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MIDLAND & NATIONAL: Student contracts come under fire.

Byline: By Shahid Naqvi Education Correspondent

Oxford University's plan to get students to sign contracts promising they will work hard were criticised by Midland universities yesterday.

Warwick University said fear of unemployment after graduating was more a motivation for students than a "piece of paper telling them to do their homework".

And Aston University warned the contract, believed to be the first at a British university, was likely to prove "difficult to enforce".

Oxford announced it was going to get students to sign legally binding contracts requiring them to attend lectures and tutorials.

The move is prompted by concern that undergraduates paying raised tuition fees of pounds 3,000 a year from next September will in turn be more demanding of services they get.

Oxford University believes the contract will protect it against the threat of a growing litigation culture among under-graduates who get poor results.

But Peter Dunn, communications director for the Coventry-based university, said: "Students these days know they have to work hard because the employment market demands it.

"It is not like it used to be where you would be guaranteed a job. They have to come out of university not just with a degree but a damn good degree and an interesting CV."

Mr Dunn also warned drawing up contracts for students to sign could end up back-firing on universities.

"Contracts work both ways," he said.

"Universities requiring them to sign such contracts will have to promise something themselves."

David Packham, secretary-registrar of Aston University, said institutions were entering a new era of potentially less harmonious relationships with students.

"Because of variable fees coming in this year we are very conscious that we have to be very clear what we say to students in terms of what we deliver both academically and in other services," he said.

"If you are paying pounds 3,000 a year and facing a debt of pounds 20,000 on graduating, you are going to make damn sure that the expectations the institutions give you will be delivered.

"All of us are concerned that there is going to be a much more litigious background. If we don't deliver there is the possibility they will take legal action against us.

"That is what is behind the Oxford move, but personally I think it will be difficult to enforce."

There are signs that students are already becoming more willing to sue universities they believe are failing to deliver following the introduction of tuition fees in 1998.

Four years ago the University of Wolverhampton paid pounds 30,000 in an out-of-court settlement to a student who claimed breach of contract.

He complained lecture halls were overcrowded and assignments set by tutors contained grammatical errors.

But Wolverhampton last night ruled out bringing in student contracts.

"We do not have any plans to follow Oxford's example," said a spokesman.

Oxford University's agreement commits students to attend lectures, write essays and pay tuition fees.

"It is intended as a template which has been recommended to colleges. The colleges aren't under any obligation to use it," said a spokeswoman.

"Students are expected to do a minimum level of study.

"In turn, colleges are expected to provide a minimum level of care and teaching."

shahid_naqvi@mrn.co.uk
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Feb 1, 2006
Words:540
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