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Uber offers UK drivers free college tuition with new loyalty program

A dashboard-mounted smartphone displays a map on the Uber Technologies app as an Uber X driver carries passengers in Frankfurt, Germany.
Alex Kraus | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Uber is rolling out its loyalty program out across the U.K., which will see drivers offered free access to more than 900 university degree courses.

The tech giant has partnered with the U.K.'s Open University to offer the study scheme, a reward that can be "unlocked" through the company's tiered loyalty program Uber Pro.

Participants who opt into the scheme who earn access to an undergraduate degree course can also nominate a family member to take part in the scheme.

Drivers will be able to unlock rewards based on the tier they're categorized into, with the four tiers being blue, gold, platinum and diamond. Categories will reflect drivers' status based on their loyalty to Uber, with higher statuses earned through actions such as completing more trips.

All drivers who opt into Uber Pro will automatically receive blue status, with diamond being the highest level.

To unlock rewards in the gold, platinum or diamond tiers, drivers will need to maintain a rating from passengers of at least 4.85 out of five, as well as a low cancellation rate.

Drivers will also earn points on each trip they complete during fixed three-month periods, with more points for trips completed during peak hours.

As well as the degree scheme, rewards will include free vehicle inspections, 24/7 roadside assistance and discounted gym memberships.

The Uber Pro scheme is already available in eight countries including the U.S., Brazil and Australia, and will be fully rolled out in the U.K. by January 2020.

"We want to do more to help drivers and their families build towards their future," Melinda Roylett, Uber's general manager for the U.K., said in a press release Thursday.

Uber is currently available in more than 40 towns and cities across the United Kingdom.

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More and more companies are introducing programs to help employees gain academic skills along with work. Earlier this year, Starbucks announced it would pay tuition for its U.K. employees to study online degrees at Arizona State University, expanding a program it had already introduced in the United States.

McDonald's also offers to pay for its U.K. employees to study toward business-focused degrees that will help them with career progression at the company.

Elsewhere, KFC has a program in the U.K. and Ireland that sponsors workers to earn a business management degree.

Fight for employee rights

Uber said in its press release that its drivers had welcomed the arrival of Uber Pro in Britain. However, its launch could raise eyebrows as the company continues to fight against legally classifying drivers as employees, which in turn is a fight against granting its drivers rights such as a minimum hourly wage and paid vacations.

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In December, the company lost an appeal against a 2016 ruling that it should treat its U.K. drivers as workers. Uber, which argues its drivers should be classed as self-employed, plans to take the case to Britain's Supreme Court.

The tech giant's pushback against the ruling led to drivers striking outside Uber's London headquarters in May ahead of the firm's IPO.

Uber is also facing a separate battle in the U.K. against transport authority Transport for London, which refused to renew its license to operate in the capital and granted only a two-month reprieve this week.

— CNBC's Ryan Browne and Elizabeth Schulze contributed to this article.

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