LONDON: Oxford University faces a landmark trial over a claim for $1.6 million compensation from a student who alleges “boring” and “appallingly bad” tuition cost him a first-class degree and robbed him of the high-flying legal career he coveted. The university had applied to the High Court to strike out the claim for damages by Faiz Siddiqui, who studied modern history at Brasenose College more than 16 years ago, arguing it was “hopelessly bad” and “time barred”. However, in an 18-page judgment, Mr Justice Kerr refused to do so and instead ruled that Oxford “has a case to answer” and that the arguments should be heard in a trial “as soon as possible”. If successful the case could open the floodgates to dozens of similar claims: growing numbers of students paying more than $15,000 a year are complaining about poor teaching, shoddy accommodation and lack of pastoral support.
Last year nearly 2,000 complaints were made by students to the ombudsman for higher education, many involving contested degree results, with an upper second now important to employment prospects. Nearly a quarter were upheld, with universities being ordered to pay compensation of $800,000. 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.” Siddiqui, 38, claims he would have had a career as an international commercial lawyer had he been awarded a first rather than the 2:1 he received in summer 2000. He blamed “negligent” teaching. Only one tutor was available to teach 16 students for a specialist Indian history paper. The tutor admitted his workload had been “intolerable”. The judgment revealed other students also complained about the quality of the Indian history course, a fact not known to Siddiqui for several years and undisclosed to him by the university. Oxford declined to comment.