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Friday, January 27, 2006

Contract Law: The Answer to Student Truancy?

The Oxford Student reports on a proposed “contract” which all students would be required to sign.  The contract would make attendance at "tutorials, classes and lectures" compulsory. According to the article, the students would have “to agree to the jurisdiction of the legal system over the agreement, enabling the university or college to take any student to court if they are deemed to have breached the contract.” 

The article reports:

A member of the law faculty, who wished to remain anonymous, said that he felt there was potential for litigation from students forced to sign the contract, due to the inordinate powers granted to colleges. “It’s not clear because it has not yet been tested in court, but a sizeable body of opinion would argue that the courts might take an interest in these terms being imposed upon students. There could be a future issue with litigation from students... they come off so weak in this contract,” he said. He emphasised that there had been a problem with presentation of the contract to students, but added: “there’s a real difficulty in tidying this up in writing...I’m not sure whether the EU would let the terms be set down in this way.” However, Dame Fiona Caldicott, chair of last year’s Conference of the Colleges and Principal of Somerville, said that it was unlikely colleges would refer cases to the courts.

Apparently, there is still wrangling over the wording of the proposed contract, with many arguing that the present language is vague.

It seems that the “student contract” is only reiterating attendance requirements for graduation which are set forth in the student handbook. Aren’t these provisions of the student handbook arguably a binding contract? If so, isn’t the “student contract” redundant of the handbook? Perhaps the students should just be required to sign a form acknowledging that they have read and familiarized themselves with the attendance rules set forth in the student handbook. An acknowledgment would look a lot less heavy handed on the part of the University, and it would eviscerate any argument of surprise when a student is not permitted to graduate for poor attendance at “tutorials, classes and lectures.”

[Meredith R. Miller]

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