Case Study 77
Issues: Three year deadline
S complained that the University had misled him regarding module options. As a result, S had to study an additional module, paying a further module fee, following the completion of his course in order to achieve upper second class honours in a subject specific qualification.
The University did not have complete records of the advice given to S regarding module choices, including the advice for the module that was key to the decision not to award the higher classification.
S only found out about the issue of complaint shortly before the complaint was made when he was told that the module choices had caused them to be ineligible for a subject specific upper second class honours degree.
The OIA decided although the events took place over three years ago, our usual period for excluding complaints due to the age of the issues.
The OIA suggested to the University that, in the light of the lack of records revising advice available to S, a reasonable resolution of the complaint would be to offer S the remedy he was seeking, namely a waiver of the module fee.
The University accepted the OIA's suggestion and the complaint was resolved on this basis. The University was pleased to resolve the complaint amicably by making this offer to S.
Case Study 76
Issues: Fitness to Practise, Hearings
S was registered for a Nursing Diploma. During S's studies the local Social Services contacted the University raising concerns over S's fitness to practise due to a matter they were considering relating to S's personal life. The University considered the concerns under its fitness to practise procedure and consequently withdrew S from his studies on grounds of fitness to practise.
S complained that the University had not followed its procedure in considering his fitness to practise, that the process was subject to potential bias, that S was not allowed to attend and present his case to a fitness to practise hearing and that the decision made was unreasonable as it was not supported by the available evidence and was made based on assumptions, nor did it consider the mitigating factors S had presented in writing.
The OIA considered that the University had followed its fitness to practise procedure correctly save in one respect: it failed to add new members to the Appeal Panel.
However, the University's procedure did not require it to hold a hearing which the student could attend in determining issues of fitness to practise. The OIA considered that this process was not fair and reasonable. S should have been able to attend a hearing before his fitness to practise was determined given the seriousness of the allegation and the importance of the decision. Furthermore, S disputed the allegations, which had not been proven in previous disciplinary or legal proceedings. It was not sufficient to allow the student to make a written submission in these circumstances.
The OIA recommended that the University offer to convene a fresh Panel with no prior knowledge of the matter to assess S's fitness to practise. Our recommendation required the University to offer to hold a hearing which S could attend to determine his fitness to practise. We also recommended the University offer to compensate S £500 for the distress caused to him by the procedural unfairness we had identified. It was not appropriate to award a higher sum because the outcome of the second fitness to practise panel was far from certain.
The OIA also recommended the University review its fitness to practise procedure to ensure students are offered a hearing where the specific allegations giving rise to the fitness to practise proceedings have not been admitted by the student, or conclusively established, for example through disciplinary proceedings involving a hearing, or criminal proceedings.
Case Study 75
Issues: Extenuating Circumstances
Outcome: Not Justified
S was terminated from her course after repeatedly failing assessments. After receiving her results she appealed this decision on the grounds that her performance had been affected by difficulties in her personal life.
The University's regulations stated that if a student appealed their marks on the grounds that their performance had been affected by extenuating circumstances, they had to demonstrate a valid and over-riding reason why they had failed to engage with the University's extenuating circumstances procedures at the appropriate time.
S stated that she had not disclosed these matters to the University previously due to embarrassment, concerns about the University's ability to maintain confidentiality, and because her mental health prevented her from understanding that she should engage with the University's procedures.
The University rejected S's appeal and S brought a complaint to the OIA.
The OIA determined that:
- Universities normally do not accept embarrassment as a reason for failing to disclose extenuating circumstances and we consider this to be reasonable. In this case, the University had advertised a number of ways in which a student could limit staff knowledge of their circumstances while still having them considered – but there was no evidence that suggested that the student had made any enquiries about the matter at the time.
- S submitted anonymous, unsubstantiated, claims about the actions of an unnamed lecturer with respect to that lecturer's alleged breaches of confidentiality a number of months previously. No details were provided which might have allowed the University to investigate the claims, nor was any complaint made at the time of the alleged breaches. The student had not previously made any enquiries to discover who would have access to the details of claims of extenuating circumstances. The University did not accept S's claims to be sufficient to over-ride her responsibility to engage with its extenuating circumstances procedures, and we considered this to be reasonable.
- S claimed that her mental health had prevented her from thinking clearly and understanding that she should engage with the University's extenuating circumstances procedures. The OIA considered it reasonable for the University to expect the student to provide independent evidence from a medical professional to confirm her claims, but S failed to provide such evidence.
The OIA considered that it was reasonable for the University to conclude that the student did not demonstrate a valid and over-riding reason why she had failed to engage with the University's extenuating circumstances procedures at the appropriate time and therefore it was reasonable for the University to reject her appeal.
Case Study 74
Issues: Academic Appeal; Eligibility Appeal
S was studying a Medicine and Surgery undergraduate course. She failed a final year clinical examination and complained that extenuating circumstances had not been fully taken into account.
The university regulations allow students to submit an Academic Appeal, an Academic Complaint or both in relation to academic concerns. S pursued both routes.
The university dealt with the academic aspects of S's appeal within the Academic Appeal process and referred a subset of issues to the university complaints procedure. The same documentation was used for both processes. The university issued separate Completion of Procedures letters at the end of each process.
S complained to the OIA.
S submitted her complaint to the OIA three months and nine days after issue of the earlier Completion of Procedures letter, covering the Academic Appeal. S argued that since the Academic Appeal and the Academic Complaint were related it was reasonable to wait for the completion of both processes before making a submission.
The OIA considered that the complaint was ineligible under the rules of the scheme because the Complaint Form was received late. S appealed to a member of the Approval Team.
The Approver ruled that, in the circumstances of this case, there was good reason to allow an extension of the three month deadline, under Rule 4.2 of the scheme.
In this case the issues raised in the Academic Appeal and Complaint were so closely related that it was reasonable for S to assume that the university internal processes were complete only when both processes had come to an end.
Case Study 73
Issues: Theft; Rule 3.5: Not affecting the complainant as a student
Outcome: Not Eligible
S was registered on a Foundation degree in Business and Management.
His bicycle was lost from a cycle rack outside the University library. S's representative complained to the University which did not accept liability for the loss, and asked for proof that the bicycle had been stolen. He complained further about communications received from the University, which the representative interpreted as implying that the University did not believe S's claim that his bicycle had been stolen.
S believed that his performance was affected by the stress of losing his bicycle and by the fact that this increased his journey time.
S complained to the OIA.
The OIA considered that the complaint was ineligible under Rule 3.5 of the Scheme because the matter complained about did not materially affect the complainant as a student. The substance of S's complaint concerned the way in which the University had responded to the theft of the bicycle and did not relate to his experiences as a student.
S had the opportunity under the University's regulations to submit a claim for extenuating circumstances if he felt that his academic performance was affected by the loss of the bicycle, but did not do so.
The University regulations made it clear that the University cannot accept responsibility for bicycles that are left on University premises.
S's representative appealed to a member of the Approval Team, and the decision was upheld.