'I want a refund': Students are suing their universities over disruption

"We are consumers, we are their customers. There's no other sector where you pay for a service, you don't get that service, and you have no right of appeal - you have no refund".

That's Milly White's take on her three years (at a cost of £9,250 each year) studying Criminology at the University of Liverpool.

At her graduation she made her feelings clear, walking across the stage with her gown held out to reveal a handwritten sign to the audience and academics saying: "I want a refund".

The 22-year-old has signed up to sue her university because of, what she describes, "not a single year of undisrupted teaching.

"My first year was entirely online, I was in my accommodation on my own pressing play on my laptop and watching, effectively, a YouTube video," the graduate told ITV News, describing the disruption caused by the Covid pandemic back in 2020.

"My second year, half of it was still online for my department - despite other departments in the university being back on campus.

"Since that, it's been strikes."

Milly graduated knowing what she got in her degree, but many of her classmates were handed an empty piece of paper on graduation day thanks to the marking boycott.

The dispute over pay and conditions meant course work and dissertations went unmarked for months, leaving many students without a mark at the end of their studies.

Some students graduated with blank degrees

While the marking boycott has now been called off, staff at 140 universities will strike for five days during Freshers' Week unless employers agree to discuss their demands.

New students face further disruption too, with the threat of further action this year and into 2024 until workers' demands are met.

Many students, like Milly, have used the public stage of their graduation to raise their grievances with their universities - and show solidarity with striking workers.

Graduates at Edinburgh University chanted "pay your workers" at a ceremony in July, and others have revealed messages of protest hidden within their gowns.

Milly says the fault lies with senior management at these institutions, "the people who make the decisions to give these unreliable contracts [and] poor pay".

At the end of it all, she says, "it's the students who suffer, through no fault of our own".

Students at the University of Edinburgh protest the experience they had. Credit: PA

ITV News approached the University of Liverpool with the claims made in this report, a spokesperson said: "We understand that the last few years have been difficult for students, with disruption and challenges caused by Covid and periods of sector-wide industrial action.

"We worked really hard during the pandemic to ensure that we continued to provide a high-quality academic experience, while also prioritising the health and safety of our whole community and following UK Government guidance.

"During the recent nationwide industrial action and marking and assessment boycott, we prioritised reducing any direct impact on those students affected, putting a number of measures in place, including assessment support."