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Education is a huge financial investment, and at its fundamental core, the business model fueling most universities and colleges is to provide education and facilities in return for a fee. Therefore, from a legal perspective, a student is in contract with their college, as a form of consumer contract – whereby the college is the provider of education and the student is a consumer of said education.
Historically, this dynamic has not felt so ‘student friendly’ where students have seen themselves as empowered consumers with legal rights, in a contract with a service provider – and that has served colleges and universities very well. Indeed, due to the fiercely competitive process involved with applying for a prestigious course and the relief at being accepted; students often forget they are consumers with legal rights.
Universities and colleges are powerful and somewhat insular entities; they have their own codes of conduct, academic rules and regulations, membership rules and so on. Whilst they are often self-regulated, to the point that internal matters such as disciplinary action and academic appeals are handled within the academic institution – it’s easy to forget they are still governed by the laws of the land and are in a somewhat onerous contract where the student is an often inexperienced and comparatively vulnerable ‘purchaser’ of education from an almost omnipotent supplier.
It started in the law schools
In recent times universities and colleges have hit the headlines as they are being exposed for “pushing their weight around” by students (particularly law students) that are becoming more and more empowered to take on their academic institution in a legal context. There are more and more lawsuits being made against universities for causes of action ranging from inequality (i.e. discriminating against someone with a disability) to breach of contract (i.e. not fulfilling their end of the bargain) and misrepresentation (i.e. misrepresenting a particular course).
The power shift in education to the students
There seems to be a power shift in education, where more and more students are becoming independent litigator’s; and whilst some cases are clearly arising from a bruised ego or personal vendetta against an academic institution, many cases are being treated seriously and awarded significant damages within the courts.
Before going any further, please note this article is not written by a legal professional and should not be relied upon, or considered to be legal advice. If you are in a situation that requires legal advice you should consider booking an appointment with a qualified school lawyer who is licensed to offer legal advice tailored to your specific situation and circumstances. This article is merely a commentary on the power shift that is taking place within education.
The institution held all the power
Once upon a time, as represented in films such as Patch Adams, it was the institution that held all the power – and whilst prestigious institutions retain a huge amount of power over their students… today, with the rise in litigation and much more empowered consumers, academic institutions are having to start to tread much more carefully.
Indeed, students are often made to feel like they have to go through the correct hoops, as if they don’t there will be severe academic consequences – often feeling like they are having to tread on eggshells in a state of tension as deadlines loom; yet, today, academic institutions are starting to feel the same state of tension and feeling of walking on eggshells as so many disgruntled students are now turning to the courts as empowered consumers of education.