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Eversheds education sector - experience

Litigation and dispute management experience in the education sector

We have a strong and dedicated litigation practice for education clients. Our specialist lawyers understand the particular concerns which arise in institutions, including reputational issues and commercial concerns. Proactive, accessible and responsive, our litigation team provides a value driven, effective service.

Whilst our expert litigators and arbitrators provide first-class and robust action when it is called for, we also remain a pragmatic and relationship-orientated team focused on achieving the right outcome for our education clients whether that be through litigation or through alternative forms of dispute resolution such as mediation.

We pride ourselves on delivering prompt, commercially focused and tailored advice based on a comprehensive understanding of the institution, its strategic objectives and our unrivalled sector knowledge. We also work with institutions to identify trends and learning points arising in a matter to see how future disputes may be avoided (e.g. through training and review of processes).

Our lawyers are fully aware of the latest issues your education institution faces. It is our dedication to the education sector, and the knowledge of what really matters to our clients, that makes us different.

We have extensive experience of working alongside legal teams, across the whole range of potential disputes. Our experience includes claims in relation to

  • Supplier relationships and procurement processes; 
  • Issues with funding and accreditation bodies; 
  • Personal injury and public liability claims which are not covered by insurance; 
  • Negligence claims, particularly from students and arising out of breaches of statutory duty; 
  • Fraud and other financial disputes; and 
  • Defamation and reputation management.

We recognise that claims may vary in terms of value and complexity. We appreciate that control of cost and outcome are of critical importance to you. We can deliver much greater certainty in relation to claims and litigation through the use of a system, RAPID, which has been developed over a number of years by consulting extensively with our clients and through independent research. RAPID focuses on measurable results and cost predictability, giving you control of the entire litigation process. Our aim is always to help you manage your budget effectively.

Our specialisations

Reputational issues

Digital media and the exponential growth of social media have increased the variety of ways in which an institution’s reputation and the privacy of individuals can be attacked - often repeatedly, anonymously and from various sources. If material is posted onto the internet it can remain there indefinitely, causing ongoing damage unless action is taken. We have a wealth of experience in providing timely, strategic and decisive advice and action where an institution’s or individual’s reputation requires protection. We have acted for many institutions assisting them to protect themselves, their staff and students, from harassment, breach of privacy/confidentiality and defamation.

Judicial review

We have seen a steady rise in the number of judicial review applications being made or threatened against institutions. Such challenges can be time-consuming and costly for institutions to deal with even where the challenge is successfully dealt with at an early stage. We have assisted a number of institutions in dealing successfully with judicial review challenges including in respect of planning, procurement and student decisions. Institutions from time-to-time may also wish to explore the possibility of raising procedural complaints (for example, in respect of the outcome of inspections or reviews) against sector bodies such as the QAA or funding councils. We have assisted a number of institutions in considering the potential for challenging decisions made by sector bodies such as the QAA, HEFCE and the UK Border Agency and helped institutions to balance the legal merits of such potential claims with wider strategic concerns such as the need to maintain positive on-going relationships with such bodies.

Student challenges

Institutions across the sector are experiencing a rise in the number of student complaints. Whilst only a relatively small proportion of complaints take the form of court proceedings, in our experience the number of court claims threatened and issued by students is increasing and we fully anticipate a continued rise in light of the evolution of the fees agenda and the increasing focus on the student as consumer. Litigants in person can present particular difficulties and we have vast experience and expertise in assisting institutions with a wide variety of student challenges brought through the Courts, for example, in relation to claims for discrimination, breach of contract and misrepresentation, negligence and judicial review. We assist institutions to deal proportionately with student-related issues as they arise and not precluding, where possible, ongoing relationships with individuals after graduation as alumni and benefactors.

Disputes with partners and suppliers

From time to time, institutions will become embroiled in disputes with partners and suppliers. In these situations, we are able to deliver prompt, commercially focused and strategic advice. In some instances this will involve robust legal action and, in others, an approach which aims to preserve the relationship between the parties (e.g. with funding bodies and collaborators). Where it is required, we are able to call upon the expertise of our international offices to assist in cross-jurisdictional matters.

Fraud

The discovery of fraud within an institution can not only damage its reputation but shake the confidence of its regulator, lenders, shareholders, employees and students. Unless the response is swift and uncompromising, it can become progressively more difficult to restore faith, trace lost assets and bring the perpetrators to justice. Our combination of criminal, regulatory and civil fraud expertise is a formidable resource for clients requiring assistance with concurrent civil, criminal and regulatory issues. We work closely with our clients to minimise the impact of fraud on their business and maximise the prospect of asset recovery, including losses from overseas jurisdictions. We can trace and recover funds by using the courts to obtain disclosure from financial institutions and others, and can freeze bank accounts and other assets both in the UK and worldwide.

Recent experience

Examples of our recent experience include:

  • Acting for an institution in securing an injunction to prevent the publication of a salacious story already in the hands of newspapers. 
  • Acting for one of the awarding bodies for GCSE examinations in successfully opposing a judicial review challenge of its decision to change the grade boundaries in the GCSE English examinations. The claim was brought by a consortium of over 300 Claimants and involved expedited proceedings in the High Court. 
  • Acting for an institution restrained by an injunction obtained by over 50 international students following its decision to remove them from its course and revoke their Tier 4 status. 
  • Acting for an institution which had been the victim of a substantial and long-term fraud. Our team advised on the regulatory, reputational, civil recovery and criminal issues arising from the fraud and worked with the institution to minimise its impact and maximise the prospects of recovery through civil proceedings, freezing injunctions and asset tracing.

What people say about us

Head of department Diane Gilhooley is "absolutely superb" and "her responsiveness is phenomenal," according to sources. She is highly experienced in complex litigation cases.”

Chambers and Partners

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