Students voice dissatisfaction with strike complaints procedure as October 31 deadline looms.

Students have voiced dissatisfaction with the University of Sussex’s strike complaints procedure.

The students claim that the compensation form is difficult to access and fill out and that their compensation awards have not been proportionate to the disruption they experienced.

This comes after strike action by the University and College Union (UCU) which saw lecturers and other teaching staff at The University of Sussex, and 64 other universities, cancel a combined 14 days of teaching.

The strike action, which concerned pensions under the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), was called off in April 2018 after proposals put forward by Universities UK (UUK). The UCU estimates that over 1 million students were affected by the strikes.

A University of Sussex spokesperson said: “The University is not paying compensation or refunds, since we are confident that the mitigating actions we put in place enabled students to meet the learning outcomes of their degrees.

“We recognised however that the national industrial action caused some students distress and/or inconvenience, and we therefore set up a scheme to make ex-gratia payments with respect to this distress and inconvenience.

“So far we have processed payments for about 2,500 students and are currently considering 600 other forms.”

Currently, Sussex students can apply for compensation using the University’s online complaints procedure.

To access the form, students must navigate to the ‘complaints and appeals’ page of the university website. The form can also be found by searching for ‘complaints’ on the university website.

An email from Vice-Chancellor, Adam Tickell, was sent to all students in June 2018 and included a link to a complaints page, informing students on how to make an industrial action complaint.

The form requires several details from students including module information, attendance records, and a description of teaching missed due to the strike.

Students are also required to self-select the impact they believe the strikes had on them ranging from ‘minimal impact’ to ‘major impact’.

Module codes can be found under ‘student details’ on Sussex Direct.

Students are expected to give their own statement regarding their attendance but a record can also be found on Sussex Direct.

The online scheme, which opened to all undergraduates from July 13, is due to close on October 31 2018.

The scheme will remain open for Masters dissertation complaints until January 31 2019.

A University of Sussex spokesperson told The Badger that individual payments have ranged from £50 up to £130.

Ross Britain, a Sussex student, claims the compensation scheme was poorly advertised by The University, saying: “I received £130. I’m happy with the amount, it is more than I thought I would get…

“My main problem was the lack of advertisement of this. I only found out after it was mentioned in a MA WhatsApp group and [it] seems most people were kept in the dark about the matter.

“I think it should have been advertised to all current and recent graduates…”

Emily Zolkower, who is an international student, received £130 in compensation from Sussex University.

Ms. Zolkower explained her reluctance to appeal the amount and has expressed the alienation she felt during the strike: “the amount of details they asked for in the first round was pretty extensive and I didn’t know if I could provide any more than what they originally asked for.

“Plus, I was pretty skint at the time (I had just started a new job and hadn’t been paid yet) so I just took the £130, but I felt like the school didn’t care… I’m an international student paying my tuition with a student loan from the states… But I felt like, especially for international students, we didn’t have a voice through the whole thing.

“The professors weren’t behind us after the strike even though we supported them… I’m still glad I supported the strike, I’m just really disappointed at how it was handled afterwards.”

Róisín Ní Chionna is waiting for a response from The University after submitting their claim, they told The Badger “I heard about the compensation from a classmate but have yet to hear back from the university if I will receive any, despite sending off the form over two weeks ago…

“They [the university] can’t just brush it off now the industrial action has finished.”

Holly Dalgleish has also told us she submitted her form two weeks ago and is still waiting for a university response. She said: “To me, £130 doesn’t seem enough…”.

The complaints procedure advises students that replies can take up to three weeks.

Katie Fowler sent her form in at the beginning of September and has also received £130.

“I do not feel that this is merely enough… Out of the £9,250 we pay each year, what I received back was pennies…” she said.

Serena Vaughan was satisfied with the amount she received, telling us that she “sent the form off about a month ago.”

“I received £80 in compensation and[sic] which arrived in my account in ten days. I think the compensation was necessary…” she told us.

“Until we received compensation we were essentially paying money for nothing without having the staff be supported.

“The £80 wasn’t a bad amount to receive as only one of my modules was really affected”, she added.

Some students have sought alternatives to internal, university complaints procedures, finding outside legal assistance for their compensation claims.

Over 6,000 Students from a number of UK universities have signed up to a joint claim fronted by the law firm Asserson.

214 Sussex students have joined the claim, the ninth largest group of students.

Universities with the most students taking part in the joint claim include Nottingham, Durham and King’s College London.

Shimon Goldwater, a senior solicitor at Asserson, suggested that institutions with around 20,000 undergraduate students could pay £10 million each in compensation based on an individual award amount of £500.

The Independent estimated that the claims could cost individual universities up to £20 million.

Students taking part in the joint claim include those from the UK as well as EU and non-EU students. Compensation is not guaranteed and legal fees may be deducted from claimants in the event of compensation.

In a study earlier this year, The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and Advance HE found that the majority of students surveyed did not feel they were getting value for money at university.

Image Credit: Garry Knight

Extra reporting by Danielle Ball.

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