The UK is a world leader in Higher Education, but is currently experiencing severe commercial and workforce challenges due to the impact of ongoing global competition, as well as COVID-19 and Brexit. This has required Higher Education Institutions to establish strategies to face these issues.
With over 2.38 million students* (480,000 from outside the UK) now classed as consumers, there is increased need for HEIs to provide continued quality of education, whilst demonstrating value-for-money. This is all happening against a backdrop of increased regulation, funding cuts and pressure on tuition fees.
Through our client relationships, which have included various successful secondments to university in house legal teams, and our involvement with key Higher Education sector bodies, we have developed a comprehensive understanding of the evolving challenges facing Higher Education. We apply this knowledge to the way we deliver legal services to our clients.
Our team of specialist Higher Education lawyers work with a growing number of universities and HEIs, including members of the internationally renowned Russell Group as well as dynamic new universities and colleges. We provide well informed, pragmatic legal solutions, whilst delivering excellent value for money. Our support and guidance includes advice on:
- Brexit and wider industry related issues
- Commercial & corporate law including as regards operations overseas
- Dispute resolution and student complaints, including as made to the OIA
- Education law including student disciplinary and academic misconduct processes
- Consumer law, including in relation to pre-contract information and the student contract
- Reasonable adjustments and the Equality Act
- Estate management, property and construction: including acquisitions and major development projects and construction dispute resolution
- Governance & charity law
- Employment, HR, pensions, and immigration
- Information Law, including GDPR
- Medical ethics
- Subsidy control
- EU procurement and tendering
Approachable, knowledgeable, committed and effective advisers offering a consistent and excellent service.
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*Source: HESA Student Record 2019–20
We regularly advise Universities on student related complaints and claims and acted on behalf of the University of Oxford, in a claim brought to the High Court for damages by Faiz Siddiqui, who sought £1m from the University for failing to award him a first class degree. His claim alleged “negligently inadequate teaching" which affected his overall grade and a "marked deleterious effect" on his subsequent career. We successfully defended the claim on behalf of the University.
Recovery of funds
Working on behalf of a group of HEIs, we aided the recovery of their wholesale deposits from the failed Icelandic banks between 2009 and 2015 and the sale of their residual ISK in 2019/20. This included advice on their eligibility for FSCS compensation; entitlement to compensation from the Icelandic Deposit Guarantee scheme; and dealing with the banks' administrators in the UK and Iceland, including representing their interests on creditor committees.
Advising a university on gender pay gap and equal pay concerns. We advised a university on how to tackle systemic pay differentials in its professorial group – female lecturers tended to be paid less than male colleagues. We advised on strategies for removing the pay gap in a legally safe way, in particular to avoid potential equal pay claims for historic differentials and mitigate the risk of complaints from certain male employees.
Brexit immigration implications
We provided a leading London university with a bespoke series of briefings to their EU and EEA national employees on the legal implications and options arising from the Brexit vote. This included a summary of the EU law framework supporting the principle of free movement of workers; the current immigration status of EEA nationals in the UK; forecasts of the potential impact of Brexit on immigration law; the Government's latest proposals; and the steps that EEA nationals can take to obtain greater legal protection at this stage.
Subsidy Control (previously State Aid)
Our Subsidy Control team supported a university in-house legal team on the implications of grant funding, obtained via the Local Growth Fund. The funding enabled the redevelopment of a part-owned university site, and legal advice was required on the enhancing of a proposed flood alleviation scheme - being prepared by the Environment Agency; residential accommodation; and the refurbishment of a run-down industrial estate to create an attractive venue for high-end research.
Construction and Real Estate
We provided a Russell Group university with advice on its potential claims for defective works by a contractor to one of its Grade II Listed buildings, design issues in the heating systems in a newly constructed student accommodation and a claim for damage as a result of a flood during works to construct a new science facility.
We have also assisted a major university on the acquisition of an extensive hospital site with multiple occupiers, which involved complex overage provisions and leasebacks.
We assisted a university on a number of research funding issues, including grant funding for research infrastructure which would also be open to use by third parties, and business incubator units to foster the relationship with the local research based entrepreneurs, and develop the local economy, as well as providing an outlet for academic staff to test ideas in the context of commercial opportunities.
We are currently advising a number of HEIs on the consumer rights law implications of changes to course content and delivery to distance learning as from September, taking into account recent Government and OfS Guidance prepared in light of COVID-19.