Lessons from our higher education webinar
Back in June, we co-hosted a webinar on emerging risks in the higher education sector. With the help of our claims partner Gallagher Basset, and insurance risk and commercial law firm BLM, we looked at some of the new challenges universities are up against.
One of the topics we covered was student consumerism, and how growing expectations from students are putting added pressure on universities to deliver value for money.
Read on to get a summary of the key issues we touched on and enjoy a short clip of the webinar at the bottom.
Student consumerism: Feeling the weight of expectations
Roll back to a time where tuition fees didn’t exist and students’ attitudes to their university education were very different to how they are today.
At virtually no cost, university felt like the sensible next step for school leavers. Enrolment was high and courses were easy to fill, and institutions were regularly having to turn people away.
But with very little to lose financially, students were often accused of being apathetic about their education. They were more likely to miss lectures, preferring instead to take full advantage of the new and exciting social life university had opened up for them.
Today, it’s a story very much flipped on its head. With tuition fees now standing at £9250 a year, the stakes for students are much higher. They want to know they’re getting value for money and demand the education they receive meets their rather lofty expectations.
It’s getting harder for universities to handle. Funding was already tight before the pandemic hit, so they now face an even tougher uphill struggle delivering what students believe they deserve.
And in an age where society is much more litigious, universities are seeing an upsurge in claims made against them. Add Covid into the picture and the potential for claims to start to rise is clear to see.
The situation in April 2020 was disastrous for universities and never something they could’ve prepared for. Almost overnight, they had to adapt almost all of their courses to work online.
But the time it took for each university to do this differed, and some dissatisfied students claim their university didn’t act quickly enough.
Then there’s the question of quality and whether students should pay the same fee for an online course that, in their eyes, didn’t deliver the level of education they’d hoped for.
Courses with a practical element, for example, have been impossible to teach. Social distancing measures have kept medical students out of labs, and it put them at a significant disadvantage.
If universities leave these skills gaps unfilled, it could come back to haunt their reputation further down the line and even have an impact on their funding or research grants.
Work placements are another contentious issue. Some students pick a specific university base on its connections to work placements they’d like to pursue. But with Covid making these opportunities out of the question, they could expect the university to compensate them for not fulfilling what was promised.
Even when universities gave special dispensation during Covid it backfired on them. Some lecturers reduced the word count on essays and dissertations, believing it would ease a bit of pressure. But when students didn’t manage to attain the grade they wanted, they’d argue they weren’t given enough words to develop the argument.
The institutions that manage these claims best are those that think defensibly. Universities need to have a clear strategy in place to manage student expectations. Key to a successful strategy is having a detailed prospectus that clearly outlines what the student can expect from their course and making those documents easily accessible. Both digitally and as a hard copy.
Watch John Roberts from BLM cover the specific claims in more detail
Here’s a short clip from the webinar where Partner at BLM John Roberts goes into more of the legal details on the types of claims universities are having to protect themselves against.
Published date: 27th August 2021
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