Law student who alleged university failed to deliver proper standard of tuition fails in ‘breach of contract’ claim

A law student who refused to pay his tuition fees after alleging that the university at which he was studying failed to deliver the standard of education and service he expected has had a “breach of contract” claim dismissed.

Lihe Liu claimed that one of his lecturers at Glasgow Caledonian University spent half of his lectures “cracking jokes” and “deliberately marked him” down in an exam, but judges in the Inner House of the Court of Session upheld the decisions of a sheriff and sheriff principal that the defences lacked sufficient relevant and specific averments.

Lady Paton, Lord Drummond Young and Sheriff Principal Pyle heard that the appellant, a fast-track LLB student, argued that the pursuers were in breach of contract because the services he received were “nothing close to the contents and standards of a degree course” he expected from them.

The averments relied upon by the appellant related to one of the lecturers spending half of his time at lectures cracking jokes.

Further, the lectures were said not to come “close to the contents and standards of a degree course that the defender expected from the pursuers”.

The defender also relied upon an incident of an “angry exchange” between the defender and that lecturer taking place on 1 July 2009.

It was said that the tutor shouted at the defender “there’s going to be trouble” for him and later said that the student had an “unfortunate history of making false and vexatious claims”.

There was a further claim that the lecturer “deliberately” marked down the defender in his criminal law and evidence examination papers.

The student also averred that the pursuers failed to provide a reference for him for the purpose of enrolling at the Law Society’s training programme.

He also alleged that there was an attempt by the University to prevent him from obtaining an entrance certificate, or at least that there were actions and/or inaction on their part which resulted in delay in the entrance certificate being obtained.

The sheriff and the sheriff principal held that the defences did not disclose sufficient relevant and specific averments of a breach of contract on the part of the pursuers, but counsel for the appellant challenged their findings.

However, the appeal judges were “not persuaded” that either the sheriff or the sheriff principal erred in their conclusions and therefore refused the appeal.

Delivering the opinion of the court, Lady Paton said: “Allegations about the deliberate marking down of a student, or attempts to prevent (or delays occurring in) that student obtaining his entrance certificate, are very serious matters. These are matters which, in the academic world, would have grave repercussions.

“Accordingly, careful and full specification would be required in order that fair notice could be given to the university in preparation for the proof. There is no such specification.”

In relation to the angry exchange, the judges noted that this was one exchange with one lecturer out of several in the course of a two-year degree, and therefore that one incident on its own was “quite insufficient and irrelevant” to constitute a breach of contract on the part of the pursuers.

The averments relating to failure to provide a reference were also considered “inspecific and irrelevant”.

In relation to the allegation about “one lecturer spending half of his time at lectures cracking jokes”, in the judges’ opinion that was “insufficient” to found a claim of breach of contract in the delivery of a whole university course.

Finally, on the claim that “nothing close to the contents and standards of a degree course that the defender expected from the pursuers” was delivered, the judges again found that the claim lacked specification.

Lady Paton continued: “That averment, in the context of the academic world, is a serious allegation and would, in our opinion, require careful and thorough specification to disclose in what way the course, or that particular subject in the course, failed to come up to the contents and standards of a degree course such that either the defender (or indeed anyone in legal academe) would deem it inadequate, and in what respect.

“So averments relating, for example, to the content of the syllabus, proposed course, or outline of lectures or seminars, as compared with the tuition given, would be required to support such a serious allegation. As with previous matters, there is no fair notice given in the pleadings.”

She added: “In the result, having carefully considered the submissions made to us and the pleadings, we are not persuaded that either the sheriff or the Sheriff Principal erred in their conclusions. We refuse the appeal to this court.”

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