCL), London School of Economics (LSE), Kings College London and the Universities of Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Warwick and Cardiff.
If successful, UK students at university during the pandemic are estimated to win compensation of around £5,000 each, with international students potentially winning several times as much.
UCL was the first university to receive a letter of claim, in April. To date about 3,500 current or former UCL students have joined Student Group Claim.
Among them is forensic science graduate Jowita Maniak, who says she is unable to find employment inforensics because she failed to gain any practical experience during her course.
She told ITV: “I’m a Covid student and all my experience is from online learning and virtual crime scenes and virtual lab practicals. Unfortunately they won’t let someone like me onto real cases in real jobs”.
Former UCL student David Hamon, who spent £15,000 on his masters in international politics from 2020 to 2021, has also joined the action.
He told ITV: “There’s a reason online degrees are usually cheaper than in-person degrees. It’s because the experience is not equivalent, the tuition is not equivalent and the social experience is not equivalent - and because the costs are lower.”
The High Court will decide whether to issue a group litigation order for the first group claim against UCL on February 2.
UK students pay £9,250 per year for undergraduate courses and more for graduate courses, while international students pay up to £40,000 per year.
Student Group Claim says: “Students understand that universities sometimes had to close campuses and could not necessarily stop lecturers going on strike. However, students’ losses – the disruption to their courses and access to facilities – should fall on the shoulders of the universities, which can afford to bear that burden, rather than falling upon students who cannot afford to do so.
“Like any other consumers, they deserved compensation when they received substantially less valuable services than those for which they paid.”
Responding to the action, a UCL spokesperson said that during the pandemic the unversity “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,” the spokesman said.
“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.”