Older Case Studies

We review each complaint individually on its own merit. Any similarity between complaints does not mean that our Decision, or any Recommendations we may make, will be the same.

Case Study 72
Issues: Service Issues; Group Complaint
Outcome: Settled/Justified

Summary:

Summary:

In the final year of a course, the course leader went on long term sick leave and eventually did not return to the university. The cohort was dissatisfied with the course delivery and a meeting was held with staff and student representatives. The cohort submitted a group complaint to the Department. One of the cohort, the Complaint Representative, met with the Head of Department and the Dean to discuss the complaints. The Department also responded in writing setting out the steps taken to address the situation. A number of the cohort remained dissatisfied and escalated their complaint to the University. The University decided that  all reasonable steps had been taken to minimise the impact on the student experience and that the level of support was appropriate. The University said it had engaged replacement teachers, provided additional classes, assigned staff to produce handbooks when it became aware of the handbook deficiencies and that the quality issues in relation to one module had been referred to a wider review by the Department. The University therefore deferred consideration of a request for compensation for that aspect until the wider review was complete. However, no compensation was offered to the group.

Seven of the cohort submitted a group complaint to the OIA about inadequate equipment, lack of feedback, lack of advertised modules, tight deadlines for assessments due to staffing issues, incomplete handbooks, inadequate steps taken to address staff absences, reduced contact time with replacement staff, delayed start to a module which impacted on later assessments.

At the start of the OIA's review, one member of the cohort settled their complaint with the University on the basis of an ex gratia payment of £500. The OIA continued its review into the complaints of the remaining six complainants. In its representations to the OIA, the University said that the course had been withdrawn and the course staff were no longer employed by the University but that the terms agreed with the departing staff prevented the University from providing further details to the OIA. The University said that the issues leading to the staff departures related to the issues raised in the group complaint.

Reasons:

It appeared that the University provided limited information due to the confidentiality restrictions with exiting staff. Consequently, the OIA was not persuaded that the University had shown it had properly investigated the complaint or how it determined that all reasonable steps were taken to minimise the impact on the student experience. The OIA considered that the provision of services fell short of that promised and would have impacted on the student experience. The OIA emphasised that it had not commented on the University's academic judgment that the replacement services were of a suitable standard.

Recommendations:

  • The University should offer each of the remaining group members the sum of £1,500 for the disappointment, distress and inconvenience experienced in relation to the service provided by the University - this falls within Level C of the distress and inconvenience awards in the OIA's approach to remedies and redress.

Case Study 71
Issues: Coursework submission
Outcome: Justified

Summary:

Summary:

S's mark for two pieces of coursework was capped at 40% on the basis that it had been submitted late. S disputed that the deadline of 14:00 had passed at the time she, and two other students attempted to enter the hand-in room. S stated that she and the other affected students were at the back of a group who all arrived at the room at the same time. The front half were able to enter the room, but due to space limitation she could not. The door to the room was then closed and as the students preceding her were allowed to leave the room, S was informed that she would need to place her work into the late submission box, completing an extenuating circumstances form if necessary.

S submitted a complaint, which was rejected. She was advised of the availability of a stage three submission on limited grounds, and alternatively the availability of the academic appeal process. S submitted an academic appeal on the grounds of a material and significant administrative error or other material irregularity in the conduct of an assessment. Her appeal submission included a statement from a student already in the hand-in room at the time, stating that S was shut out of the room prior to 14:00. The University rejected the appeal on the basis that a radio-controlled clock was used by staff to determine the time, and further that staff had been told to allow any student approaching the room at the deadline to enter. The Completion of Procedures Letter also stated that two members of staff had provided statements to the effect that the door was not closed early.

S made a complaint to the OIA.

Reasons:

Statements from members of staff submitted by the University were post-dated, and the two statements taken at the time were unavailable.

Whilst the University had highlighted guidance given to staff regarding students approaching the hand-in room at the time of the deadline, this did not constitute evidence that the guidance was followed in this particular case. Therefore, neither party could provide indisputable evidence as to what occurred and the most suitable forum to test the reliability of the evidence available would have been an appeal hearing.

The penalty was harsh in light of the lack of appeal hearing.

Recommendations:

  • University to reconsider S's profile with the marks for the two modules uncapped.
  • University to advise the OIA whether this could be achieved by Chair of Examination Board action, at the next Examination Board meeting or by another mechanism.

Case Study 70
Issues: Academic Misconduct
Outcome: Justified

Summary:

Summary:

S was found guilty of academic misconduct following an anonymous 'tip-off' to the University that S had purchased/commissioned a piece of work. S had already received an award from the University and, in addition to a penalty, the Panel recommended that the award should be revoked. It also recommended that S's conduct should be investigated under the University's Fitness to Practise regulations.

S appealed against the panel's decision and attended an Academic Misconduct Review Panel which rejected her appeal. S subsequently withdrew from the university before the completion of the Fitness to Practise investigation.

S complained to the OIA that the decision of the Panel was unsupported by the evidence, that a procedural irregularity had prejudiced her case and that additional evidence had come to light which could not have been produced at the time the case was considered.

Reasons:

The Chair of the Academic Misconduct Review Panel had been involved with the early stages of the academic misconduct investigation, had provided advice about how best to proceed and had reviewed the case and the evidence available. A further member of the Panel had been also involved at the informal stages of the academic misconduct investigation.

The OIA concluded that the University had failed to follow the principles of natural justice (duty to act fairly) which, amongst other things, provides that hearing panels must come to the matter afresh and should not have been involved in the investigation leading up to the hearing or in making earlier decisions. The issue is not whether the panel was actually biased but whether there was a perception of bias. It was therefore unreasonable for the university to reject S's appeal on this basis.

Recommendations:

  • As S had since withdrawn, it was recommended that the University offer her the sum of £1,500 for the distress and inconvenience caused by the University's omission –  this falls within Level C of the distress and inconvenience awards in the OIA's approach to remedies and redress.

Suggestions:

  • The OIA suggested that the University take steps to ensure the independence and impartiality of those involved in the academic misconduct process by amending the Academic Misconduct Regulations to ensure that hearing panels at all stages of the procedure are constituted of those with no previous involvement with the matter.
  • The OIA also reminded the University that its procedure stated that students accused of academic misconduct shall be considered innocent until judged to be guilty.

Case Study 69
Issues: Supervision; Complaints Procedure
Outcome: Partly Justified

Summary:

Summary:

S made an appeal to the University when he was dissatisfied with the marks awarded for his final year project. S alleged that the University had failed to provide adequate supervision for his project, failed to mark his project in the manner agreed, and failed to award marks appropriately in light of the marking criteria.

The University dismissed the appeal, stating that it should have been brought under the complaints procedures, and that none of the issues raised were valid grounds of appeal.

S submitted a Complaint Form to the OIA.

Reasons:

The OIA considered that while the University acted reasonably in dismissing some elements of the appeal, the dispute over the process used to mark S's work was a matter which should be considered under the University's appeal procedures, and that S had presented a valid ground of appeal.

Recommendations:

  • The University consider S's appeal at a hearing to which the student should be invited to attend.
  • The OIA made no comments as to the merits of the appeal.

Case Study 68
Issues: Academic Appeal; Mitigating Circumstances
Outcome: Partly Justified

Summary:

Summary:

S complained about the University's decision to dismiss her appeal against the Board's decision that she had failed reassessment of a module and to award her a Certificate of Higher Education.

In her appeal S cited mitigating circumstances affecting her assessment performance, including her father's ill-health, her hay-fever and an injury to her foot, as well as the disruption caused during the examination by individuals entering and leaving the examination room.

Reasons:

The University's Appeal Regulations state that an appeal will normally be rejected if it appears that the student was subject to a disturbance or illness during an examination and there is no valid reason for it not to have been brought to the attention of the Assessment Board before it met. It was therefore reasonable for the University not to uphold this aspect of the appeal.

S did not provide evidence of her father's ill-health with her appeal application and she did not provide evidence to demonstrate how these circumstances affected her or her assessment performance at the time. As such, it was reasonable for the University not to uphold this part of the appeal.

The medical note relating to S's foot injury did not explicitly cover the relevant date of assessment. However the doctor's letter did state that S was suffering from severe hay-fever (affecting her concentration) and that she was on medication for her foot injury and for hay-fever. The letter also states that "this will certainly affect her performance for her study and work". The University's decision was that the evidence did not state that S was unfit to sit the examination.

The OIA found that in making this decision the University was setting a threshold for extenuating circumstances that was not reflected in the appeal regulations. Appeals will normally be rejected if there is no evidence to support an application that academic performance was adversely affected by factors such as ill health. The OIA was unable to identify any requirement for students to demonstrate that their performance was affected to the point that they were unable to take the examination.

Recommendations:

  • The University should offer to reconsider the appeal. This reconsideration may be limited to the extenuating circumstances concerning S's ill health (hay-fever and foot injury).
  • On completion of S's appeal she should be issued with a new Completion of Procedures Letter and will have the same recourse to the OIA if she remains unhappy with the University's final decision.
  • The reconsideration of the appeal should be concluded within 35 days of our Formal Decision.

 

Case Study 67
Issues: Plagiarism
Outcome: Not Justified

Summary:

Summary:

S was found guilty of plagiarism following a plagiarism panel hearing.

S submitted a complaint to the University saying that its plagiarism guidance was unclear.  S also complained that plagiarism issues with her work were not picked up earlier and that a 'tick box' about referencing was not enough to enable a student to pick up errors in their work. The University rejected her complaint.

Reasons:

The University provided a copy of the programme handbook which set out the University's guidance on plagiarism which students were expected to familiarise themselves with.  The University was also able to show that students were given further guidance on plagiarism during taught sessions although it transpired that S had not attended those sessions. In addition, S had signed a declaration confirming that she had read and understood the University's regulations relating to plagiarism when submitting her work.

The OIA considered that, if S required further guidance beyond that provided, she should have sought this at the time. It was also noted that S had not raised any issues with regard to plagiarism guidance before the outcome of the plagiarism panel hearing was known.

Case Study 66
Issues: Plagiarism; Academic Misconduct
Outcome: Not Justified

Summary:

Summary:

S was registered on an MRes, a twelve month programme for which over half the credits come from independent written work (two long essays). S submitted the second written piece and the University identified a high level of plagiarism in this essay, through an academic's assessment, followed by an evaluation using Turnitin plagiarism software. The alleged plagiarism was then evaluated further by academics in accordance with the University's academic conduct procedure.

S was given all the available documentation along with the University's case regarding the alleged plagiarism and was invited to a sub-committee to discuss the allegations. S said he had other appointments and could not attend this meeting. The sub-committee met and decided unanimously that there was a very high level of plagiarism in the work and awarded a mark of zero for the essay as a penalty. This decision was then sent to the Board of Examiners for it to determine S's exit award. The Board of Examiners determined that S could not be awarded the MRes, as there was no right of resubmission once the second essay was deemed a fail, and under the award regulations a student has to achieve 90% of the available credits to obtain the degree.

S appealed against both the decision of the sub-committee as to the plagiarism and the decision of the Board of Examiners as to the exit award. S said that he wished to submit fresh evidence to show that the plagiarism was a technical glitch. The University rejected both appeals.

S submitted his OIA Complaint Form along with two Completion of Procedures Letters concerning the two unsuccessful appeals. He also submitted a plagiarism report on the second essay which he had obtained through a different software system from Turnitin. S said that he believed his case did not warrant such a drastic decision, as this second plagiarism report indicated there was a minimal amount of plagiarism in the essay.

Reasons:

The OIA found that S's appeals did not meet the criteria for a successful appeal under the University's Regulations and that the two decisions were fair and reasonable in the circumstances. We also found that the penalty of a mark of zero for the affected essay was within the range of penalties available to the academic misconduct sub-committee.

The OIA considered that in light of the seriousness of the consequences of a finding of plagiarism S should have considered asking for the sub-committee hearing to be postponed, so that he could attend, or that he could have considered changing his other appointment so that he could attend the plagiarism hearing. There was no evidence that S attempted to take either step.

In relation to the question of whether Turnitin was the appropriate software for testing plagiarism in this case, we considered that as Turnitin is recommended by JISC (the recognised UK expert on information and digital technologies in the HE sector) that the University was following good practice in the sector by using this particular detection tool. In view of the need for Turnitin reports to be interpreted by someone with the appropriate expertise, we noted that in this case an academic had already detected plagiarism before the Turnitin originality report was run and that qualified staff subsequently interpreted the report.

Case Study 65
Issues: Rule 4.1: Completion of Procedures
Outcome: Eligible

Summary:

Summary:

S made an appeal against her final examination results and received an email from the University which advised her that she had the right of appeal against the decision of the Grievance Panel and Board of Examiners. S understood that this email was a Completion of Procedures Letter.

S submitted an OIA Complaint Form which the OIA found Not Eligible under Rule 4.1 which states that the 'OIA will only accept a complaint which has not exhausted the internal procedures of the University or College for review if there are exceptional reasons to do so'. The OIA found that S had not completed the internal procedures of the University.

S appealed the decision of the case-handler to the Approval Team.

Reasons:

The member of the Approval Team allowed the appeal. She found that although the email S received included a copy of the procedure, and an explicit mention of the relevant paragraphs, it was also headed 'Final Completion of Procedures'.

The OIA concluded it was not unreasonable for S to understand this to mean that the University intended the email to function as a Completion of Procedures Letter, should she choose to approach the OIA rather than engage with the final stage of the procedure.

The OIA also noted that a previous email sent to S was similarly headed 'Completion of Procedures', and that it was referred to as 'a Completion of Procedures email.'

In deciding to exercise its discretion to accept this complaint the OIA also had regard to S's submissions which indicated that she was not provided with a copy of the Board of Examiners' minutes, or any report that it had given to the Grievance Panel before the deadline for submitting an appeal expired. The OIA considered that without this information, it might have been difficult for S to make an informed decision as to whether it was appropriate to submit an appeal and the grounds which she might use.

The complaint was reallocated to a new case-handler.

Suggestions:

  • The OIA suggested that the University should consider whether its communications to students under this procedure might be misleading.

Case Study 64
Issues: Rule 2: Qualifying Institutions
Outcome: Not Eligible

Summary:

Summary:

S was enrolled on an Overseas Trained Teacher (OTT) programme delivered by a consortium of institutions. The consortium included 2 qualifying universities, one non-qualifying teaching institution, and four local councils. One of the qualifying universities took on the lead role in delivering the teaching programmes, and the OTT was one of three programmes delivered by the consortium.

S's studies were terminated due to the assessment of one of his placements. S registered an appeal, based on the standard of his supervision and bias in the assessment process. This appeal was handled and reviewed by the lead university in the consortium.

S submitted a Complaint Form to the OIA.

Reasons:

Upon reviewing the consortium's Memorandum of Cooperation, it became apparent that OTT students were not formally registered at either of the qualifying universities. The OIA also asked the lead university for some of the course literature and an example of the certificates issued to successful participants, which showed that the award came directly from the General Teaching Council, and not from the university itself.

This complaint was therefore ruled ineligible under Rule 2 of the OIA's Rules, whereby the OIA can only accept complaints from students at a qualifying institution, or students on programmes leading to an award from that university.

Case Study 63
Issues: Placement; Administrative Errors
Outcome: Settlement

Summary:

Summary:

S was a student on a Diploma in HE Nursing Studies programme, who submitted a complaint to the OIA in October 2011.

The complaint related to a lack of support offered to her. S had been advised by Occupational Health that she required additional support for her nursing course in 2007, and was seen by an Occupational Health doctor in February 2008. She had undertaken two placements without, what the student considered, the basic support being in place, let alone the additional support required. This impacted on her mental health, causing her to become depressed and suicidal. Occupational Health withdrew its support to her working. The student sought professional help and interrupted her studies, eventually withdrawing.

S instigated a complaint through the University's procedures in June 2008, which had been escalated in November 2008. Since then no further correspondence had been received from the University and no Completion of Procedures Letter was issued.

Reasons:

The University replied to the case-handler's enquiries at the initial assessment stage regarding the status of the complaint. The University recognised that the complaint had been inadequately dealt with, and had been overlooked due to administrative errors.

It provided a limited response to the complaints, but recognised that due to the passage of time it would be difficult to make a meaningful reply. The University acknowledged the additional distress caused by its failure to respond sooner to the complaint, and made an offer of £4,000 to compensate S.

Recommendations:

  • The offer was accepted resolving the complaint within 6 weeks of receipt.

Case Study 62
Issues: Teaching Placement; Extenuating Circumstances; Procedural Irregularity
Outcome: Justified

Summary:

Summary:

S was studying for a PGCE. After ten months, he was identified as being 'at risk' in relation to his performance on a placement. A Remediation Agreement was drawn up which identified ways in which he needed to improve. Eight days later, he failed a lesson observation. This subsequently resulted in a decision that he should fail the placement, and therefore the degree.

S appealed on the grounds that he had been diagnosed with an illness immediately after the failed lesson observation. He said that he had been unable to attend a further attempt which had been scheduled for the following day. He supplied medical evidence confirming that he had been advised not to attend the school.

The University rejected the appeal on the grounds that (i) he had been deemed 'at risk', (ii) the Faculty had deemed the information in his appeal to be irrelevant, and (iii) he had not missed any assessment as a result of illness, because no further opportunity had been offered to him.

S provided the OIA with documentary evidence that an offer of a further opportunity had been made. The University accepted that the evidence was genuine; however, it stated that even if S had passed the lesson observation, he would have failed the placement anyway. It said that S had never been told that the lesson observation would affect the final decision regarding the placement.

The OIA did not consider that the University's statement was consistent with the evidence. The e-mail offering S a further lesson observation had specifically said that if he passed it then a decision would be made about whether he had passed the Remediation Agreement, and therefore whether he could continue on placement. On that basis, the focus of the OIA's review was widened to include a consideration of the remediation process. Specifically, the OIA looked at whether the University had followed its procedures and whether it had given accurate and clear information to S.

The handbook containing the remediation procedures contained two contradictory accounts of the process to be followed. The University had not followed either process. There was also evidence that if S had passed the remediation process, staff intended to begin a new process covering different issues. They had not informed S about those concerns, or given him the opportunity to try to address them.

Reasons:

The OIA concluded that this complaint was Justified because:

  • the University's decision about the appeal was based on inaccurate information;
  • it was unreasonable to reject S's extenuating circumstances on the grounds of his 'at risk' status, rather than the merits of the circumstances themselves;
  • the procedures did not permit Faculty members to make decisions regarding appeals. The Registry decision-maker accepted the Faculty's opinion that the appeal was 'irrelevant' without any evidence or further investigation;
  • the University had not followed its remediation procedure;
  • the University had given S unclear information about what he needed to do in order to pass. It did not inform him of all its concerns, which denied him the opportunity to address them. He was given an unreasonable expectation that if he passed a further assessment opportunity, he might pass the placement although the University says that this was not its intention.

Recommendations:

The OIA did not consider that it was appropriate to recommend that the University should reconsider S's appeal. He had subsequently failed a different module at final attempt and would not be able to graduate even if he were to be given the opportunity to resit the placement. The OIA recommended that:

  • The University should pay S £1000 compensation for inconvenience and distress caused by its failure to explain its academic requirements to him, and by its failure to properly consider his appeal. This amount sits in the middle of the OIA's band C for "substantial" distress and inconvenience. For more information on the indicative bands for distress and inconvenience awards please see our OIA's approach to Remedies and Redress leaflet.
  • The University should review its handbooks in order to ensure that consistent and clear information regarding the remediation process is available to students.
  • The University should review the training given to staff in order to ensure that they are aware of the need to inform PGCE students of any concerns regarding their academic or professional standards.

Case Study 61
Issues: Extenuating Circumstances; Medical evidence not properly considered
Outcome: Justified

Summary:

Summary:

S had a severe chest infection and was signed off University for two weeks on 15 January which meant she would be unable to attend exams taking place on 17 and 28 January. She submitted a claim for Extenuating Circumstances but this was rejected as the evidence in support of her claim did not "demonstrate the severity of [her] chest infection". S was informed that her exam retakes would be capped at 40%.

S appealed on the grounds that the University had not properly considered the medical evidence; that her illness was so severe that her doctor had advised her that she was not well enough to sit her exam. The medical certificate provided by her doctor was dated 12 days in advance of the exams but did cover the dates on which she was due to take the exams. S appealed and provided another letter from her GP which confirmed her condition but this was rejected as insufficient evidence as it did not confirm the severity of her condition at the time the exams were to take place and did not prove that she was examined by a doctor on, or immediately around the time the exams took place. She appealed again with another letter from her GP but this was also rejected and she was told she had exhausted the University's procedures.

S made a complaint to the OIA.

The OIA found the complaint Justified.

Reasons:

It was not clear how S had not acted in accordance with the regulations and the University had not provided sufficient evidence as to how S had not complied. The medical certificates were independent evidence that verified that S was not in a fit state of health to attend her assessments. It was not reasonable for the University to have expected her to attend the doctor for a second time at the time of her exams when she already had a medical certificate. Additionally, this two week period would undoubtedly have been an important study and preparation time.

Whilst the University's view was that its decision was in line with its procedures, the OIA did not consider that it had acted in a fair and reasonable manner, nor did the OIA consider that the guidance issued adequately explained situations where the medical certificate was written in advance of the assessments. Furthermore, the University was not in a position to question or discount the professional medical opinion of the GP which was that S would not be fit to sit the exams.

Recommendations:

  • The University should reconsider S's appeal and remove any capping applied to any subsequent results achieved.

Case Study 60
Issues: Procedural Error; Appropriate Remedy; Disability
Outcome: Partly Justified

Summary:

Summary:

S received a mark of 49% (fail) for one of the core modules for her MSc. S informed the Examination Sub Board about mitigating circumstances, with evidence. The Examination Sub Board met in November, accepted the mitigating circumstances and raised the student's mark to 50% (pass). In the following July the Examination Board met and noted that the University's regulations did not permit marks to be adjusted in this way and reversed the decision, returning the student's mark to 49% (fail). S was not informed of this until October, which was after the re-sit period and during S's final preparation of her dissertation; as such it was not viable to provide her with an additional re-sit opportunity.

S complained about the reversal decision by the Examination Board and the delay in informing her. She requested that her mark be re-adjusted to 50%. She also stated that she felt disability discrimination had occurred as the University had not considered her underlying mental health issues before deciding to reverse the decision and in failing to communicate it to her in a satisfactory way.

The University upheld the student's complaint on the grounds that a procedural error had occurred, although it did not address the question of S's disability. The University guaranteed the student a condoned fail in this module, provided she passed the final dissertation, but would not adjust the mark back up to a pass as it was against the regulations. S was dissatisfied with the outcome and made a complaint to the OIA.

The OIA found the complaint Partly Justified.

Reasons:

After reviewing the case, the OIA concluded that the University was right not to re-raise S's marks as there was no provision to do so in the regulations. There was also no evidence to suggest that the University had acted unreasonably towards S on the basis of her disability. However the OIA felt that the remedy proposed by the University could be improved.

Recommendations:

  • S to be provided with a letter accompanying her transcript which explained that she had been deprived of the opportunity to retrieve her failure in this module due to a procedural error in the University's assessment process.
  • The University should issue a formal apology for the errors made in the assessment process and the distress and inconvenience caused, and that the apology be issued by an appropriate member of the senior management team. (This did not amount to an admission of liability for the impact on S's mental health.)
  • S to be awarded £750 compensation for distress and inconvenience, which took into account the fact that the inadequate communication during the assessment process was compounded by her underlying mental health disability. This amount sits at the upper limit of the OIA's band B for distress and inconvenience. For more information on the indicative bands for distress and inconvenience awards please see our OIA's approach to Remedies and Redress leaflet
  • The University should review its regulations for the timetabling, conduct and communication of examination board meetings, and best practice be disseminated to Schools.

 

Case Study 59
Issues: Natural Justice
Outcome: Partly Justified

Summary:

Summary:

S was studying for the award of a Diploma in Higher Education in Mental Health.    The University declined to allow S to return to the course following a period of maternity leave after a Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check disclosed that S had a criminal conviction for obstructing two police officers in the course of their duties, a conviction which S had failed to disclose and which the University said raised concerns regarding her suitability as a student nurse. S later explained that she did not disclose the conviction on the basis that she believed it to have been "spent" and that the incident in question had been a civil rather than a criminal matter.

S appealed the University's decision on the basis that the conviction did not relate to a criminal case.  She said that this was supported by the fact that the original CRB check, undertaken when she initially started the course, did not disclose the conviction.

The University referred the information provided in S's appeal to the CRB Screening Panel ("the Panel") for further consideration.

S was informed that she could continue with the theory elements of her course pending the outcome of the Panel's consideration of the matter.

The Panel decided that S should be withdrawn from the course due to the nature of the offence, the relatively short period of time since it had been committed (3 years) and the fact that no additional references had been provided in support of S's character.

S complained to the OIA, alleging that the University had:

  • erred in its decision that the nature of her conviction raised concerns about her suitability as a student nurse;
  • failed to identify her conviction at an earlier stage;
  • changed the criteria during the process for assessing the length of time since the offence had been committed when assessing the risk caused by the offence;
  • failed to ask her to provide character references; and
  • allowed her to return to the programme only to withdraw her again a short time later.

Reasons:

The OIA found the complaint to be Partly Justified on the basis that the same Hospital Trust representatives sat on the original CRB Panel which blocked S's readmission to the course and also the Panel which reconsidered the matter following her appeal. The OIA concluded that there was a potential perception of bias in these circumstances and that S may have been disadvantaged by this state of affairs.

The OIA also expressed concerns that it had been provided with no evidence as to how the Panel had voted or evidence to demonstrate that it had been constituted in accordance with the relevant regulations. The OIA expressed concerns that the University's regulations did not make it clear the date from which the age of the offence should be calculated when assessing the risk posed by it, which had caused confusion.

The OIA did not, however, uphold S's complaints that the University failed to ask her to provide additional references or that it allowed her to restart her course only to withdraw her again. The OIA decided that the University followed its clearly defined regulations in these respects and that S should have been aware of the relevant provisions.

Recommendations:

  • The OIA recommended that the University offer to put S's case before a newly constituted CRB Screening Panel and that in the event that S accepted the offer, the University should clarify its regulations regarding the date from which the age of the offence is calculated when assessing the risk posed by it.

Case Study 58
Issues: Nursing; Fitness to Practise; CRB
Outcome: Not Justified

Summary:

Summary:

S was a final year Nursing student who was found guilty of minor academic misconduct in one module. She was not referred to Fitness to Practise procedures at the time. She passed this module upon resubmission but failed others and was withdrawn from the course. She made an academic appeal which was rejected.

She was subsequently invited to re-join the course in error, and upon re-joining, was taken through a Fitness to Practise process for academic misconduct, failing to disclose cautions on her CRB record and for accepting a job offer on the basis that she was fully qualified.

S was found unfit to practise.

S complained to the OIA that the decision was unfair because she had not been told to disclose her cautions.

The OIA found the complaint Not Justified.

Reasons:

The OIA found that whilst the University should not have referred to the earlier academic misconduct incident when S was going through the Fitness to Practise process, this was corrected at the final stage of the procedure and did not undermine the professional judgment of the Panel.

The OIA also found that there had been clear guidance to students that cautions must be disclosed and that the professional judgment of the University had been exercised in accordance with the procedures, taking relevant evidence into account.

Suggestion:

The OIA suggested that the University reviewed the way in which its Fitness to Practise procedures were operating to ensure they adhered to the principles of natural justice and transparency.

The OIA expressed concerns that the procedures were not explicit as to the student's right to see the evidence against them or about any right or opportunity to appear in person and the quality of the evidence relied upon in Panel meetings.

Case Study 57
Issues: Supervision
Outcome: Not Justified

Summary:

Summary:

S complained that he had missed out on a higher degree classification as a result of getting a lower mark in his dissertation than he had expected. He said that his dissertation supervisor's absence from the University the month before he had been due to submit his dissertation had meant that he had been unable to access his supervisor for advice and guidance and that as a result of this he achieved a lower mark.

S said that the supervisor had failed to give him adequate notice of the fact that he was going on a sabbatical and he complained that the University had failed to put into place adequate alternative supervisory arrangements.

S said that if he had had access to his supervisor to consider a draft of his dissertation, then he would have received the advice and support that he needed to have achieved a higher mark in the dissertation and in turn this would have allowed him to achieve a 2:1 degree.

The OIA found the complaint to be Not Justified.

Reasons:

The supervisory arrangements made it clear that students could not expect a supervisor to read a complete draft of the dissertation. It was also clear that S was meant to have provided draft chapters of his work at a much earlier stage for review and he had been advised in the handbook that work submitted after this stage would not be reviewed by a supervisor. It was clear that S had not complained at the time about the supervisory arrangements and that he had been given sufficient notice of his supervisor's absence. S did not seek additional help and advice from the other supervisors who had been put into place for the final month leading up to the submission of his dissertation.

The OIA concluded that S had sufficient supervision and time to have contacted his supervisor for advice prior to him leaving and that S could have identified his need for additional support prior to him being advised of his final result.

Case Study 56
Issues: Rule 3.2: Academic Judgment
Outcome: Eligible

Summary:

Summary:

S complained to the OIA about the weight that the Board of Examiners gave to his extenuating circumstances in the 2009/2010 and 2010/2011 academic year.

The OIA decided the complaint was not eligible under Rule 3.2 stating that the decision as to the severity of a student's extenuating circumstances is a matter of academic judgment which is outside the OIA's remit.

S appealed this decision stating that the weight assigned to a student's extenuating circumstances was not an academic judgment.

Reasons:

The Deputy Adjudicator allowed the appeal stating that whilst we consider an assessment of the impact of extenuating circumstances is largely an academic judgement we can look at whether a University has correctly followed its procedures in considering an extenuating circumstances claim or appeal and whether the decision reached by the University was reasonable based on the evidence it had before it.

The complaint was allocated to a new case-handler for review.

Case Study 55
Issues: Rule 3.2: Academic Judgment
Outcome: Not Eligible

Summary:

Summary:

S made a complaint to the OIA after he appealed a decision about his mark in an examination on the basis that the answer the examiners were looking for was not appropriate to the question set.

He also complained that the person reviewing his appeal was not in a position to judge the validity of his complaint because it was outside their expertise.

The case-handler decided that the complaint was not eligible under Rule 3.2 as the content of the exam and assessment of the answers are matters of academic judgment with which the OIA cannot interfere.

S appealed to the Deputy Adjudicator.

Reasons:

The Deputy Adjudicator upheld the case-handler's decision.

The Deputy Adjudicator asked the University to provide information to show that the examination question was set in accordance with its procedures. She was satisfied from the information provided that it was.

Having satisfied herself that the question was correctly set, the Deputy Adjudicator concluded that the complaint was a challenge to the academic judgment of the examiners and, therefore, was not eligible for review.

Case Study 54
Issues: Natural Justice, Procedural Irregularity
Outcome: Justified

Summary:

Summary:

S was a medical student who was withdrawn from her course. The University's Procedures permit students to request that a decision of the Board of Examiners be reviewed. S submitted a case for review, which was determined to represent a prima facie case. Where this is the case, the Academic Registrar is required to invite the student and Chair of the Board to a meeting to determine an appropriate action to remedy the situation. If, following this meeting, the Academic Registrar and the Chair are unable to agree on appropriate action to remedy the situation, or the student is dissatisfied with the decision of the Academic Registrar, the matter can be escalated for consideration by the Principal who has the power to appoint an Assessment Review Panel. A student may include a short focussed written statement of their case with any request for consideration by the Principal.

The Academic Registrar wrote to S outlining that a course of action to remedy the situation had already been proposed to the Principal, and that the meeting required by the Procedures would take place following receipt of the Principal's response.

The Principal did not agree with the proposed course of action, which would have required the suspension of the General Regulations. Following this decision the Academic Registrar asked the Principal whether they would have found any grounds to appoint an Assessment Review Panel if the matter had been referred to them as an appeal. The Principal indicated that they did not consider there were any grounds to appoint a Panel.

S complained to the University that she had not been provided with the opportunity to attend the meeting required by the Procedures, which was her only opportunity to state her case in person, and that the matter had been inappropriately escalated for consideration by the Principal.

The University then referred the matter for consideration by the Chair of the University Council, as the final stage of appeal, who determined that there had been no substantive procedural irregularities, and that S appeared to be protesting over arrangements made in her best interests.

Reasons:

The OIA found this case to be Justified because the University's procedures required that S be provided with an opportunity to meet and discuss the matter before a decision was made, and indicated that the matter would only be escalated for consideration by the Principal under certain conditions. Both of these requirements were not met, representing a procedural irregularity.

If S had been provided with an opportunity to discuss the matter, or make a written statement, it is possible that the case put to the Principal would have been more detailed or compelling, and a different decision may have been reached.

It was also inappropriate for the University to ask whether the Principal would have approved an appeal after they had already made the decision that S's situation did not warrant a suspension of the general regulations.

Recommendations:

  • The University should offer to arrange for S's appeal to be considered afresh by an Assessment Review Panel;
  • If S's appeal is successful the University should refer the matter to an independent panel of the Senate, who would reconsider the Principal's decision not to suspend the General Regulations.

Case Study 53
Issues: Contract, Misrepresentation, Procedural Irregularities
Outcome: Justified

Summary:

Summary:

S was studying for a three month master's level course. There were five students on the same course as S, three of whom were on the same strand. All three complained about various problems that they experienced throughout the course including software problems, lack of staff availability and other technical problems.

There was a three stage Complaint Procedure at the University. Students A and B were offered money during the procedure and accepted the sums offered (£800 and £200 respectively). S was also offered £200 and rejected this offer as being insufficient to compensate him for the distress and inconvenience caused by the course being 'oversold'. S continued with his complaint. At Stage 2 of the Complaint Procedure a Complaints Manager ('X') was involved in advising the University that larger payments should be offered to all three students. X's advice was not followed. X then considered the complaint at Stage 3. Under the Complaint Procedure this should have been an impartial, independent review. However, X effectively endorsed the Stage 2 decision and the lower compensation.

Reasons:

The OIA found this complaint Justified. S suffered material disadvantage due to defects on the course and he also suffered due to the deficiencies in the investigation into his resulting complaint.

Recommendations:

  • The University should send a written apology to S for the distress, time and energy that he had had to expend in pursuing his complaint.
  • Having regard to what is fair and reasonable in the circumstances, the University should offer to pay the sum of £1,500 to S in compensation for the problems that he encountered  when on the Course and which affected his learning experience. This sum is made up of £1000 in compensation for the University's failure to address the problems with the Course and also for its subsequent failure to investigate these complaints effectively in line with the Complaints Procedure.  The additional sum of £500 is for the distress and inconvenience that S has suffered due to the delay in providing an adequate remedy subsequently.

Case Study 52
Issues: Discrimination, Natural Justice
Outcome: Partly Justified

Summary:

Summary:

S was studying for a nursing qualification. It was alleged that S circulated intimate photographs of another student, X, to various Trusts and members of the public.  X told the University that S had circulated the photographs and S was suspended from placement.

The University instigated disciplinary proceedings and held an initial meeting with S which was not documented. S submitted a response to the allegation following the meeting.  Further documentation was gathered by the University, including a statement from X, none of which was shown to S.

Following a hearing, the University concluded that S was a party in the production of the photographs and had failed to take adequate precautions to protect the photographs. The association of the circulated photographs with the University and S's involvement in the matter had brought the name of the University into disrepute.  As a result, S was guilty of misconduct and a Final Warning was placed on S's file.

S appealed against the penalty imposed on the basis of material procedural irregularity, disregard of material evidence and perversity of judgment in the face of the evidence presented.

The University rejected S's appeal.

Reasons:

The OIA found this complaint to be Partly Justified because:

  • The University failed to follow the principles of natural justice as it did not provide S with copies of all documentation prior to the submission of S's response to the allegations.  The University also failed to provide S with copies of all documentation considered by the HEI in reaching its decision.  These failures vitiated the University's decision.
  • The University concluded that S admitted taking the circulated photographs but the photographs were neither shown nor described to S and there was no evidence that S had made such an admission.
  • The University failed to provide reasons for rejecting S's appeal as required under the Disciplinary Procedures.

Recommendations:

  • That the University remove the Final Warning from S's file.

Case Study 51
Issues: Procedural Errors; Communication of Results
Outcome: Partly Justified

Summary:

Summary:

S was studying for a nursing qualification. She was granted an additional attempt at some Semester One assessments following an extenuating circumstances claim.

Before she had retaken the assessments, the University sent her a letter stating that she had failed them and her first attempts at three Semester Two modules. She was withdrawn from the degree. S assumed that she had been withdrawn because she had been deemed to have failed Semester One at final attempt. In fact, the University had not considered the Semester One marks, although this was not apparent from the letter. The University had withdrawn her because of too many failed Semester Two credits. This was a procedural error; S had not exceeded the permitted number of failed credits.

S appealed, providing evidence that she had been granted a further attempt at Semester One modules. She said that the agreement had not been honoured. The University rejected her appeal. During this time, S resubmitted her Semester One assignments.

S submitted a complaint about the perceived failure of the University to implement the decision about her extenuating circumstances. Unfortunately, shortly after the complaint was submitted, the University sent S another letter saying that she had been withdrawn from the degree; her results had been erroneously considered by a further Examination Board. S then reported that her results for the Semester One resits were missing. The University had a policy not to mark work until the conclusion of the appeals process but, exceptionally, the University then arranged for the work to be marked. The marker was someone who had been named in S's complaint. The work was failed, and S complained that she was being penalised. She said that staff were obviously determined to end her studies.

Following consideration of S's complaint, the University identified that S should not have been withdrawn under its regulations, but initially did not uphold the complaint because S had failed the Semester One resits. The University subsequently upheld her complaint and offered her the opportunity to rejoin the degree, although it did not explain its reasons. S rejected the offer because she believed that the University was determined to fail her

Reasons:

The OIA found this complaint to be Partly Justified because:

  • There had been a series of procedural and administrative errors. The University had not clarified to S why she had been withdrawn, or reassured her that her significant extenuating circumstances were not being questioned.
  • It was not in line with good practice to appoint a marker who knew that S had complained about her when other markers were available.

Recommendations:

  • The University to remake its offer for S to rejoin the degree and to make it clear which assessments remained outstanding.
  • The University to pay S £750 in recognition of the inconvenience and distress caused to her by its actions
  • The University to apologise for the administrative and procedural errors that it made, for its failure to correct them promptly, and for its poor communications with S.

Case Study 50
Issues: Plagiarism, Mitigating Circumstances
Outcome: Not Justified

Summary:

Summary:

S was alleged to have committed plagiarism with a 92 per cent Turnitin match being found with an assignment submitted to another university three years earlier. After initially denying the allegation S admitted to the plagiarism at the Disciplinary Committee (DC) hearing, saying that she had copied the assignment from the internet after searching its title. In S's defence she raised mitigating circumstances that:

  • her grandmother passed away 10 months earlier,
  • she had a protracted Visa application that had lasted 9 months and had ended recently and
  • she had been diagnosed with insomnia 8 months earlier and was receiving ongoing treatment.

The DC found S guilty of plagiarism and referred the matter to the Examination Board to apply an appropriate penalty. The Examination Board failed S's Award as it was her second upheld allegation of plagiarism. S was awarded a lesser qualification that her completed studies entitled her to.

S appealed the decision of the Examination Board unsuccessfully.

S complained to the OIA that the University did not consider any of the grounds put forward. S accepted that she had plagiarised but stated her thought process was occupied with personal circumstances. S sought the University to reconsider its decision.

Reasons:

The OIA found the complaint Not Justified. The evidence showed that the University considered S's mitigating circumstances. The decision not to accept them was made on the basis that S was aware of the Extenuating Circumstances Policy (ECP) and chose not to use it or give a reason for failing to use it rather than committing academic dishonesty.

The OIA found that this decision was reasonable given that the mitigating circumstances did not remove S's ability to make the decision to submit extenuating circumstances rather than submit an assignment copied from the internet. The evidence showed S to be aware of the likely penalty and the ECP before making the decision to plagiarise.

Good practice suggestions:

Good practice suggestions were made regarding provision of evidence before interviewing students and keeping full records of all matters considered by committees and examination boards.

Case Study 49
Issues: Undergraduate Academic Appeal; Procedural Irregularity; Late Extenuating Circumstances
Outcome: Not Justified

Summary:

Summary:

S was withdrawn from his degree after failing several modules at the second attempt. He appealed against the decision on a number of grounds:

  • That two resit marks should not have been capped because S had submitted medical evidence relating to his performance in the first attempts. S also said that the overall module marks should not have been capped, but rather the marks for failed components alone.
  • That S should have been offered a further resit in two of the failed modules because his final assessment attempts had been affected by incidents which he had not previously reported.
  • That there had been a procedural error because he had not been credited with an examination mark for a module that he had repeated. He had previously passed that examination and had not attended the resit examination, believing that the pass mark would be carried forward.

The University rejected the appeal. Its regulations state that, if a student's appeal is rejected at the initial stages on the grounds that there is no prima facie case, then the reasons will be explained to the student. The student would then be offered the opportunity to resubmit the appeal. Although S's appeal was rejected, he was not offered the opportunity to submit a revised appeal for consideration.

S was not satisfied with the outcome and brought a complaint to the OIA.

The OIA decided that S's complaint about the University's consideration of his medical evidence was ineligible for review. S had previously complained about that matter to the OIA and we had concluded that the complaint was Not Justified. Rule 3.6 of the Scheme states that we cannot consider matters that we have dealt with before. Furthermore, some of the issues that S asked the OIA to look at had not been raised with the University during the appeal process. It was decided that those issues were therefore ineligible for review by the OIA.

The OIA reviewed the matters that had been considered by the University and looked at whether the final outcome was fair and reasonable.

Reasons:

The OIA concluded that this complaint was Not Justified. The University's regulations stated that the overall mark for a resat module would be capped. No marks would be carried forward from previous attempts at a repeated module. S had no evidence of the incidents that he reported.

Case Study 48
Issues: Rule 4.2: Three month deadline
Outcome: Eligible

Summary:

Summary:

The University issued a Completion of Procedures Letter on 10 March 2011 in relation to S's formal complaint about how an incident between himself and another student was handled. The University explained that its procedures were completed unless S was able to establish that there was a procedural irregularity in the University's consideration of the complaint. It explained to S that if he did not have grounds for review, and he remained dissatisfied, he should submit his complaint to the OIA within three months.

S identified an error in the University's Completion of Procedures Letter dated 10 March 2011 in that it did not specify the date by which the OIA Complaint Form needed to be submitted to the OIA, in accordance with the OIA's Guidance.

S took the complaint to the next stage in the University's procedures and the University issued a second Completion of Procedures Letter on 16 April 2011 (which did correctly state the deadline date). S submitted his OIA Complaint Form on 16 July 2011.

The OIA found that under Rule 4.2, the issues raised in relation to S's original complaint to the University were more than three months from the date of receipt of the OIA Complaint Form and therefore it would restrict its review of the complaint to the procedural issues which were considered at the final stage of the University's processes.

S appealed to the Deputy Adjudicator.

Reasons:

The Deputy Adjudicator allowed the appeal.

The Deputy Adjudicator considered that, since S decided to pursue his complaint to the final stage in the University's procedures, it was reasonable for him to have awaited the outcome of that final stage before submitting his complaint to the OIA. If S had submitted his complaint before that final stage had been completed, the OIA would have suspended its consideration of the complaint until the outcome was known.

In the circumstances, the Deputy Adjudicator did not consider that it would be fair to restrict our review of the complaint to the procedural issues which were considered at the final stage of the University's processes.

Case Study 47
Issues: Rule 4.2: Three month deadline
Outcome: Not Eligible

Summary:

Summary:

S sent his OIA Complaint Form to the OIA 5 weeks after the deadline. S argued that the reasons for late submission were that the postal copy of his Completions of Procedures Letter was sent to an address he had vacated; he was unable to open the email copy immediately because he was in Mecca for Ramadan; he was not able to give the email his full attention because of pressure at work and personal problems and he did not appreciate the importance of the deadline, perhaps because English is not his first language.

The OIA found that none of these reasons meant that the OIA should exercise discretion to consider the complaint even though it was received out of time.

The OIA explained that it was S's responsibility to ensure his postal address was updated and that there was a period of 10 weeks after the end of Ramadan in which S could have submitted his complaint. It was also not unreasonable for S to have placed some weight on reading the Completion of Procedures Letter carefully especially as during this time he contacted the University regarding his complaint. The OIA found there was a good level of English in S's correspondence and that the University had clearly explained the steps S should take to bring his complaint to the OIA.

S appealed to the Deputy Adjudicator.

Reasons:

The Deputy Adjudicator upheld the decision and agreed with the decisions made by the Assistant Adjudicator.

There was no evidence that S's language skills were so poor he was unable to understand the statement in the Completion of Procedures Letter about the deadline to complain to the OIA. The Deputy Adjudicator noted that S had sought assistance with his OIA Complaint Form and therefore had he not been able to understand the Completion of Procedures Letter the OIA would have expected him to have sought assistance upon its receipt.

Case Study 46
Issues: Accommodation
Outcome: Justified

Summary:

Reasons:

Three students were assessed as owing money for damages (in particular communal damages) for accommodation in two separate halls of residence 9 months after they had left their halls. The university stopped various academic services (such as IT, provision of a bursary and library facilities) in the students' second and third academic years when the students disputed the monies owed through the university's complaints mechanism and subsequently when they were taking their cases to the OIA.

Summary:

The OIA concluded that the complaints were Justified on the basis that the University did not adequately prove that the students were responsible for the alleged damages nor had it given them a contemporaneous opportunity to check the evidence as to the alleged damage.

In addition, the University did not warn the students, whilst they were in their halls of residence, that they could lose access to other educational services if they did not pay subsequently for any communal or other damages arising from this tenancy. For example one of the students had IT services withheld although he had paid the relevant tuition fees of £3,225 each year and when the disputed amount of communal damages totalled £60.

Recommendations:

  • The University to offer to repay the relevant damages (or apply a waiver in the cases where students withheld the amount) plus £200 each for distress and inconvenience.
  • The University to undertake a review of its policies as to the withholding of university services and bursaries in the event of outstanding accommodation debts generally and with particular reference to damages charges such as these, with a view to severing the link between such outstanding charges and the contract to supply educational facilities.

Good Practice Suggestions

  • The University's departure e-mail (which it sends to student tenants in the last month of the summer term) should set out all the arrangements for inspecting the rooms after students leave and the date by which students will receive any bill for communal or other damages. This date should be no more than three months after the student has vacated the flat. The University should ensure that all evidence of damage discovered during the end of tenancy inspection should be sent to the relevant students, within one month of the tenancy ending, along with evidence in the form of photographs, copy inventories etc so that students are unambiguously informed as to their responsibility for all loss and damage and have the opportunity to provide any other relevant counter-evidence before a bill for damages is issued.

 

Case Study 45
Issues: Accommodation
Outcome: Justified

Summary:

Summary:

Two first year students occupied a flat on the top floor of a residence. The hall was advertised and let as a University property but was owned by a private company. There was a problem with the roof of which the University was aware (a major refurbishment was planned in the following year by the company) which meant that the flat suffered a water leak during autumn. This was reported to the University, by the students, in November/December and temporary measures such as the provision of buckets to catch water and the drying of carpets were undertaken by the University.

The students were told that they could move to separate flats, if their health was at risk, part way through the following year and that the major repair to fix the roof would take place in April/May 2010. The students did not want to be split up from their flatmates at this point and also pointed out that they had to concentrate on assessments. The students then formally complained about the damp problem that they had endured for most of an academic year and asked for appropriate compensation. The University offered a rebate of £2 for each affected week (a total sum of £72). The students rejected this offer as too low.

Reasons:

The OIA concluded that the students' complaint was Justified on the basis that the University did not react quickly enough to remedy the problem, to ensure that the private company carried out the repairs immediately or to offer alternative accommodation to all the residents in the affected flat in the autumn.

The University had advertised the hall as being covered by the UUK Accommodation Code, which should have meant an urgent repair within five days, although the exact time frame was not made clear in the University's information to the students. The flat was also covered separately by the ANUK Code which meant a Priority Two repair within five working days. The University had not published this particular information in the relevant literature.

The OIA was critical of the University for not acting to remedy the situation once it was evident that there was a damp problem and also for offering such a small amount of compensation once it accepted that the students had suffered the consequences of a water leak for around six months.

Recommendations:

  • The University to offer a total sum of £850 in compensation to each student - £600 by way of rent rebate for failing to take responsibility for the repairs in a timely fashion
  • £250 for the subsequent distress and inconvenience and time and trouble in bringing their complaint.

 

Case Study 44
Issues: Supervision
Outcome: Justified

Summary:

Summary:

S was an international postgraduate student supported by a grant from his government. He submitted a complaint regarding the supervision and feedback he had received. This was upheld and the University refunded his government the money it had awarded to S in relation to his fees and living expenses (over £56,000). However, it rejected S's request for personal compensation.

S complained to the OIA that he had not received appropriate compensation in relation to three years' wasted effort, additional living expenses not covered by the government grant, loss of earnings and damage to his reputation etc. He sought additional compensation of £60,000.

Reasons:

The OIA found this complaint to be Justified on the basis that the University accepted there were shortcomings for which it was responsible, but had not offered S appropriate and proportionate compensation for his personal losses.

Recommendations:

The University to offer to pay S the sum of £10,000 for three years of lost time, the loss of opportunity to obtain his PhD and the disappointment, distress and inconvenience caused. The amount recommended took into account that, while S had made the decision to take leave from his job and give up his salary for the opportunity to study for a PhD, there was no guarantee that he would have obtained this qualification.

 

Case Study 43
Issues: Supervision; Potential Bias
Outcome: Partly Justified

Summary:

Summary:

S was registered on a MBA course. His concerns centred on his dissertation, and primarily his dissertation supervisor. Following the submission of S's dissertation the University raised and investigated an allegation of plagiarism. The outcome of the investigation was that the University viewed some of his work to be directly copied from other sources but it decided not to pursue a formal case of plagiarism against him on this occasion. The dissertation was returned to be marked on its academic merits.

S was unhappy with his dissertation mark and raised the following concerns with the University:

  • His supervisor caused the plagiarism allegation to be made against him. Following the allegation his supervisor took a negative attitude towards him and the marking of his dissertation.
  • He did not receive reasonable support with his dissertation.
  • His supervisor changed his view of the dissertation based on an article which S believes should not be considered due to the short time between its publication and when his dissertation had to be submitted. S also questioned the accuracy of the article.

On receipt of S's complaint the University stated that if S accepted his award at the forthcoming Awards Ceremony, in 11 days time, he could not continue with his complaint.

S chased the University's response to his complaint after 6 days as his Awards Ceremony was approaching. The University did not respond until the morning of the Awards Ceremony which S attended, without knowing of the response.

The University's response (on the morning of the Awards Ceremony) dismissed the complaint with no elements being upheld. S responded on the same day raising concerns about the timing of the University's response. S then appealed the University's decision.

The University dismissed the appeal saying: "S has significantly undermined his complaint by accepting his award in the knowledge that this would end the consideration of his complaint."

Reasons:

The OIA found the complaint to be Partly Justified for the following reasons:

  • There was evidence of a lack of proper investigation of the complaint at the first stage, including failing to address reasonably S's request for a meeting and delegating the investigation against its regulations.
  • There was no evidence that the University considered if S was given reasonable supervision.
  • There was potentially biased marking given the plagiarism allegation and the markers' comments and this was not considered.
  • The University put unreasonable pressure on S to withdraw his complaint or not attend his award ceremony.

Recommendations:

  • The University to offer S compensation of £400 for the distress and inconvenience caused to him by its failure to address his concerns reasonably and the unreasonable pressure put on him.
  • The University to reconsider if S was given reasonable support by his dissertation supervisor.
  • The University to reconsider if there was potentially biased marking of his dissertation.

Good practice suggestions:

  • If the University wishes to delegate investigation of complaints it should consider amending its regulations appropriately to allow for this.

Case Study 42
Issues: Study Abroad
Outcome: Partly Justified

Summary:

Summary:

S was studying for a BSc in Economics and applied to take part in the University's Study Abroad Programme. He left the UK for the overseas University but returned less than a month later. S submitted a Stage 1 and a Stage 2 complaint about his experience overseas. His complaint was not upheld at either stage. S then requested a case review as he did not believe that his complaint had been handled appropriately at local level A Pro-Vice-Chancellor considered the request for review but concluded that there were insufficient grounds to take further action.

S complained about the following issues to the University and subsequently to the OIA:

  • the course content at the overseas University was not of a suitable academic level;
  • the course duration was shorter than he expected;
  • the University should not have recommended the overseas University to him and
  • he lost a great deal of time and money.

Reasons:

The OIA found the complaint to be Partly Justified because it was not reasonable for the University to have made it solely the student's responsibility to ensure that courses offered by the host University were a suitable match for their home University modules. The University should have given more support and played a more active role in ensuring that the host institutions offered suitably matching courses for students.
There was a lack of thoroughness and transparency when responding to S's complaint. It was not until S made a complaint to the OIA that S became aware of certain information relevant to the complaint, including some concerns about the academic content.

Recommendations:

  • The University to offer S £500 in compensation for the distress and inconvenience caused to S by the failings identified in the University's handling of the complaint
  • The University to undertake a review of the operation of its Student Complaints Procedure in order to address issues of insufficient thoroughness and a lack of transparency in the complaint process.
  • The University to review the Study Abroad Programme process to consider whether it should play a more active role in ensuring that host institutions offer suitably matching courses for students and to lessen the burden of responsibility on participating students.

Case Study 41
Issues: Placement
Outcome: Not Justified

Summary:

Summary:

S was studying for a PGCE. There was a delay in S starting her first placement because the University had difficulty finding schools that were able to offer a placement to S and some other students. When a placement was found, S missed the first day without notifying the University or the School. The University asked for an explanation and S said that the placement was too far away (although it was one of the University's partner schools) and she felt unsafe walking through the campus very early in the morning, while it was still dark, to catch the coach that the University had provided to take her and other students to their placements. The University arranged for S to walk across campus with some other students and she successfully completed the first placement.

S missed the start of her second placement because of ill health. After S had completed a few weeks on placement, her performance was was observed by the school's Deputy Head Teacher who said that S's performance was unsatisfactory and an action plan needed to be put in place. S was unhappy with the way that the Deputy Head Teacher advised her of this and said that she had not previously been made aware of any problems with her performance. The next day S left the placement and advised the school of this decision by text message. She then told the University that she was leaving the PGCE. Some weeks later S asked the University if she could defer her place on the PGCE and complete the second placement at another school when she felt ready.

The University's Exam Board considered this request and decided that S should not be allowed to re-sit the second placement because she had acted unprofessionally whilst on placement. S was awarded a lesser qualification.

S was unhappy with the University's decision and brought a complaint to the OIA.

Reasons:

The OIA found this complaint to be Not Justified on the basis that students were made aware of the need to act professionally and were specifically advised that they should not absent themselves from a placement. S did not seek any advice from the University before leaving either the placement or the course. Although S did subsequently ask for a deferral, the course guidance stated that re-sitting a placement was a not a right and that the Exam Board would decide whether or not a student should be given a further attempt. In this case the academic and professional judgment of the Exam Board was that S should not be permitted to re-sit the placement. Under its Rules the OIA cannot interfere with academic judgment and will not generally interfere with professional judgment, unless there is evidence of procedural irregularity, unfairness or bias, which was not the case here.

Case Study 40
Issues: Supervision
Outcome: Not justified

Summary:

Summary:

S was an undergraduate student undertaking an independent project as part of her final year. S expressed concerns about the availability of her supervisor who had gone abroad on two occasions during the independent project. S was also concerned about the fact that she had not secured ethical approval for her independent project before her supervisor left the country. S subsequently applied for an extension to the submission deadline and this was refused. S received a mark of 54 for the project and overall an award of 2:2 for her degree.

S appealed against this decision on the grounds of poor supervision and the delay in granting her ethical approval. The University rejected the appeal on the grounds that even though the supervisor had not been available in person S had been in e-mail and telephone contact. It concluded that as this was an independent piece of work then S could not expect the level of supervision that she wanted. The University also concluded that another tutor had been available to S in the period that her supervisor was abroad.  It noted that S had been told when to submit her ethical approval form and that, having been given advice by her supervisor in relation to this, she had then failed to submit the form in good time. It pointed out that it had sought to turn around ethical approval as quickly as possible and concluded that it was not responsible for the delay.

S complained to the OIA that the University had failed to take into account the impact of her supervisor being abroad and stated that e-mails and telephone calls were not an adequate substitute for face to face meetings. S also said that the delay in granting her ethical approval and how this had affected her ability to complete the project had not been fully considered. She said that had it not been for these factors she would have achieved a higher mark in the independent project and a higher degree classification overall.

Reasons:

The OIA found this complaint to be Not Justified. We were satisfied that the supervision offered had met the University's published details on supervision and that this was an independent piece of work. S's expectations of supervision were unreasonable and she had not demonstrated that the supervisor's absence had caused her substantial disadvantage.

In addition, the OIA concluded that S had not followed the directions of her supervisor or the published advice on the submission of the ethics form and that she had therefore been responsible for the late submission of this form.  The evidence provided to the OIA showed that the University had processed this form in a reasonable time in all the circumstances.

Case Study 39
Issues: Rule 3.1: Registered Student; Admissions
Outcome: Eligible

Summary:

Summary:

S complained about the University's decision not to admit him to a nursing programme as a result of a CRB check. During the OIA's consideration as to whether the complaint was eligible under its Rules it became apparent that it was unclear whether S was a "registered student". The University confirmed to the OIA that S was not a "registered student" and therefore the OIA found the complaint was not eligible because under rule 3.1 of the Rules of the Scheme, the OIA is unable to consider matters of admissions to a University.

S appealed to the Deputy Adjudicator.

Reasons:

The Deputy Adjudicator allowed S's appeal.

S provided evidence that he was registered as a student by providing a registration number and confirmation that he had started attending classes. Although the University confirmed that it allows a student to continue attending classes pending the CRB outcome, the OIA was satisfied that S was a "registered student" for the purposes of our Rules because he was allowed to begin the course and was permitted to access the University's facilities and processes. S's complaint was therefore accepted for OIA review.

Case Study 38
Issues: Rule 4.2: three month deadline; medical evidence insufficient
Outcome: Not Eligible

Summary:

Summary:

S completed the University's internal complaints procedures and submitted a Scheme Application Form in December 2010. The Completion of Procedures Letter was dated February 2010. S cited being under stress as a reason for the late submission but had provided no medical evidence to support this. The OIA advised S that her complaint was not eligible under Rule 4.2 of the Scheme because her Scheme Application Form was sent more than three months after the date of the University's Completion of Procedures letter.

S appealed to the Deputy Adjudicator.

Reasons:

The Deputy Adjudicator confirmed the original decision.

It was clear that S had been provided with a Completion of Procedures Letter which informed her to contact the OIA if she was dissatisfied and referred her to the OIA's website. S asserted in her appeal that she was unable to access information about how to complain to the OIA whilst she was in her home country; however, it was apparent from the evidence she was in contact with the University during this period and had been directed to the OIA and to her students' union. The Deputy Adjudicator also concluded there was insufficient medical evidence to dis-apply the usual time limits.

Case Study 37
Issues: Rule 4.5: three years deadline
Outcome: Not Eligible

Summary:

S was a student at the University in 1999/2000 and complained that he was not informed by the university that he had to repeat his project within two years. Due to financial constraints he decided not to progress the matter until 2009 and discovered that he was no longer permitted to do so.

The OIA considered that under Rule 4.5 it 'would not normally consider a complaints where it considers that the substantive events complaint about occurred more than three years before the Complaint Form is received'. It was therefore found that this complaint was ineligible.

S appealed to the Deputy Adjudicator.

Reasons

The Deputy Adjudicator confirmed the previous decision. She concluded that it would not be possible to conduct a fair review of events in 1999/2000 and observed that it was likely that important documents will have been destroyed and recollections of the individuals concerned will have faded.

Case Study 36
Issues: Rule 4.1: Internal Complaints Procedures not complete
Outcome: Not Eligible

Summary:

S submitted an appeal to the University. There were three stages to the University's appeal procedures. The student completed the first two stages but did not escalate his appeal to the final third stage. In the University's response to the second stage appeal, the student was signposted to the final stage of the appeals procedure and it also said that if the student did not submit a stage three appeal within the relevant timescale, it would assume that the student wished to withdraw the appeal and abide by the original decision of the Exam Board. When the student did not escalate the appeal, the University sent the student a Completion of Procedures letter. The OIA decided that the student's complaint was not eligible under rule Rule 4.1 of our Scheme Rules set out below:

'A complainant must have first exhausted the internal complaints procedures of the HEI complained about before bringing a complaint to the OIA. In exceptional circumstances a Reviewer may accept a complaint for review even if the internal complaints procedures of the HEI have not been exhausted if he or she considers it appropriate to do so.'

The OIA could find not any exceptional circumstances in the student's Complaint Form for not completing the University's internal procedures.

S appealed to the Deputy Adjudicator.

Reasons

The Deputy Adjudicator confirmed the original decision. She concluded that S's appeal fell within the permitted grounds for stage 3 of the University's procedures, and S had not provided evidence of exceptional circumstances for not progressing her appeal to stage 3. The Deputy Adjudicator noted that the University explained the implications of not proceeding to the next stage of the appeals procedure. She also noted that the University issued a Completion of Procedures Letter which confirmed that its internal procedures were concluded and which stated that the student 'may be able to complain' to the OIA, 'provided [his] complaint [was] eligible under its Rules.' The Deputy Adjudicator noted that the University had issued the Completion of Procedures Letter correctly because S had no further recourse within the University because he had not complied with the time limit for progressing his appeal.

Case Study 35
Issues: Rule 4.2: three month deadline; medical evidence insufficient
Outcome: Not Eligible

Summary:

S was issued with a Completion of Procedures Letter and an unsigned Form was received one day late. A further signed Complaint Form was received 8 days later.

There is discretion to accept complaints after the deadline under Rule 4.2 of the OIA Scheme Rules which says:

'The OIA will not normally consider a complaint unless it is received within three months from the date upon which the internal complaints procedures [of the University] were exhausted except where the Reviewer extends the time because he or she is satisfied that there is good reason to do so.'

S was therefore asked provide reasons and independent evidence if there were exceptional reasons as to why the form was not submitted within the three months.

S stated that the reason for the delay as a minor operation and said that evidence would be provided. S subsequently submitted medical evidence which described a back pain and did not mention the unrelated operation. It was dated before the Completion of Procedures Letter was issued.

S appealed to the Deputy Adjudicator.

Reasons

The Deputy Adjudicator confirmed the decision. She concluded that the certificate did not amount to a good reason to waive the normal time limit as it related to a period of one week before the Completion of Procedures Letter was issued, and did not cover the three month period during which the Complaint Form ought to have been submitted. As no evidence regarding S's operation was submitted the OIA were unable to assess whether it amounted to a good reason to waive time limits.

Case Study 34
Issues: Rule 4.5: three year deadline; Rule 2: admissions
Outcome: Not Eligible

Summary:

S wished to bring a complaint to the OIA about her former supervisor when she was enquiring about being readmitted to the University. However, the substantive events complained about took place more than three years ago. Under Rule 4.5 the 'OIA will not normally consider a complaint where it considers that the substantive events complained about occurred more than three years before the Complaint Form is received by the OIA'.

The OIA also considered that part of the complaint related to an admissions issue, something the OIA cannot consider under Rule 2 of the OIA Scheme Rules.

S appealed to the Deputy Adjudicator and argued that she was effectively suspended and not withdrawn from her studies.

Reasons

The Deputy Adjudicator confirmed the decision. She was satisfied that S was withdrawn from her studies and that S could have complained about this decision at the time. That decision, and the events involving her supervisor, were more than three years ago and there were no reasons to waive the OIA's normal rule. The Deputy Adjudicator agreed that University reasonably treated S's subsequent requests to recommence her studies as an admissions matter which is outside the OIA's remit.

Case Study 33
Issues: Rules 4.2 and 4.3: three month deadline; new complaint; completion of internal complaints procedures
Outcome: Eligibility unable to be determined

Summary:

S's Complaint Form was received six days after the three month deadline. The OIA advised S that her complaint was not eligible under Rule 4.2 of the Scheme because her Complaint Form was sent more than three months after the date of the University's Completion of Procedures letter. S had also been reminded of the relevant time frame in correspondence with the University. The OIA considered that there is discretion under Rule 4.2 to accept the complaint where there is 'good reason to do so'. However, S had only provided limited medical evidence to support her argument that she was unable to submit her Complaint Form before the deadline.

S appealed to the Deputy Adjudicator.

Reasons

The Deputy Adjudicator considered that a complaint about the original appeal was out of time. However, it was clear that S wanted to complain about the outcome of the reassessment not the decision on the original appeal. S did not have a Completion of Procedures Letter relating to the reassessment.

The OIA found that there was no further right of appeal within the University following a reassessment and therefore it appeared that the University's procedures were complete. The OIA therefore asked the University either to issue a further Completion of Procedures Letter or advise S on what further steps she need to take to obtain one.

Case Study 32
Issues: Rule 4.2: 3 month deadline; disability
Outcome: Eligible

Summary:

S's Complaint Form was received six days after the three month deadline. The OIA advised S that her complaint was not eligible under Rule 4.2 of the Scheme because her Complaint Form was sent more than three months after the date of the University's Completion of Procedures letter. S had also been reminded of the relevant time frame in correspondence with the University. The OIA considered that there is discretion under Rule 4.2 to accept the complaint where there is 'good reason to do so'. However, S had only provided limited medical evidence to support her argument that she was unable to submit her Complaint Form before the deadline. S appealed to the Deputy Adjudicator.

Reasons

The Deputy Adjudicator allowed S's appeal. S explained that she was working full time and had dyslexia which meant that it had taken her longer than anticipated to complete the Complaint Form. The Deputy Adjudicator took into account the fact that S had dyslexia and had not received any help in compiling her complaint and completing the Complaint Form. The OIA decided to exercise its discretion under Rule 4.2 and was pleased to note that S was intending to obtain help from her Students' Union.

Case Study 31
Issues: Rule 4.2: 3 month deadline; disability
Outcome: Eligible

Summary:

S wished to complain about the University rejecting her appeal because it considered S did not provide a valid reason for submitting her claim for mitigating circumstances before the Examining Board's Meeting.

S submitted her Complaint Form to the OIA 11 days past the three month deadline. S did not provide medical evidence for why she did not send the Complaint Form within the three month period. The OIA decided the complaint was not eligible under Rule 4.2.

S appealed to the Deputy Adjudicator.

Reasons

The Deputy Adjudicator allowed the appeal because S provided further medical evidence, namely a note from a doctor which confirmed that her symptoms included depression, poor mental functioning and forgetfulness in the period during which S had to make her complaint. The Deputy Adjudicator therefore decided that the OIA should exercise its discretion under Rule 4.2 and accept the complaint out of time.

Case Study 30
Issues: Placements; Procedural Fairness; Professional Standards
Outcome: Justified

Summary:

Course/Professional Body: Social Work; General Social Care Council (GSCC)

S was enrolled on a BSc in Social Work. Before offering students a place on the course, the University required them to complete a form disclosing any previous convictions. S disclosed one motoring conviction for which she had received a 28 day ban. The University did not consider this to be serious and offered S a place on the course.

Before starting her second year placement, S was required to complete an application for an Enhanced Criminal Records Disclosure from the Criminal Records Bureau, as a result of which two further motoring convictions, which S had not previously disclosed to the University, came to light. The University convened a Cause for Concern Meeting at which S explained the reasons for the non-disclosure. At the same meeting, S was asked to prepare an anonymised written explanation of the circumstances surrounding the additional convictions and the reasons why she had not disclosed them. S was informed that her written statement would be forwarded to two of the University's partner agencies who were responsible for offering placements. Their comments and S's statement would then be considered by the University's Convictions Panel ("Convictions Panel") under the University's healthcare students screening procedure ("the Screening Procedure").

The Screening Procedure required the details of offences to be outlined to partner agencies for a response as to: "…whether they would be in a position to potentially offer a placement or employ someone with the stated offences."

S's course leader sent S's statement with the University's pro forma letter to the partner agencies. The letter asked the agencies to indicate whether they would be able to offer S a placement given her circumstances; whether S met the standards of conduct they would expect of social care staff and whether "… her convictions and current concerns should preclude her from being employed within your agency."

Both partner agencies indicated that they would not offer a placement to a student in S's circumstances and when the Convictions Panel subsequently met, it decided that S should be withdrawn from her course. When S's case was referred to the University's Termination of Studies Panel, she submitted mitigating circumstances with supporting evidence in the form of medical certificates, court records relating to her convictions, testimonials from professional referees and her more detailed explanation of the events surrounding her convictions. S's course leader, who was present at the hearing, informed the Termination of Studies Panel that as the partner agencies would not offer S a placement, the case was outside of the University's control because the University could not keep a student without a placement on the course.

The Termination of Studies Panel subsequently recommended that S be withdrawn and this was later confirmed by the Exam Board. S requested a review of the decision on the grounds of material administrative error. S was subsequently notified that her appeal had been rejected.

S complained to the OIA that:

  • the University did not properly consider the mitigating circumstances she submitted to the Termination of Studies Panel;
  • she was told the partner agencies would be contacted via a letter containing anonymised details of her case together with a copy of her written statement. However, email correspondence between the University and one of the agencies suggested that her circumstances had been the subject of several telephone conversations. S was concerned that her anonymity had not been preserved and that a fair process had not been followed in her case.

Reasons

The Termination of Studies Panel did not meet in private at the end of the hearing to consider the evidence and this procedural flaw amounted to a breach of the principles of natural justice (the duty to act fairly). The OIA found that there was no record of any decision by the Termination of Studies Panel in relation to S's mitigating circumstances and that the evidence showed the Panel had accepted the arguments made by S's course leader without properly considering S's submissions. The OIA also found that the questions put to the partner agencies in the University's pro forma letter, and the information provided to them, went beyond what was required under the Screening Procedure. This meant that the agencies were provided with information which they should not have seen and asked to provide an opinion on matters which were beyond their remit under the Screening Procedure. As a consequence, both the Convictions Panel and the Termination of Studies Panel considered opinions about S which were unfairly obtained. The OIA found that the absence of any record of the conversations between the University and one partner agency about S's case was unfair to S because of the lack of transparency.

Finally, the OIA found that the University treated S's request for a review of the Exam Board's decision as an appeal. This was incorrect as, under the University's procedures, S was entitled to present her case to an Appeals Panel for a decision to be reached about whether she should be given leave to appeal and this did not happen.

Recommendations:

  • the University to reconsider S's case at a fresh Termination of Studies Panel, ensuring that procedures for hearing and considering S's evidence in private are followed and giving reasons for its decision;
  • fresh opinions to be sought from different partner agencies in relation to S's case. The partner agencies to be asked only whether they would be in a position to offer a placement to someone in S's situation, and to be provided only with anonymised details of the offences and dates;
  • those opinions to be requested, and presented to the Termination of Studies Panel, by someone with no previous involvement in S's case.

Observations:

The OIA made the following suggestions:

  • that Enhanced Criminal Records checks be carried out before admission to the social work course, in line with the procedure for other health and social care courses and GSCC guidance;
  • that the University keeps clear records of all deliberations and decisions, with reasons.

Case Study 29
Issues: Procedural Fairness; Professional Standards
Outcome: Justified

Summary:

Course/Professional Body: Midwifery; Nursing and Midwifery Council

S was registered on a BSc Midwifery Course which was 18 months long. Under the requirements of the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) the student was required to complete the course within 2.5 years of registering. S had successfully completed the academic elements of the course.

She failed her first placement but following a successful appeal was permitted to retake the placement as if for the first time. S failed the second placement but again made a successful appeal and was allowed to take the placement again. S failed the third placement. Under the course regulations S would have been permitted a fourth attempt to pass the placement which would have constituted her second formal attempt as the first two attempts had been disregarded.

After the third placement S was referred to a Practice Enquiry Panel. This was standard practice after a failed placement. At the Practice Enquiry Panel concerns were raised by a placement midwife about S's fitness to practise. The matter was referred to a Fitness to Practise Panel. The Fitness to Practise Panel concluded that S was not fit to practise and was withdrawn from the course. S appealed against the decision. A Disciplinary Appeal Panel upheld the appeal on the grounds that there had been a material procedural irregularity in the conduct of the Fitness to Practise Panel. The case was referred back to a newly formed Fitness to Practise Panel to decide whether S was fit to practise.

The second Fitness to Practise Panel concluded that S was fit to practise and should be given another placement. Unfortunately the original Trust would not provide another placement and the University was required to find another provider. S was informed of the outcome and her attention was drawn to the NMC deadline for completion.

The University wrote to S to say that the NMC would not extend the deadline for completing the course. Any second attempt placement had to be 4 weeks in length and so there was insufficient time for S to complete the placement. The University had no option but to withdraw her from the course.

 

S submitted a complaint to the University and a hearing was held 3 months after submission. The Complaint Panel concluded that there had been unreasonable delays and that a letter of apology should be issued to S. It also recommended changes to Department Procedures. It recommended that S should be readmitted to the Midwifery Programme subject to a placement being offered by a Trust and other relevant checks being obtained. The Department to make every reasonable effort to support S in finding a suitable placement and to meet the cost of readmission in the event that the Strategic Health Authority was unable to fund her.

The University was unable to find a Trust that would accommodate S and therefore was unable to satisfactorily resolve S's complaint.

S complained to the OIA that:

  • the first Fitness to Practise Panel took 50 days to convene instead of 20;
  • the appeal took 90 days to be heard. The Appeal Panel also comprised academics who could not decide fitness to practise issues. It upheld her appeal but had to refer the decision back to the Fitness to Practise Panel;
  • the second Fitness to Practise Panel declared her fit to practise but with only four weeks to run of the two and half years stipulated by the NMC she would not be able to complete the placement in time; and
  • the complaint took longer than it should.

The OIA found the complaint to be justified because there were unreasonable delays in convening the first Fitness to Practise and the Appeal Panels.

S's appeal was upheld as the first Fitness to Practise Panel failed to observe the University's procedures and principles of natural justice. Had it done so S may not have been obliged to appeal. However, there was no certainty that S would pass the repeat placement or that the University would be able to find a placement for her, but S lost the opportunity to complete her midwifery course.

It was noted that the University did endeavour to obtain a time extension from the NMC and obtain an alternative placement if S chose to repeat the course. It also offered to meet the costs if S was unable to obtain funding. The University did provide an apology for the delay in arranging the first fitness to practise panel but not in relation to the delays in the appeal process.

Reasons

The OIA found the complaint to be justified because there were unreasonable delays in convening the first Fitness to Practise and the Appeal Panels.

S's appeal was upheld as the first Fitness to Practise Panel failed to observe the University's procedures and principles of natural justice. Had it done so S may not have been obliged to appeal. However, there was no certainty that S would pass the repeat placement or that the University would be able to find a placement for her, but S lost the opportunity to complete her midwifery course.

It was noted that the University did endeavour to obtain a time extension from the NMC and obtain an alternative placement if S chose to repeat the course. It also offered to meet the costs if S was unable to obtain funding. The University did provide an apology for the delay in arranging the first fitness to practise panel but not in relation to the delays in the appeal process.

Recommendations:

  • to pay the sum of £1,750 in respect of S's lost opportunity to complete the midwifery course. (The sum would have been considerably higher had it not been for the uncertainty over whether a placement would have been found for S);
  • to pay the sum of £250 in compensation for the stress caused by the delays to the fitness to practise proceedings, including the appeal;
  • an apology for all of the delays that occurred to the fitness to practise proceedings including the appeal process;
  • to review its disciplinary appeal procedures to clarify the options available to the Appeal Panel and to set out the timescales for the appeals process.

Observations:

The University has reviewed its Fitness to Practise procedures and strengthened and extended internal communication processes to include confirming professional registration deadlines to assist processing of appeals.

Case Study 28
Issues: Procedural Fairness; Code of Practice
Outcome: Partly Justified

Summary:

Course/Professional Body: Counselling

S was studying for a Postgraduate Diploma in Counselling which required students to attend a clinical placement involving a minimum of 150 practice hours and at least 40 individual weekly supervision sessions. Five months into the course S was advised that he was to be held back from his placement because of concerns about his behaviour. S began his placement a year after joining the course. He received an "unsatisfactory" final supervision report. The External Examiner who considered the report said that a second placement was not appropriate because the report raised issues of unethical working and client risk together with some doubt that an improvement in performance would be likely.

The Exam Board agreed to recommend that S fail the course at the first attempt and be denied a second attempt at the placement because reassessment would entail an unacceptable risk for clients under the University's regulations. S appealed against the decision and asked to repeat the placement. The Appeals Panel rejected his appeal.

S made a second appeal to the Review Panel which agreed to recommend that S should be allowed to repeat the placement subject to a number of conditions. As the Review Panel proposed to vary the student's result it was required to seek the view of the External Examiner. The External Examiner refused to endorse the recommendation so the decision was referred to the University's Final Review Panel. The Final Review Panel rejected the Review Panel's recommendation and upheld the Exam Board's decision not to allow a second placement.

S complained to the OIA that the University's decision to refuse him a second placement was not justified because:

  • there was no evidence to support the view that a second placement posed an unacceptable risk to clients;
  • he received inadequate tutorial support;
  • prior to the unsatisfactory final report he was not told of the alleged deficiencies in his performance or the possible consequences. His first and second reports were that his performance was satisfactory; and
  • the Appeals Process was flawed. In particular the External Examiner may have been unfairly influenced by the Department who he contacted to discuss the case with after the Review Panel. The External Examiner may therefore have taken into account matters occurring after the decision to withdraw him from the course when he advised the Review Panel that he did not support its decision that S should be allowed to repeat the placement.

Reasons

The OIA's overall finding was that S's complaint was partly justified. The OIA considered the aspect of S's complaint that the Appeal Process was flawed to be justified. No finding was made in respect of S's other substantive complaints as they were not considered in the OIA's review in order to avoid prejudicing any further action that the OIA required the University to take because S's procedural complaint was justified.

The OIA found the procedural aspect of S's complaint to be justified because while the Regulations did not prohibit the External Examiner contacting staff prior to making a recommendation to the Final Review Panel, it is a fundamental principle of procedural fairness that parties to a dispute be allowed an equal opportunity to be heard before the decision maker. Both S and the Department were able to put their case to the Review Panel but the Department could not persuade the Panel that S should not have a second placement. While it was the External Examiner who contacted the Department and the Department may not have intended to influence the External Examiner's decision, the result was that the Department had another opportunity to influence the decision maker that S should not have a second placement.

It was considered to be a rare situation where the Final Review Panel would disagree with an External Examiner as to whether a student should have a second opportunity. The consequences of not being allowed a further placement are grave. As such it is of the utmost importance that the process by which the External Examiner reached their decision complies with the principles of procedural fairness and is procedurally beyond reproach.

Recommendations:

  • That the University offer to refer S's case to another External Examiner (who has not been previously involved in the case) for a recommendation as to whether or not S should be allowed a second placement.
  • The new External Examiner should have all the information presented to the Review Panel and should be advised their decision should be based solely on the documentation without discussion with the Department.
  • If the new External Examiner refuses to endorse the Review Panel's recommendation that S be allowed a second placement, the decision should again be made by the Final Review Panel.

Case Study 27
Issues: Fairness; Code of Practice
Outcome: Partly Justified

Summary:

Course/Professional Body: Medicine; General Medical Council

S was registered on a MBChB course. Following the submission of a report she was informed by her Supervisor that there was suspected plagiarism. S then attended a Department interview where she agreed that she had committed plagiarism. In mitigation she said that she had submitted a draft version of her report rather than the final draft. She was advised that her report would receive zero marks and that the matter was going to be referred to a Fitness to Practise Panel due to the severity of her plagiarism.

The University on recognising that S had not been advised of her appeal rights against the Department decision, decided to treat her submission to the Fitness to Practise Panel as her appeal. It did not uphold her appeal on the grounds that S was responsible for ensuring that the correct version of the report had been submitted and that the plagiarism had been evident. It concluded that the penalty was reasonable and consistent.

S complained about the following:

  • that the finding of plagiarism was not sustainable and that the penalty was not proportionate;
  • that the University had not followed its own procedures.

Reasons

The OIA found the complaint partly justified because the University did not discharge its obligations in line with its regulations. It failed to consider the matter of intent when measuring the seriousness of the offence and considering what penalty to impose. The complaint about the finding of plagiarism was not upheld, as in general terms the nature and extend of plagiarism is an academic judgment and therefore outside the remit of the OIA Scheme.

Recommendations:

  • vacate the penalty that had been imposed;
  • refer the matter back to the Department for reconsideration, ensuring that the matter of intent was considered;
  • consider amending the guidance to reflect the fact that intention to deceive is relevant to the penalty that will be imposed.

Case Study 26
Issues: Placement; Procedural Fairness
Outcome: Not Justified

Summary:

Course/Professional Body: Teaching; General Teaching Council

S was registered on a PGCE course. S received a fail for her final placement portfolio because she had not achieved some of the required practical teaching standards. S complained, arguing that this was due to the inadequacy of the placement. Having acknowledged some deficiencies of the placement, the University agreed to allow S another attempt and identified an alternative placement school. S rejected the alternative on the grounds that she had been given insufficient notice and that the school was too far from her home. The University subsequently notified her that her registration was being terminated under a clause in the terms and conditions of registration which said: "The University may terminate your Registration Agreement at any time if a partner school cannot be contracted which is willing to support you for any part of the course."

S lodged a complaint about her original placement school and noted that the University had terminated her registration on the basis of a condition which was not in her contract. In response, the University argued its decision to offer her an alternative placement had been reasonable. It said that S had not received the correct contract and that as S had rejected the alternative placement, her registration would now be terminated under a different provision, on the grounds of her failure either to make satisfactory progress or to complete her course within a three year period. S's appeal under the final stage of the Complaints Procedure was rejected by the University.


S complained to the OIA that:

  • there were significant problems with her final teaching placement which the University did not properly address;
  • an alternative placement was offered at short notice and at a considerable distance from S's home;
  • S's registration was terminated under a clause which was not in her contract and before the expiry of the time in which she was allowed to qualify.

Reasons

The OIA found that for many of the issues raised by S, there was no independent evidence that could be interpreted to support either party. The University's decision not to investigate the details of S's first complaint and to offer her an alternative placement was taken in the best interests of S. The University later carried out a detailed investigation at the final stage of the Complaints Procedure.

There was a shortage of placements and the University made an exhaustive search for an alternative school. The OIA found that although the allocated placement was further away than would have been ideal, in the circumstances it was not unreasonable to expect S to undertake the travel for a twelve-week period.

The OIA found a lack of clarity in the way the University had applied its regulations to terminate S's registration but that it was entitled to do so as S had rejected a reasonable offer of a placement. For this reason the University was justified in considering that S was responsible for her own lack of progress. The OIA found that it was reasonable for the University to conclude that it would be unlikely to find another placement for S and that there was no benefit to S in continuing her registration.

Case Study 25
Issues: Procedural Fairness; Professional Standards
Outcome: Not Justified

Summary:

Course/Professional Body: Nursing (Mental Health); Nursing and Midwifery Council

S was studying for a DipHE in Nursing (Mental Health). During S's first placement, the Hospital made the University aware of concerns regarding S's attitude, poor motivation and use of his mobile phone. After these were discussed with S there were no further problems and he successfully completed the placement. During the second placement post-placement interview S's social skills were discussed and identified as an area for further learning because S came across as aggressive, rude and abrupt. When S failed an assignment he sought out the Tutor and told her he should have passed. The Tutor felt intimidated by S's demeanour and by the fact he had sought her out.

S was involved in an incident with a patient with a history of mental health issues. When the patient refused to return to his room, S approached the patient which escalated the situation and S physically restrained the patient. The University suspended S from his clinical placement as it was concerned his actions might constitute assault but S was able to continue attending University. A Disciplinary Panel decided that while S had mismanaged the situation he could return to his placement as he had not acted inappropriately and no further action should be taken against him.

The time taken for his hearing to proceed meant S missed his fifth placement and the start of his sixth. S visited the relevant department a few days after his hearing to find out when he could rejoin his cohort on placement. He became angry and shouted accusations of racism when he learnt that the Hospital would not allow him to start his placement until it had received formal notification that there was no sanction against him. S subsequently rejoined his cohort on the seventh placement. Towards the end S was told there were concerns that he was not achieving an adequate level of competency and his behaviour was unsatisfactory, in particular his lack of punctuality, use of his mobile phone and falling asleep at work. During a subsequent Hospital staff meeting, S's mobile phone rang despite previous instruction that mobile phones should be switched off while staff were working. After the meeting the Regulations were discussed with S and he was asked to leave the Hospital and return the following week. S became aggressive and hostile and refused to leave. After eventually doing so, S did not return to the placement. When the University was told of these events it referred S to a Fitness to Practise Panel.

The Panel concluded that the three incidents of aggression along with the other concerns that had been raised showed a pattern of unprofessional and inappropriate behaviour which was incompatible with the nursing profession. S was withdrawn from the course but was not excluded from the University. S lodged an appeal. The Appeals Panel decided that the primary cause for concern was S's perceived aggressive behaviour. S had been repeatedly told of these concerns but any improvements were not sustained. The Appeals Panel concluded that when the Fitness to Practise Panel had decided he was not fit to practise it had no option but to withdraw him.

S complained to the OIA that:

  • he had not been made fully aware of the problems with, and consequences of, his behaviour;
  • the Fitness to Practise Panel's decision that he should be withdrawn was too severe

Reasons

The OIA found the complaint to be not justified because there was sufficient evidence that the University explained to S the problems with his behaviour and it would have been implicit in these discussions that his conduct was incompatible with a career as a nurse.

The University did not breach its procedures in conducting the Fitness to Practise Panel or the Appeal because:

  • it had concerns about his suitability to remain on the programme so it was appropriate to use the fitness to practise procedures;
  • the concerns about S's behaviour were considered sufficiently serious to justify taking the case straight to the formal stage and this was not unreasonable;
  • there were four panel members which constitutes a valid panel under the University regulations
  • in accordance with the regulations, the Chair requested evidence and S had the opportunity to present his case;
  • S was notified of the outcome of the hearings.

Observations

S complained that the decision of the Fitness to Practise Panel was too severe. In the circumstances of this case, the decision of the Fitness to Practise Panel was a matter of professional judgment with which the OIA cannot interfere. In deciding this the OIA took into account the judgment of Mr Justice Stanley Burnton in the case of Matthew Highham v The University of Plymouth [2005] EWHC 1492 (Admin), in particular the following:

"In deciding whether the decision should be set aside, the Court, which is less qualified to make the decision under challenge than the decision maker, must approach that decision fairly made by those qualified to make it with the respect and deference due in such circumstances."

Read more case studies on different topics.

Case Study 24
Issues: Academic Judgement; Postgraduate
Outcome: Not Justified

Summary:

S was studying for the award of PhD.

S submitted his thesis for examination and the examiners carried out a preliminary report prior to the viva.

The examiners decided that the thesis was not of PhD standard and S was awarded an MPhil, subject to minor amendments being completed.

S lodged an academic appeal against the decision which was heard before an Appeals Panel. S said that there had been a procedural error in the conduct of the examination. S said that his supervisor had incorrectly advised him to submit his thesis for examination, even though S considered it was not ready for submission. S also said that his supervisor informed him that, if the examiners considered the thesis was not of an acceptable standard, they would make recommendations and he would be given the opportunity to resubmit the thesis at a later stage. S also stated that he had not been informed of the reasons why his thesis did not meet the criteria for a PhD award. S believed that his PhD thesis had been judged against a different set of criteria than that set out in the University’s Regulations.

S attended the appeal hearing. The Appeal Panel rejected the appeal on the grounds that S had failed to establish the grounds of appeal.

S complained to the OIA that:

  • He did not receive feedback from the examiners following the failure of his PhD.M
  • He was given incorrect advice regarding the submission of his thesis by his supervisor.


Reasons:

The OIA found the complaint to be Not Justified.

The OIA found that there was no breach of the assessment regulations in the marking of the S’s thesis. The OIA found that S was, in fact, challenging the academic judgment of the examiners and the OIA was unable to interfere with the University’s academic judgment. The OIA was satisfied from the documents provided that the examiners had identified significant failings in the thesis. The OIA noted that it was the academic judgment of the examiners that the thesis could not meet the standard of PhD even if further work were completed. The OIA found that this decision was open to the examiners under the University’s assessment regulations.

The OIA was satisfied that it was the student’s responsibility to decide when his thesis was ready for submission as set out in the Research Handbook.

The OIA noted that students were clearly informed by the University of all possible outcomes in the examination process. The OIA considered that, in deciding when to submit their thesis for examination, all students must weigh up the likelihood that they may not reach the required PhD standard and consider the implications of all possible results which may be awarded.

The OIA found that the Appeal was conducted in accordance with the University’s procedures and the decision to reject the appeal was reasonable in the circumstances.

Case Study 23
Issues: Fees; Undergraduate
Outcome: Not Justified

Summary:

S was studying medicine at the University. He was born in the UK in 1989 and, in 1996, his family moved to the USA due to his mother’s employment. His mother had continued to work in the USA on temporary annual contracts since that point. S then returned to the UK in 2007 to continue his studies.

Prior to registering as a student, S was classed as an international student and was charged international fees on that basis. Following his registration at the University, S submitted a number of appeals to the University against his classification as an international student.

S stated that as he was now settled in the UK following his 18th birthday and that as the only citizenship he held was British, he intended to settle permanently in the UK. S stated that he had not lived in the UK for three years prior to his registration as a student, but he had come to the UK with a one way ticket and therefore he was now permanently and ordinarily settled in the UK. S asked that he be charged home fees.

The University rejected the appeal and maintained that as S had not been ordinarily resident in the UK in the last three years, it was right to charge him international student fees.

S complained to the OIA that the University was incorrect to charge him international student fees and he was entitled to be charged home fees in line with the University’s regulations.

Reasons

The OIA found the complaint to be Not Justified as the OIA found that, in order for S to be charged home fees, he needed to demonstrate that his time abroad had been temporary due to his parents’ employment abroad.  If he proved this he would be considered to be an ‘excepted student’ and would only have to pay home fees.

The OIA found that the DfES guidance provided a check list for absence due to employment to assist assessors in reaching a decision on cases where British students had not been in resident in the UK for three years. The OIA noted that this guidance advises universities that consideration should be given to whether the employment contract of the parent was the first overseas posting of its type or whether it was a continuation of similar contracts. It stated that a succession of similar temporary contracts could be construed as permanent employment

The OIA was satisfied that the University was able to consider S’s mother’s succession of temporary contracts as an indictor that she was permanently employed abroad and found that the decision to charge S international student fees was reasonable in all the circumstances.

Case Study 22
Issues: Supervision; Progression; Feedback; Academic Judgment; Postgraduate
Outcome: Partly Justified

Summary:

S was a part-time student studying for an award of PhD.

S’s first supervisor, Professor A, left the University two years into S’s research and her second supervisor, Professor B, became the lead supervisor.  S was not allocated a new second supervisor.  Four years later, the University carried out an audit of all research students and S was asked to attend a progress meeting with the Research Degree Committee (“RDC”) to discuss her apparent lack of progress.  At the meeting, S was advised that she was to be withdrawn from the course because she had not submitted any progress or annual reports during her time on the course as required under the University’s regulations.

S appealed to the Vice Chancellor against the decision of the RDC on the basis of various mitigating circumstances including failure by the University to provide appropriate resources and ill health and family problems, all of which impeded her progress.  S also stated that she had submitted her annual reports when the University provided them to her to complete and that she had not had any supervision for four years.

The Vice Chancellor rejected S’s appeal.

S complained to the OIA that:

  • Her annual reports had been submitted except that for the current year.
  • S had not been warned of the time limits or given a deadline in which to submit the 10 month progress report prior to being withdrawn.
  • The University had not provided S with a new second supervisor and Professor B had been unavailable for supervision.
  • S was not provided with the necessary resources to undertake her studies, even though she made the University aware of her problems.
  • The University failed to take into account of her mitigating circumstances.
  • S had not been warned prior to the progress meeting that she was to be withdrawn and she considered that the outcome of the meeting had been predetermined.
  • The minutes of the progress meeting were not an accurate reflection of the meeting.
  • There was also a delay in sending a copy of the minutes to her.

Reasons

The OIA found the complaint to be Partly Justified.

The OIA was highly critical of the University’s failure to ensure adequate supervisory arrangements were in place for S when Professor A left.  Whilst the OIA accepted that the supervisory relationship was of a two way nature and it was satisfied that S should have contacted Professor B after Professor A had left the University, in the OIA’s view the primary responsibility for perceiving and acting on a problem lay with Professor B.  When Professor A left the University that role, as the University accepted, should have been assumed by Professor B.

The OIA noted that the University failed to provide any clarification of the roles and responsibilities of the student / supervisor relationship.  The OIA also noted that there appeared to have been no supervisory framework as recommended in the QAA Code of Practice.

The OIA concluded that S appeared not to have received any supervision from Professor B nor was she reminded by him of the milestones that she was expected to meet in order to progress on the course.  The OIA noted that the University admitted in its internal document that Professor B had never supervised the student.  The OIA was critical that the University had failed to monitor, or addressed, S’s lack of academic progress for four years.

The OIA noted that S had not been proactive in addressing her supervision and her lack of academic progress and it appeared that S was content to continue to re-enrol on the course and pay fees each year in spite of receiving no supervision and making no apparent academic progress.  However, the OIA did not think it reasonable for the University to continue to allow S to re-enrol on the course each year in such circumstances as the University’s regulations made it clear that at least once a year, the RDC needed to establish whether a candidate was actively engaged on the research programme and was maintaining regular and frequent contact with supervisors.   The RDC was also required to consider reports from the supervisors on the candidate’s progress and take appropriate action.  This had not happened in S’s case.

The OIA was not satisfied that the letter sent to S prior to the progress meeting notified her that she might be withdrawn.  The OIA considered that given the seriousness of the potential outcome, S should have been made explicitly aware of the possible outcome of the meeting.

The OIA was also critical of the apparent lack of any written procedure governing the process by which the University may withdraw a postgraduate student due to lack of academic progress.

The OIA upheld S’s complaint that the University did not provide the minutes of the progress meeting in a timely manner which made it difficult for S to formulate her appeal.

The OIA noted that the University did not have a mitigating circumstance procedure for postgraduate research students.  However, the OIA found that the University was entitled to find that the circumstances which S raised in her appeal did not adequately explain her lack of progress on the course.

Recommendations

  • The University put in place mechanisms to ensure that where a change in the supervisory team is required, the student is notified in writing of the fact and of the steps taken by the University to facilitate the change.
  • The University review its procedures for monitoring the progress of research degree students on at least an annual basis.
  • The University review its mechanisms for providing feedback on a student’s lack of academic progress and to ensure that all staff receive training to ensure that they are aware of their roles in that process.  As part of the review, the University should consider providing clear written guidance in the Handbook and Regulations as to the process to be followed in the event that it becomes necessary to withdraw a student through the lack of academic progress.
  • The University to offer to pay S the sum of £800 for compensation for the failings highlighted.  In deciding this amount, the OIA took into account the fact that S was not sufficiently proactive in raising and resolving these issues.

Observations The OIA noted that comments made by academic staff at the progress meeting were insensitive and, whilst the OIA did not consider the comments were material to the University’s decision to withdraw S, the University may wish to consider that staff should be aware of the need to handle discussions with students, particularly those facing withdrawal, with an appropriate level of sensitivity.

Case Study 21
Issues: Supervision; Postgraduate
Outcome: Partly Justified

Summary:

S was an international student registered on a postgraduate research course.

Before being accepted onto the Course, the University interviewed and obtained references on S.  It ascertained that her International English Language Testing System (“IELTS”) score was poor and that her results from her previous master’s course were low passes.  As a condition of being accepted on to the University’s programme, S was required to attend English classes.  S attended some English classes, but gave them up, informing her supervisor of this.

Although there were difficulties in arranging mutually convenient tutorials, eight sessions were held and the Annual Review indicated that good progress had been made and that there was a satisfactory student-supervisor relationship.  However, S’s application to transfer to PhD study was not approved because of poor research design compounded by the use of poor English.

S complained to the head of the PhD programme about the decision of the Transfer Panel and her supervision.  A meeting was held with the head of the PhD programme and her supervisor to determine the way forward.  After several further supervision sessions, a revised transfer application was submitted.  The supervisor initially responded that he could not provide any feedback because of the poor English.  After several resubmissions, he provided detailed written feedback.  The second Transfer Panel approved the revised application and S progressed to PhD study.

S submitted an outline of her research which related to a different topic to that agreed by the Transfer Panel.  The supervisor requested further information on the new proposal.  S was in her home country at that stage and, after being chased by the supervisor, appeared confused as to what was required of her.

S refused to sign the subsequent annual review form and met with the Head of PhD Studies and requested a different supervisor.  The University agreed to this.

Several months later, it became apparent there were difficulties between the new supervisor and S.  S requested a more “sympathetic” supervisor.  S attended meetings with the Head of the PhD Studies and the new supervisor to discuss the supervision arrangements and the work required of her.  In the second of the meetings, S appeared distressed and was referred to the Student Health Centre.  S complained about the meeting.

S attended a further meeting with the head of the PhD Studies, the new supervisor and the Dean of Faculty to discuss her lack of progress and the continuation of her registration.  S was informed that she appeared to have unrealistic expectations of the role of her supervisor and was offered the option of changing to study for an MPhil which she appeared to accept.  S submitted a draft MPhil thesis to the head of PhD study.

S subsequently made a formal complaint about inadequate supervision and the decision to transfer her to an MPhil programme.  The complaint was not upheld.  S submitted a further complaint but this was also rejected.

S requested that the OIA reviewed:

  • The supervision she received.
  • The University’s investigation of her complaint.
  • The decision to transfer her to an MPhil programme.

Reasons

The OIA found the complaint to be Partly Justified.

The OIA found that the University admitted S onto the PhD programme knowing of her low marks in her master’s course and that she had a poor IELTS test score. Whilst the OIA could not comment on the University’s decision to accept her on the course, the OIA found that the University should have been on notice that S required more support than other students in the circumstances.

The OIA considered that much of S’s complaint arose from her not fully understanding the nature of independent study at PhD level and having an incorrect view of what was required of her and her supervisors.  The OIA considered that this was not addressed at the outset of her research as required by the Regulations.

The OIA found that the decision to transfer S to an MPhil programme was one of academic judgment and it fell outside the scope of the OIA’s review. 
The OIA noted that the University had already waived £8,000 of S’s fees.

Case Study 20
Issues: Course delivery; Postgraduate
Outcome: Justified

Summary:

S was registered on part time taught MA course. Students were required to pass a core research skills module and two option modules in stage 1 and a dissertation in stage 2 to complete the MA.

S selected two option modules taught by Dr A. Four months into S’s studies Dr A left the University's employment but continued to be responsible for supporting students on these modules, offering remote support by email.

Owing to illness S requested an extension, which was granted, to complete her assessed work for these modules.  S also drew attention to Dr A's absence. S submitted her assessments by the new deadline.

The Exam Board noted that S had failed stage 1 of the course and it thought that she had withdrawn.  The Exam Board therefore did not arrange for her to take any reassessments.

S submitted an Appeal against the decision of the Exam Board. She stated that she had received no lectures in writing and research skills at Masters level which she felt was needed to  adjust to postgraduate writing and she complained about Dr A’s absence and a lack of support.

The University rejected S's Appeal on the grounds that the Exam Board had been aware of all the matters raised by S at the time it made its decision.  It said that after Dr A had left, S had been able to contact Dr A and that Professor B had been available for additional support.  The University stated that Professor B said that S had only had minimal contact with him.  The University noted that the Chair of the Exam Board said that a student studying at this level should already have a good standard of essay writing and that further guidance was available in the handbook.  The University took her ill health into consideration when making its decision.  It also said that S’s complaint was a result of a mismatch of her expectations of the programme and the Department’s expectations of the students.  The University suggested that Masters level study was characterized by independent study and research rather than direct teaching.  It went on to say that, as S had a good degree, it was not unreasonable for her to have made the transition to master’s level smoothly.

S complained to the OIA about her appeal. The OIA suspended consideration of S's application because the University was investigating her complaint and there were considerable areas of overlap with her appeal. The University rejected S's application to initiate the final stage of the complaints procedure because it was out of time.

S subsequently complained to the OIA that:

  • The University did not offer appropriate levels of academic support which caused her to fail. S contended that the University did not provide the level of teaching outlined in the programme handbook and emails from Dr A were not equivalent to face-to-face teaching.
  • The stress S suffered as a result of this lack of support caused her to be unwell which had financial consequences.

Reasons

The OIA found the complaint Justified.

The University did not consider whether S's concerns were based on a legitimate expectation that she would receive face-to-face teaching in order to develop the skills and knowledge required by the course. The University consideration of the complaint was insufficiently investigated as the Department did not present any evidence that S had been supported in the manner promised by the prospectus. The OIA found that the course prospectus and handbook, and other published material stressed the importance of personal tutorial contact and the acquisition and development of skills at master's level through regular meetings and tutor-led learning.

The OIA was critical of the University's management of the tutor’s departure as there was no discussion with individual students as to the impact of Dr A’s departure. No alternative support was put in place until students expressed dissatisfaction.

The Exam Board’s decision in regard to S’s progression was based on a flawed assumption that she had withdrawn. A lack of transparency in the appeals procedure meant S was not given a copy of the papers so was unaware the Board had made this assumption and was unable to challenge it.

The University was unhelpful in the manner in which it communicated information about the final stage of its complaints procedure as its letter did not say it was possible to appeal against the formal decision letter or provide any time limits for doing so. Its decision to reject C’s complaint as out of time was unreasonable.

Recommendations

As S had obtained a lesser award of PG Diploma, the OIA did not consider it appropriate to recommend her fees be refunded in full. It recommended that the University:

  • Should offer to pay £900 in compensation for its failure to provide academic support as described in the course prospectus and handbook.
  • Should consider the effect of this failure properly within its appeal and complaints procedures.

Observations

The OIA was critical of the fact that the University did not provide S with copies of reports prepared by the Department in response to her appeal prior to the appeal panel hearing.  The OIA considers that universities have a duty to act fairly and is required to ensure that all parties to a dispute should have the opportunity to see and comment on material relied on by the decision maker.  The OIA strongly suggested that the University reviewed its procedures in relation to this.

Case Study 19
Issues: Supervision; Postgraduate
Outcome: Justified

Summary:

S was registered on an MA by research course, which included the submission of a thesis.

The supervisor said that only stylistic changes needed to be made to S’s thesis. The supervisor believed there were issues with S’s level of English but did not advise her to undertake further classes to address this issue.  When S asked whether the thesis was of a standard to submit, the supervisor hesitated and suggested they consult with another person.   The supervisor arranged for a retired colleague to review the thesis.  The colleague’s comments were more critical than the supervisor’s.  S made the amendments and the supervisor again gave positive feedback to S.

S was subsequently referred in her thesis.  S complained to the Director of Research Development that she had received inadequate supervision and of delays.  The Director responded that delays had occurred due to emails being sent to another staff member with the same name as her tutor and also reported that the examiners had indicated that the thesis should be referred for further work before an oral examination could take place.

S escalated her complaint about inadequate supervision to the Head of the Department.  S said that she had had positive comments from her supervisor on the thesis and was disappointed to learn that the thesis required profound reworking and restructuring.  S asked for compensation in the form of a transfer to another university for which the University would pay the transfer fee.

The Head of the Department rejected the complaint.  He believed that S received more supervision than other students and that her supervisor had raised issues similar to those raised by the examiners.

S escalated her complaint.  A reply was due within ten working days.  Four months later, the University replied rejecting the complaint.  It emphasised that the responsibility for the academic nature of the research and the final thesis submission lay with the student.

S complained to the OIA that she had been unfairly treated by the University.  S said that the supervision was so poor she did not wish to stay at the University after her thesis had been referred.

Reasons

The OIA found the complaint to be Justified.

The OIA found that the University was unable to provide any record of supervision of S’s research or minutes of meetings which took place to discuss S’s dissatisfaction with the supervision.  The supervisor had not completed any successful supervisions of PhD at the time of S’s supervision.  S had not been given any Personal Development Portfolio as required by the Regulations.  S had not been interviewed before being accepted onto the course nor did the Department require her to attend the Induction Day as stipulated in the Regulations.  S was not required to undergo an annual review or offered targeted training as set out in the Regulations.

The OIA’s review showed that the supervisor had many other commitments, suffered serious health issues and was not always available to respond to S’s questions.

In light of the general tone of the email correspondence, the lack of the primary documentation which should have recorded the key stages of the research degree process, the OIA found that the University failed to demonstrate that it complied with the normal professional levels of supervision and guidance routinely anticipated by students to ensure satisfactory progress in a research degree.

In referring to his retired colleague rather than following the supervision procedures, the OIA considered that the supervisor showed a lack of confidence in his own skills to monitor the work and to offer the kind of constructive criticism that was required.

The OIA was not satisfied that the University adequately addressed S’s concerns regarding her supervision.

The OIA found that there were delays in the University’s handling of S’s complaints and in responding to the OIA’s requests for information.

Recommendations

  • The University should offer S the sum of £3,500 in compensation.

Case Study 18
Issues: Academic Judgment, Discretionary Attempts
Outcome: Not justified

Summary:

S had been unsuccessful in her second year medical exams at the first and second attempt. Under the University's regulations, students are automatically considered by a Discretionary Panel with the power to award a discretionary third attempt. S submitted a statement to the panel detailing some family events which she felt had affected her performance. The panel did not award S a third attempt, and she submitted an appeal in which she provided further information about the family events. S's appeal was rejected, and she complained to the OIA on the grounds that the Appeal Panel had not considered her case fully. She felt that the appeal panel had not acknowledged the new evidence she had submitted about the family events.

Reasons:

The OIA found the University's decision not to exercise its discretion to allow a further attempt to be reasonable. From the Appeal Panel's documentation it was apparent that the full submission had been properly considered and the OIA identified no procedural irregularity in the process leading to the decision.

 

Case Study 17
Issues: Academic Appeal, Complaint about Flaw in Examination
Outcome: Not Justified

Summary:

S was registered on a course during which one of the module convenors informed the class that one of the examinations would be marked using a "negative marking" system for the multiple choice section. When the class came to sit the examination, there was no mention of a negative marking system on the examination paper. Some students queried this, and the matter was clarified. However, S was not one of these students. Following the examination, the University decided to mark the examination using both a positive and a negative marking system, giving students the most favourable mark, to ensure none of the students were disadvantaged. S appealed on the basis of a procedural irregularity and undisclosed mitigating circumstances.

The University decided that appropriate steps had been taken to mitigate the ambiguous examination directions and that the mitigating circumstances had not been disclosed in accordance with the relevant procedures.

Reasons:

The OIA found that the University's decision to reject the appeal was not unreasonable: the affected section formed a small part of the examination; S had the opportunity to request clarification, but did not to do so, and S did not offer evidence in support of her claim for mitigating circumstances, nor a reason why they could not have been disclosed in accordance with the relevant procedures at the correct time.

Case Study 16
Issues: PhD supervision, Compensation Claim, Delays in Handling Complaint
Outcome: Partly Justified

Summary:

S enrolled at the University in 2002. In 2003 the University confirmed her registration for the degree of MPhil with the possibility of transfer to PhD, with a period of registration of at least 54 months from May 2003. She was informed that if she wished to transfer to PhD the earliest date she could do so was November 2004. S made it clear to her supervisors that she wished to complete her PhD early, and changed from full-time to part-time employment to accommodate this. Her transfer from MPhil to PhD was approved in November 2004. In December 2005, with the support of her supervisors, she applied to submit her PhD earlier than the recommended submission date and this was approved by the University. In January S submitted her PhD and returned to full-time employment.

In February 2006 S had a mock viva, and a date in March 2006 was set for the examination of her thesis. However, shortly before the viva was due to take place it was postponed and the thesis was referred for further work, following a provisional recommendation from the two external examiners.

In May 2006 S submitted a complaint to the University about the cancellation of the viva and the supervision she had received. She contended that her supervisors should have told her she had not spent enough time on her thesis and advised her not to submit it. She claimed out-of-pocket expenses and loss of earnings for the period of her studies of over £50,000. The complaint progressed through a number of stages and the University sent S its final decision in September 2007. It said that the advisory team should have advised S more forcefully on the time-frame for submission, and would have been best advised not to have supported the early submission. However, it found no grounds for financial reimbursement and considered that the University had fulfilled its obligations to S.

Reasons:

The OIA found that the supervisory team should have been more robust in the face of S's determination to submit her thesis early, in considering whether to support her application for approval for early submission. The OIA also found that there were delays in the University's consideration of S's complaint. However, the OIA did not consider that the University was unreasonable in not compensating her for loss of earnings, as the regulations made it clear that a supervisor's agreement to submission did not guarantee the award of a degree. It still remained open to S to proceed with the PhD.

Recommendations:

  • £500 compensation in recognition of the expense S incurred in submitting her thesis, the distress she experienced due to the cancellation of her viva and the delay in dealing with her complaint.

Case Study 15
Issues: Misrepresentation of Course
Outcome: Partly Justified

Summary:

S joined the course hoping to go on a student exchange. He achieved 46% in a module and was advised that he was not eligible to go on the exchange. He lodged a complaint which was rejected by the University.

He complained to the OIA that the University had not accurately described its exchange programme. The programme was highly regulated and it had not been advertised that participation on the exchange was subject to terms and conditions. He stated that the University had breached the Unfair Trading Act 2008 as the advertising was misleading and hid information. He only found out about the rules (terms and conditions) after he had started the course.

Reasons:

The OIA found that the University had not deliberately misrepresented the course. However, the University's publicity literature was unclear as to who would be able to qualify for the exchange and did not advise students that they would need to apply and meet certain academic requirements in order to be eligible. It was evident that requirements for participation on the exchange were in place prior to S beginning the course. In order to make decisions regarding the course students should have timely access to the University's rules and regulations and in this case S did not have this information to inform his choices.

The OIA could not recommend that S be given a place on the exchange programme. There was evidence to show that S's application was considered and that he was interviewed as part of the process while his appeal was pending.

Ultimately S did not meet the academic requirements to be eligible for the exchange. However, the University should amend certain publicity material to make the requirements clear to students. Students should also be given this information as soon as possible to ensure they can make informed decisions about the course.

Recommendations:

  • The University should take measures to ensure that amendments to the Progression and Assessment Regulations are confirmed and published in time for students to receive this information when they register on the course or shortly thereafter.
  • The University should amend its promotional material and the website by adding a statement which alerts students to the fact that they are not automatically eligible for a place on the exchange programme, and may not get a place at their first choice institution.
  • The University should offer to pay to S the sum of £750 as a result of the fact that the University failed to provide him with important course information in a timely manner and for the disappointment that he experienced as a result of the unclear publicity literature.

Case Study 14
Issues: Disability, Mental Health
Outcome: Justified

Summary:

S appealed against marks awarded for three units in Year 2, on the grounds that the University did not implement her student support plan until Year 3 and thus failed to make reasonable adjustments for her disability. S had declared a disability in relation to a serious mental illness and cognitive difficulties linked to dyslexia at the outset of her course. Because of the complexity of S's condition it took a considerable time for an effective support plan to be developed. In Year 3, after a revised support plan had been put in place, S's performance improved, and professional staff involved confirmed that the revised plan had contributed to this improvement. The University rejected S's appeal on the grounds that it had acted reasonably in applying adjustments in Year 3 and could make no retrospective allowance for earlier work.

Reasons:

The OIA found that the delay in achieving an optimal support plan resulted from the complexity of S's condition, rather than from any failure on the part of the University or S. The OIA found, however, that the University had acted unreasonably in dismissing her appeal without considering retrospectively the effects of her disability in the light of further information which emerged about the effectiveness of various adjustments.

Recommendations:

  • The OIA recommended that the University should review S's appeal, giving due consideration to whether it was possible to make allowances for any possible substantial disadvantage arising from limitations in the support provided at the time of the assessments concerned.
  • The OIA made no recommendation about the outcome of the review, which was properly a matter of academic judgment.

The University reviewed S's appeal and decided that her marks should be raised.

Case Study 13
Issues: Special/Mitigating circumstances, Disability, Special Examination Arrangements
Outcome: Justified

Summary:

S was an undergraduate student who suffered from a severe skin condition. Most of the time, S was able to manage his condition; however, occasionally he would experience chronic and debilitating "flare-ups". During the first year of his course, S applied for and was granted special examination arrangements which enabled him to sit and pass his first and second year examinations successfully. However, in the days leading up to and during his final examinations, S experienced a chronic flare-up of his condition. He submitted a special circumstances form to the University claiming that the effect of the flare-up was so severe that the examination arrangements were insufficient to address the effects of his condition. With his form, S submitted detailed medical evidence which supported his claim. The University rejected S's special circumstances claim, and subsequent appeal, on the basis that special examination arrangements were in place and to accept his special circumstances claim would amount to "double counting".

S complained to the OIA that the University failed to take proper account of his special circumstances when considering his final degree classification. In particular, he contended that the University did not take account of the fact that the alternative arrangements which were in place for his examinations (five minute rest breaks per hour) were not adequate during his final examinations. The remedy he sought was for the OIA to recommend that the University reconsider his final degree result.

Reasons:

There was evidence that the Board of Examiners may not have asked itself the right questions and/or may have unduly fettered its discretion when considering S's final year special circumstances claim. In particular, the OIA found that the Board of Examiners had failed to consider whether the special facilities and extra allowances provided for the student during his final year examinations were an adequate and balancing compensation for his condition.

Recommendations:

  • The University to refer S's appeal back to the Examination Board for reconsideration.

The University accepted the OIA's recommendation; the Examination Board reconsidered S's appeal and recommended that his degree classification (2:2) be upgraded to a 2:1.

Case Study 12
Issues: Assessment of qualifications
Outcome: Not Justified

Summary:

S was a first year student from Sweden, studying Bio-Chemistry, who received details of a Scholarship scheme after she arrived at the University. A mark equivalent to AAB at A level was required for an award. S had matriculated with the Swedish Slutbetyg and had achieved a mark of VG overall. S submitted an application for the Scholarship which the University rejected. S referred the case to the OIA, on the basis that she believed that the University did not understand how her qualification should be calculated against A Levels. S' mark of VG was shown as being equivalent to a range of marks from BBC to AAB while she believed it was always equivalent to the higher end of the scale.

Reasons:

There is no direct equivalence between Swedish qualifications and United Kingdom qualifications. The OIA found that the University used its academic judgment, based on the expert advice of NARIC (the National Agency responsible for providing information and advice about vocational, academic and professional skills and qualifications from all over the world), to calculate a band of equivalences suitable for admissions and for the award of scholarships. This included considering S' scores in separate subjects, relevant to her degree, as well as the overall score.

Case Study 11
Issues: Disciplinary
Outcome: Not Justified

Summary:

S was a first year student who became friends with another student, R, on commencing his course and accompanied his friend in a series of violent incidents at the University which included the sexual harassment of female students. Both students were taken through the University disciplinary procedure and admitted the incidents although S blamed R for initiating the behaviour. Both students were expelled from the University. S appealed to the University, he said that as he was only an accomplice he should have received a lesser punishment than R.

Reasons:

The penalty was within the discretionary range available to the University and the decision to expel was reasonable in all the circumstances.

Case Study 10
Issues: Academic Appeals and Assessments
Outcome: Not Justified

Summary:

S was an overseas student on a Geology masters. He failed some modules and then had to take a temporary withdrawal. The University offered a resit opportunity outside the normal assessment period in order to assist the student who was in danger of losing his visa. Three open-book examinations were set, which S failed. S had also failed another assessment and so was withdrawn from the degree due to having failed four modules at the final attempt. S had undisclosed mental health problems which he revealed after his failure. He appealed on the basis that he believed something sinister had occurred, as he did not believe that it was possible to fail an open book assessment. S appealed against the University's decision and asked for the return of his fees in order to take the degree at another institution.

Reasons:

The University had correctly followed the assessment and appeal regulations. The University had also reacted in a flexible manner to S's pastoral problems and requests.

Case Study 9
Issues: Academic Appeals and Assessments
Outcome: Not Justified

Summary:

The University made S an unconditional offer of a place through clearing following a telephone conversation with the Admissions Tutor during which S declared his A Level results. S enrolled on the course and after a lengthy delay produced his A Level certificates; they did not reflect the results he had declared in the telephone conversation. The University wrote to S withdrawing him from the course. S responded by threatening legal action against the University. He continued to attend lectures and hand in coursework until the University refused to allow him to take his exams in the summer term. S complained that the University was in breach of contract by removing him form the course.

Reasons:

The OIA found that S had provided contradictory and wrong information to the University about his A Level results. The offer of the place was made on the basis of the results which S had declared. The University was entitled to rescind that offer when the true results were ascertained.

Case Study 8
Issues: MPhil/PhD, progression, mitigation
Outcome: Partly Justified

Summary:

S was registered for an MPhil leading to a PhD, paying substantial fees. The university soon had serious concerns about S's work but said nothing to her. In due course, her progress was reviewed to see whether it was appropriate to transfer her registration to PhD level. The university concluded that she had not got to grips sufficiently with her research to have a good prospect of reaching doctoral standard. S was adamant that her work was fine.

When S complained, the university offered her the chance of submitting a document to show how she would deal with the concerns that had been expressed about her work. If she had produced a convincing document, the university would have reconsidered its decision not to allow her to progress to PhD level. S did not take up this opportunity but instead complained to the OIA.

S made some other complaints that were not found to be valid.

Reasons:

S had not been warned at an earlier stage that her standard of work was well below PhD level. She had therefore been deprived of the opportunity of reconsidering her position and cutting her losses. For this reason the OIA held that her complaint was partly justified. However, in determining the appropriate amount of compensation, the OIA took into account the likelihood that S would have been determined to continue and also her failure to mitigate her position by taking up the university's reasonable offer.

Recommendations:

  • £1,000 compensation

Case Study 7
Issues: Pre-course information, on-course advice, complaint about internal processes, delay
Outcome: Partly Justified

Summary:

S was a first year student at the University who had a multiple personality disorder. She lived in University-owned accommodation with nine other students. Late one evening a "food fight" took place at the house which resulted in substantial damage to the house and property of some of the residents. S and another student admitted they had been involved in the incident. The other students present denied any involvement.

A disciplinary hearing was convened and the Disciplinary Panel recommended that S:

  • be evicted from University accommodation,
  • give an undertaking as to future good conduct;
  • pay half the cost of the damage to University accommodation and compensate the other residents for the food they had lost.

S appealed against the Disciplinary Panel's decision. Whilst S's substantive appeal was dismissed the Appeal Panel allowed her to remain in University accommodation.

S complained to the OIA that her actions resulted from the effects of her medication and disability and therefore the decision to initiate disciplinary proceedings was discriminatory. S also complained that she had not had the opportunity to comment on the costs of the reparation work before it was undertaken.

Reasons:

There was no causal relationship between the student's medical condition/disability and her actions in causing damage to University property. The University was acting reasonably and in accordance with its procedures in taking disciplinary action against her.

However, the University ought to have obtained a breakdown of the estimated costs of reparation work and that breakdown ought to have been disclosed to the student for comment.

Recommendations:

  • the University should offer to reduce S's contribution to the reparation costs by £100.

Case Study 6
Issues: University accommodation, mitigating circumstances, academic appeal, degree classification borderline
Outcome: Partly Justified

Summary:

Mr A wished to enrol on an MSc course and accepted an offer of a place on the MSc on the basis that he first took a preliminary stage. That stage required him to pass the first three units at the first attempt before he could progress to the rest of the course. He failed one of the first three units and sought advice as to whether he could write off his first attempt and get back on track for the MSc.

He was then wrongly advised that he could retake the failed unit at a later date. He subsequently paid for and took further units. He was advised a year later that he could not obtain the MSc because he had failed his first attempt at one of the first three units.

He complained informally to his department but he received no response, despite chasing the matter up for 8 months.  Four months further on, he submitted a formal complaint to the University.

The University accepted that it had failed to address his informal complaint and offered him a chance to progress on the course. However, Mr A and the University could not reach agreement over the timetable of the course.

Mr A complained to the OIA that the implications of the preliminary stage had not been explained to him, that incorrect advice had led him to pay for further units unnecessarily and that the University had inadequately dealt with his complaint.

Reasons:

Mr A was adequately advised about the preliminary stage, but given wrong advice which led to him purchasing the further units and his complaint was not dealt with properly.

Recommendations:

  • Compensation of £3750, including an amount to account for the units Mr A had paid for unnecessarily on the basis of the University's inaccurate advice.
  • The University to review staff training in relation to its complaints procedures.

Case Study 5
Issues: Maladministration, delays, provision of an inadequate remedy
Outcome: Justified

Summary:

Mrs S was awarded a degree with Lower Second Class Honours. In August 2006 she submitted an appeal saying that she was unhappy with the degree classification which the University rejected two months later. S submitted another appeal raising new issues in relation to tutorial support and the treatment of certain students.

The University rejected the appeal but did not address the issue of tutorial support. Mrs S submitted a further appeal challenging the University's decision and saying that the issue of tutorial support had not been addressed. The University rejected the appeal but again failed to address the issue of tutorial support. Mrs S submitted a formal complaint to the University about the way that it had handled her appeal. The University appeared to lose its file and did not respond. Mrs S raised her complaint again and also raised further issues which had not been included in her appeal.

The University apologised for the delay in addressing the complaint and then gave reasons as to why her appeal had not previously been upheld (again not addressing the issue of tutorial support).

Mrs S complained to the OIA about the handling of her appeal and complaint and the University's failure to address the new issues raised by her in August 2007.

Reasons:

It was inappropriate for the University to investigate the further issues raised in August 2007 when considering a complaint about the way it had handled an appeal. However, the University did not fully address the appeal and failed to satisfactorily investigate the subsequent complaint in a timely and thorough manner.

Recommendations:

  • Compensation of £400.
  • The University to reviews its appeals and complaints procedures.
  • The University to ensure that its staff are appropriately trained on the appeals and complaints procedures.

Case Study 4
Issues: Course expectation, fees, MA
Outcome: Justified

Summary:

S was in her third year and returned to the University's halls of residence to take her finals and complete her dissertation. The University had not informed her that major building works would be taking place around her accommodation. This work was very noisy and took place many hours of each day and seven days a week. S complained to the University throughout the academic year that it was disrupting her academic work. The University eventually moved the student to a quieter accommodation block in the last term. S appealed to the University when her marks were only 0.5% below the 2.1 threshold. The University said that it would have considered it as a mitigating circumstances claim had the student made a formal application earlier but that it was not willing to accept an appeal based on mitigating circumstances at this stage.

Reasons:

S' clear communications to the University should have been accepted as a mitigating circumstances application or she should have been advised to submit a formal application.

Recommendations:

  • That the case be referred back to the Examination Board to consider the mitigating circumstances.

The University accepted the OIA's recommendation and S' degree classification was reconsidered in the light of the mitigating circumstances. She was subsequently awarded a 2.1.

Case Study 3
Issues: Maladministration, delays, provision of an inadequate remedy
Outcome: Justified

Summary:

S was on a 3 year degree course with a second year abroad on a University organised exchange scheme. The University threatened to de-register S while he was abroad as it had recorded S' status incorrectly at the Academic Registry. S contacted the University and attempted to update his record. Unfortunately, due to the University's mistakes he could not enrol on the third year modules in which he wished to specialise nor on the dissertation for which he had already commenced his research. S complained to the University throughout the final academic year and in particular after he achieved a 2.1 overall in his third year. S' profile had indicated that he was a first class standard at the end of his second year. S appealed on the basis of the disadvantages that he suffered throughout the third year studying subjects that he had not chosen. The University investigated the case and identified that there had been failings on the part of the University but it did not offer a remedy to S. There were delays throughout the University's investigations and subsequent significant delays in the provision of documentation once the case was referred to the OIA.

Recommendations:

The OIA found that the university had been unreasonable in the administration of the programme and in its management of the complaint. We recommended compensation of £5,000 and required the University to provide a reference for S explaining the administrative issues that may have had a detrimental effect on his final degree performance.

Case Study 2
Issues: Course expectation, fees, MA
Outcome: Justified

Summary:

S was studying for a Master's degree. She was dissatisfied with the course and left at the end of the first term. On the basis of her experience, she did not envisage that the next two terms would improve and she considered that no practicable alternatives had been offered by the University. She requested the return of her fees for the remaining two terms. S considered that the published material about the course was misleading, and that her experience did not reflect what had been discussed at her interview. The University said that S had made an informed choice to leave the course and, as this was a voluntary decision, she was not entitled to a fee refund. The University acknowledged that there were some difficulties for students on particular options and had subsequently made changes to the unit in question.

Reasons:

On the facts of this case the OIA found that there were discrepancies between S's legitimate expectations of the course arising from the published material and her experience of it. The University did not appear to have considered the core reason for S's dissatisfaction or specifically looked at the intended and actual learning opportunities. Had it done so it would have been reasonable to consider a refund of some or all of the fees.

Recommendations:

  • The OIA recommended the return of 80% of the fees for the two terms after S had left the course.

Case Study 1
Issues: Academic Appeal Disciplinary
Outcome: Justified

Summary:

S was a third year undergraduate student. After sitting his final exams he returned home and was contacted by telephone and asked to return that day to dictate an illegible examination script. When dictating his answers S improved and added to his original answers. This was discovered and a disciplinary hearing was convened. S was awarded zero for his paper and the offence noted on his record. However awarding S a mark of zero did not affect his overall degree classification and so the University also reduced his degree from a lower second degree to a third. S complained that he had been doubly punished for the same offence. He also complained that he had been given no advice orally or written about what he should do when asked to dictate his script.

Reasons:

The OIA found the complaint to be justified as the University had no written policy about the dictation of illegible exam scripts, there was no evidence that S was told what was required of him and at the hearing S's supporter was wrongly advised that he was unable to speak in S's defence. There was also delay and lack of notice of meetings.

Recommendations:

  • That the Board of Examiners reconsider S's case with a view to fixing a penalty that is both proportionate to the offence and reflective of the shortcomings in its procedures.
  • That the University reconsider the note placed on S's record that he had admitted an offence of cheating.
  • That the University pay S £100 in recognition of the procedural irregularities that had occurred.
  • That the University introduces regulations or guidance relating to illegible examination scripts as soon as possible.

 

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