University professional negligence claims – are they possible?

31st January 2015 by

Many students would like to sue their universities for what they might believe are marks which fail to reflect their academic merit. However, in reality, it is very difficult for a student to make a professional negligence claim against a university, not least because courts are loath to interfere with academic independence. Furthermore, it would be extremely difficult for courts to quantify losses in such cases as to do so involves calculating the likely sum of future earnings – an exercise which will prove largely speculative.

Complaints about universities

With the days of free education behind us and degrees in England costing as much as £9,000 an academic year, it is easy to understand why increasing numbers of disgruntled students are resorting to legal action and official complaints for what they perceive as the professional negligence of their universities.

For example, in 2006, the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) cleared the way for students to receive around £32,500 in compensation following complaints made to the organisation. Appeals heard included complaints related to degree results and unfounded allegations of plagiarism.

However, it should be noted that the adjudicator is not a first port of call for disaffected students – it is always advisable to first pursue the various internal redress channels available within a university before contacting an adjudicator or professional negligence solicitor.

In all but the most exceptional of cases, it is unlikely that professional negligence solicitors will be able to assist students in making a claim against a university for perceived “under-marking” of their work – the OIA remains committed to not interfering with the academic integrity of universities and courts maintain a similar position.

Sometimes, disputes are more personal than a simple case of student v institution – there are many instances of students feeling that individual teachers or academic staff may have acted negligently in the marking of their work. However, courts are unlikely to offer students favourable rulings in such cases – there remains, to some extent, a certain level of sanctity if not immunity when it comes to the academic decisions of teachers. Furthermore, all universities have their own procedures for ensuring the integrity of marking.

Professional negligence claims against universities

Despite the many provisos listed above, it is also true that universities as well as other further and higher educational institutions have a duty to provide students with a level of tuition which is adequate and reasonable.

If this standard is not met and it can be proven that quantifiable losses have arisen as a result, it may be possible to claim compensation.

However, professional negligence claims of this nature are less straightforward than those against other professionals such as accountants, architects, or barristers. For more information about our services and a discussion about whether we might be able to help you, please contact Healys LLP in Brighton and London today.