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SCA consumer claim puts Sydney Uni legal exposure at $20 million

A consumer claim for misleading and deceptive conduct brought by 138 Sydney College of the Arts students is ramping up, as Josh Wooller reports.

A consumer claim for misleading and deceptive conduct brought by Sydney College of the Arts (SCA) students has estimated the legal exposure of the University to be $4.1 million.

The compensation sought by 138 SCA students through the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) is based on the proposal to shut down the SCA’s Rozelle campus and change certain degrees, such as the Bachelor of Visual Arts.

The claim alleges students were led to believe that SCA would remain open at Rozelle until at least 2020 and that the cancellation of the merger between SCA and UNSW announced on 28 July amounts “effective acceptance” of unlawfulness.

The SRC legal service solicitor overseeing the action, Thomas McLoughlin, noted that up to 650 students could join the claim against the University, which would inflate possible compensation to just under $20 million.

He believes the action has “good prospects” or a “75 per cent chance” of receiving a favourable ruling in court.

It is unclear exactly how the compensation figure ($29,900 per student) was calculated, especially since the Heads of Agreement with UNSW was terminated, but the figure represents the maximum amount students can claim without being at risk of an order they pay the University’s legal costs should they lose. Since the claim may be limited to the disruption caused by the proposal itself, it is unclear whether this figure will eventuate.

The NCAT statement of claim alleges that the University of Sydney administration made attempts of “deliberate sabotage” in order to ensure the closure of SCA. It refers to the August 9 Draft Change Plan which cites the “falling enrolment numbers”, in spite of the fact that there was a “record number” of first year enrolments for the BVA as of November 2015, as alleged by the statement of claim.

Mr McLoughlin further noted that “the way the university has presented itself, indicates that it has an institutional commitment to winding down and closing the SCA”. In order for the claimants to “reconsider their direction”, Mr McLoughlin emphasised that the University administration would “have to set aside professional ego and baggage”.

A University spokesperson said to Honi, “The claim was received on Wednesday and is still being considered. Beyond that, it is not appropriate for the University to comment on a matter which may be the subject of court proceedings.”

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