Anglia Ruskin University has been instructed to pay £61,000 in compensation to student Pok Wong, essentially for being shit. Although to be fair £46,000 of it was for legal fees, so the court estimates only about fifteen grand’s worth of shitness. And there go the floodgates – there’s now a dangerous but justified precedent for universities having to do more than offer pie crust promises in return for sky-high costs.
Having written about it when it all kicked off over a year ago (https://edducan.com/2018/03/12/sour-grapes-legitimate-grievance-or-poor-decision-making-how-one-student-sued-her-university-for-60000/)I was firmly in support of Pok Wong’s legal action – for too long and too often middling universities have promised the world and delivered at best a small principality. That said I also suggested that personal agency should have a stake in decision making, something that seems to have eluded Ms Wong, to believe the promises that ARU make about being world class is to have ignored any and all literature about them written by anyone other than them.
ARU continue to deny any wrongdoing and being as this was an out of court settlement it doesn’t mean that legally speaking a precedent has been set but it does send a clear message that vexatious students who struggle to get graduate level jobs after graduation – which and let’s be clear here amounts to about a third of all graduates in the UK – could go after their Alma Maters to grind that axe.
In 2017 alone, the Advertising Standards Agency upheld complaints against six universities – Leicester, East Anglia, Strathclyde, Falmouth, Teesside and the University of West London, it rightly asserted that universities making claims about their status and prestige had to be able to prove those claims.
Pok Wong fell for the blurb in their prospectus that their business school was ‘a renowned centre of excellence’ and students would be ‘well equipped’ for jobs, moreover the careers advice department wasn’t fit for purpose (sound familiar?) with a notable absence of ‘strong links with employers or access to a wide range of graduate opportunities.’ That was her mistake and perhaps ARU did nothing wrong beyond putting a shiny bowtie on the turd that is their uni but in a competitive market place in a market economy, institutions have to be able to sell themselves, but as crucially, the customer, sorry student, has to apply some critical thinking.
Tellingly the university’s insurance company’s lawyers didn’t argue that they weren’t in fact shit but rather that the claims made in the prospectus did not constitute a ‘real’ contract with their students and consequently she should not be refunded.
So, where does all this leave us? Probably no where different to previously – Pok Wang is back in Hong Kong, presumably incapable of getting a job if her complaint is to be taken seriously, she has £15,000 to show for a year long legal battle which will offset maybe a couple of semesters of the cost of having gone to uni in the first place, a pyrrhic victory at best but certainly a fight worth fighting. I don’t imagine it will massively change uni’s practices but hopefully it will give them pause enough to think twice before lying to students about what a degree from them will or won’t do and who knows maybe somewhere in the bowels of schools it will resonate enough to make over zealous progress mentors see the alternative, less costly routes as equally valid.