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Oxford University to face trial in £1m claim over ‘negligent’ teaching

In a landmark decision by the High Court, Oxford University will face trial in a claim for £1m compensation, brought by a former student.

Faiz Siddiqui (38) had studied modern history at Brasenose College over 16 years ago and alleges that a teaching shortage had meant that tuition was “boring” and “appallingly bad” and that he did not graduate with a first class degree as a consequence.

He claims that the ‘negligent’ teaching of a specialist subject, Indian imperial history, resulted in him only achieving a 2:1 degree, a result which he claims prevented him from pursuing a career as an international commercial lawyer, hence the  £1m compensation he now seeks in loss of earnings.

The University has acknowledged there had been difficulties with staffing during the period Mr Siddiqui was there but applied to the court to strike out the claim at an early stage in the proceedings on the grounds it had no merit.

In an unusually long 18-page judgment, Mr Justice Kerr rejected the university’s application to strike out the claim and ruled that there was in fact a case to answer and that it should go to trial as soon as possible.

In an interview with the Sunday Times, Professor Alan Smithers, an education expert at Buckingham University said: “This is a test case and in future universities will have to ensure that what they do stands up to critical inspection in the courts. In the past, universities have been quite cavalier about the quality of their teaching. If Mr Siddiqui wins, this will open the door to a flood of other students who do not think they got the degree they deserved because of issues about the teaching they received. “

Since the introduction of the £9,000 plus tuition fees, there have been a growing number of students complaining about the inadequate standards of teaching and poor pastoral support in universities.

The ombudsman for higher education, for example, received almost 2,000 complaints last year, many for disputed degree results. Nearly 25% of the complaints were upheld with universities being ordered to pay in the region of £485,000 compensation in that year alone.

Education Law solicitor, Angela Sandhal, commenting on the case said: “The case highlights the increasing confidence of students to be more challenging of the standards of education they are receiving in universities in a climate where tuition fees are the highest they have ever been.  The outcome of this case in particular, given the immense public interest, will be awaited with much anticipation and interest by lawyers, students and universities alike and may well result in more claims being brought.”

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