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Student Complaints

Student complaints following industrial action and COVID-19 during 2019-20

The University is aware that many students were affected by the industrial action that took place between November 2019-March 2020, and the impact of COVID-19 during Lent and Easter Term 2020.

Although in both circumstances the impact was sector-wide and related to decisions made outside the University, the University sought as far as reasonably possible to mitigate the effects of the strike and COVID-19 on its own students’ education by, for example, re-arranging lost teaching where possible, moving teaching online, modifying examination assessments where appropriate (while maintaining academic standards) and providing pastoral support and guidance where requested.

In addition, students have been encouraged to apply under existing processes for review or appropriate allowances if they believe their performance in examinations has been adversely impacted by the industrial action or COVID-19.

In the circumstances and having reviewed matters carefully, the University is not planning to provide a fee refund or financial reimbursement generally to students for any specific missed teaching sessions. The factors taken into account by the University in reaching this position include the following:

  • As a result of the steps taken and processes available to avoid substantial detriment to students, the University anticipates that few (if any) students will in fact have been materially disadvantaged as a result of the industrial action or COVID-19.
  • Tuition fees are charged for a wide range of educational functions and learning opportunities, which are provided by the University and do not directly correlate to individual teaching sessions, including specific contact hours that may have been missed as a result of the industrial action or the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  It is noted that most facilities normally provided in-person have, where possible, been successfully moved to online systems including library resources, student counselling and disability resource centre provision. 
  • In many cases, the terms of admission, which students agree when they accept a place at Cambridge, includes a clause which states that the University will not be liable for matters outside the University’s control, which explicitly includes strike action, pandemics and restrictions imposed by government or public authorities.

However, there may nevertheless be some students (for example, students who have incurred actual and significant financial loss or damage as a consequence of the industrial action or COVID-19) who consider that they have valid ground(s) for complaint against the University. In the event that any student, having taken into account the factors listed above, still wishes to bring a complaint in relation to the industrial action or COVID-19, a dedicated complaint form has been developed for use under the existing Student Complaint Procedure. If students wish to complain about any adverse effects on their examination results then an examination review request must be submitted within 28 days of receiving their formal results.

Should any complaint be upheld, and where the requested remedy is for the reimbursement of tuition fees, Home/EU students whose tuition fees have been paid by the Student Loans Company should note that any reimbursement is likely to be expected to be paid to the Student Loans Company.

The deadline for bringing complaints under the Student Complaint Procedure is normally 28 days from the date of the event which is the subject matter of the complaint. In order to ensure clarity and fairness in relation to any complaints brought in respect of the industrial action and/or COVID-19, the time limit for bringing such complaints will run for 28 days from the Monday following the scheduled date for General Admission 2020, meaning that such complaints must be submitted (to StudentComplaints@admin.cam.ac.uk) on or before Monday 27 July 2020.

As with any other complaint, it is expected that a complainant will have first raised their concerns directly with the relevant Department or Faculty at the time of the events giving rise to the complaint.

It should further be noted that, while the University in principle accepts group complaints in certain circumstances, such complaints are unlikely to be suitable in relation to the industrial action, unless the individual complainants share the same year and course group and are requesting the same remedies on indistinguishable grounds. The University reserves the right where appropriate to combine individual complaints or to separate group complaints.

Further information regarding the Student Complaint Procedure is available here. Advice specific to COVID-19 is available from the OIA (Office of the Independent Adjudicator) and the OfS (Office for Students). In addition, any prospective complainant is encouraged to seek support from a member of the Students’ Unions’ Advice Service, or other advisor of the student’s choosing. As ever, advice and support will be available from a College Tutor.