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Peer proposes student refund scheme in response to strikes

Image: Chris Parr for Research Professional News

Money saved from not paying striking lecturers should be used to reimburse learners, says peer

The money saved by universities from not paying striking lecturers should be used to refund students, the House of Lords has heard.

Guy Mansfield, a Conservative peer, raised the idea during questions in the chamber on 16 March, as he pointed out that universities were not paying lecturers on strike days.

“Could those monies not be used by way of restitution to the students and might not the Office for Students recommend that course, and perhaps students could start issuing proceedings in the small claims court on a pro rata basis?” Mansfield proposed.

Diana Barran, representing the government in her role as parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Department for Education, said she was “very happy” to take the recommendation to the OfS.

Other peers also queried why refunds had not been given to students over strike action, which has affected UK campuses for the past five years.

“Normally, when an organisation provides a service for a fee, it has to refund part of that fee if it doesn’t provide the service,” said crossbench peer Richard Gilbey. “Why is that not the case with the universities?”

In response, Barran said students could make complaints to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator—which received 2,760 complaints from students during 2021, the latest year for which figures are available—and that the government “hopes” universities will respond by providing the required education.

Fresh pay and pension offers

University staff made a breakthrough yesterday in their current months-long dispute with employers during which lecturers have gone on strike over pensions, pay and working conditions.

The University and College Union said employers had agreed to put forward a set of proposals and that the offers would be reviewed.

Strike action—which is ongoing today—is currently set to continue tomorrow and into next week, but UCU members have been asked whether they would “stand down” action to formally consider the offers.

George Foulkes, a peer in the Scottish Labour Party, said it was “about time” that the government accepted responsibility for the industrial action taking place.

“The government plays a role,” he said. “Surely the government sets the whole legislative framework in which universities work and the whole financial arrangements under which universities operate.”