Can you get a tuition fee refund if your course is not working out as you expected? The answer to this is maybe, but it will depend on the circumstances of your case. There is no blanket entitlement to compensation or a partial refund if your course has moved online, or if the University have had to make changes to the way they teach or assess certain elements. If, however, the University are making significant or surprising changes and/or are not providing you with a service that is of a reasonable quality, you may start to have a case.
Your ability to claim compensation, or a partial fee refund, comes in most cases from your contract with the University. Although not everyone sees it this way, your relationship with the University is essentially a contractual one and, as you are an individual agreeing a contract with a business, it is a consumer contract. This is important because it gives you additional rights under consumer protection legislation.
One of the most important pieces of legislation in arguing a fee refund is the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (CRA). The CRA says that the University
Must provide their service with reasonable care and skill;
Are legally bound by any information they give you that you rely on when deciding to enter into the contract, or rely on when making decisions during the contract. This includes anything said and anything written (though verbal promises are very difficult to prove if they are denied later).
Cannot rely on any variation or exclusion clause to limit or exclude liability for either of the above points.
Cannot enforce any terms that are legally deemed as unfair.
If the University breach the contract, the CRA says that you are entitled to
Repeat performance at the University’s cost, provided that it is possible for the University to do so within a reasonable time;
A reduction in price. In practice this means a proportionate refund, depending on the seriousness of the breach. It can be a full refund if the breach is serious enough and repeat performance is not a realistic option.
So, if the University promised you one thing and have delivered something very different, or have delivered what they promised but in a poor way, you may be able to argue a claim.
Importantly, the University are able to make reasonable adjustments or changes to your programme, provided they maintain the quality of the teaching and do not deviate from the very essence of what they agreed to deliver. It can be a difficult to judge the difference in quality between face to face and online teaching and/or to prove that your learning experience was less than expected, so you will need to get as much support for your argument as you can.
The first thing you will need to do if you are having issues with the quality of your teaching, is submit a complaint using the Student Complaint Procedure. If you are looking to claim money from the University you will need to make sure your argument is as strong and as compelling as possible. You will also need to get as much evidence as possible to support what you say. Do some research, find the learning outcomes for your programme and identify any that are not being met. The learning outcomes for your programme are available through SIMS online and set out what you should know, understand or be able to do when you have completed a learning activity or your programme of study. Look at the University’s obligations under your contract and identify where they have failed (further information on this point is available on our Student Consumer Contract page).
The University will normally want the opportunity to put things right in the first instance and are likely to ask students to wait until the end of the academic year before trying to assess any right to a partial refund. While waiting until the end of the year for a financial assessment may be a reasonable request, you will still need to submit a complaint to report any issues as they arise. A failure to report issues at the time may give the impression that they are not serious enough to warrant a complaint, which can work against you in the end.
Be sure to keep a copy of everything you submit and continue to gather evidence of issues as the year progresses. If the issue(s) are affecting more than just you, you can consider forming a group and submitting a group complaint, which in some cases can give more weight to your argument.
If you are not happy with the complaint outcome you can request a review and ultimately take it to the ombuds body, the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA), or even make a court claim for money back.
Further information on your rights and how to exercise them are detailed on the following Student Advice pages:
Student Adviser | Cynghorydd Myfyrwyr
Student Advice are a free, confidential and independent service available for students of Cardiff University. We are independent of the University and our role is to give you impartial advice and guidance and help you understand the options available to you.
Contact Student Advice
+44 (0)2920 781410