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Group court action launched for students to claim compensation against the University of Sheffield over strikes

The university protest.
The university protest.
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A law firm has launched a group court action to enable students to claim compensation against the University of Sheffield for lost lecture time during strike action.

Lecturers completed the majority of 14 days worth of strike action in February and March in a row over proposed changes to pensions, and they are planning 14 more days worth of walk outs between April and June.

READ MORE: Sheffield lecturers strike to continue after talks break down

More than 100, 000 students nationwide have signed petitions protesting about the loss of hours of lectures, classes and library access funded through their annual tuition fees.

London-based lawyers Asserson has now launched a group litigation order, which is the way courts deal with claims involving hundreds or thousands of claimants.

The firm says it will allow each student to seek a tuition fee refund and is appealing for anyone interested to get in touch.

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They are planning to fund the claim through a specialist litigation funder, ensuring that there are no up-front costs for students to participate in the claim.

A spokesperson said: "A typical UK or EU student pays £9,250 in tuition fees per year. A typical university year consists of 25-30 weeks of teaching time, so the loss of 3 weeks of teaching is significant.

"It is intended to obtain third party funding to cover all legal costs so that students would not pay any of the legal costs of the group claim up-front. The funder would then be paid out of the compensation recovered. This is a common practice within group claim litigation.

"The claim is open to all students in the UK who have been affected by the strikes at the institutions at which they study, including UK students, EU students and non-EU foreign students, who are typically charged significant tuition fees."

The dispute centres on a proposal by Universities UK to end the defined benefit element of the Universities Superannuation Scheme pension scheme.

UUK said the scheme is in deficit and the only way to make it sustainable is to change it from a defined benefit scheme, giving members a guaranteed income in retirement, to a defined contribution scheme, where pensions are subject to changes in the stock market.

But members of the Universities and College Union insist the existing scheme is performing well and claim the new set up would leave a typical lecturer almost £10, 000 a year worse off in retirement.

A University of Sheffield spokesperson said: “The university is working with academic departments and students to minimise the potential disruption to those students affected and is developing contingencies to ensure students receive their educational programmes.”

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Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, added: "We share students’ concerns about disruption to their education and want to resolve this dispute as soon as possible. The best way to ensure no further disruption is for the employers to present an improved offer to staff."