Universities and the Duty of Care

Universities and the duty of care

A recent tragic case highlighted the lack of a statutory duty of care owed by providers of higher education to their students.

Natasha Abrahart, a student at the University of Bristol, suffered from social anxiety and took her own life on the day she was due to give a presentation to hundreds of fellow students.

A judgement was made against the University, finding that it had breached the Equality Act 2010 by failing to make adequate adjustments to enable Ms Abrahard to participate in the course.

The University appealed on the grounds that it was a “core competency of a professional scientist” to be able to “explain laboratory work orally, to defend it and to answer questions on it”. The appeal failed, however, the judge who heard it did not overturn the ruling made previously on a separate point, that the University did not have a duty of care towards Ms Abrahart, while acknowledging that this issue is one of potentially wide application and significance.”

The legal position therefore remains unclear, firstly as to whether or not universities owe a duty of care, and secondly, if they do, what that duty is, and what level of care is required. The Government has so far declined to legislate on the issue.

The increasing concern about mental health is not an issue specific to universities. However, a recent study in The Lancet found that students are more at risk of depression and anxiety than their peers who go straight into work. This contradicts the notion that students’ difficulties are a reflection of wider social trends.

While higher education institutions remain strongly resistant to the implementation of a properly codified, statutory explanation of a legal duty, campaigners continue to call for a statutory duty of care.  This would provide much needed clarity for Universities and staff with regard to their legal obligations, as well as clarity for families and students about their legal rights, and what they are entitled to expect.

Feel free to contact our solicitors if you are also in a situation where you need legal advice regarding the duty care that may be owed by your employer.

We can be contacted 24 hours a day.
Our Reading Head Office address is:

Davidson House
Forbury Square
0118 914 5622
07850 952245