Making the grade

QUB logo, via the QUB blogVia the incomparable 9th level Ireland blog, I (rather belatedly) learn that , a graduate of Queen’s University Belfast who has taken judicial review proceedings to challenge his degree results (on which I have previously blogged: 1, 2, 3, 4; and there is also an excellent post Jason Smith), might have got a result during the week. According to the BBC, QUB has agreed to review his grade. It seems that he was only 0.5% off obtaining a 2:1 in his degree, and in his judicial review proceedings, he claimed that if he had received better supervision he would have achieved that 2:1. On Tuesday, the High Court granted a three-week adjournment to allow QUB to review his degree classification on the alleged grounds of inadequate supervision and procedural irregularities. QUB told the Court that it made the proposal without prejudice in a bid to ease his concerns. Moreover, the Belfast Telegraph reported that if he is still unhappy with the outcome, he would now be able to appeal his results. As Education Law Blog points out

This appears to be a successful outcome for the student, as the provision of a review is about as much as he could have expected to achieve by way of his legal proceedings. Whether his degree result will actually be improved remains to be seen.

This change of tack on the part of QUB is surprising. According to the the Belfast Telegraph [with added links]:

Queen’s graduate’s courtroom challenge to awarding of 2:2 degree ‘opens a can of worms’

A landmark legal case being taken by a graduate seeking to overturn his degree classification could open up a “can of worms” for all academical institutions, it has been warned. … the University and College Union, which represents more than 120,000 academics and staff across the UK, has said this case could end up setting a “dangerous legal precedent” which could potentially threaten academic freedom.

Professor Bob Osborne, from the University of Ulster’s School of Criminology, Politics and Social Policy, said he was surprised that Queen’s had changed its stance.

I am very surprised that any university is prepared to re-open the classification of a degree after someone has graduated — unless due process has not taken place … If it is confirmed, it does open a huge can of worms. However it may be a defensive position that the university thinks it is better to get rid of the problem rather than having to go before the court. It is unusual unless a student has convinced the university that there has been some malpractice which has led to them being disadvantaged. Maybe they have now uncovered some new evidence.

Jonathan Bell, chairman of the Committee for Employment and Learning, said:

The consequences of any decision in this case are going to be major and I have no doubt that is in the minds of the people as they conduct themselves. There will be a lot of interest to see the outcome. What we at the Employment and Learning Committee will be asking is ‘what can we learn from this? The system has changed a lot culturally since I was at Queen’s in the late 80s when there were no fees and you got a grant. There has been a psychological shift where people are paying for a service therefore they want a good service. And, if there is something legitimate that they think is wrong with the service, they have a right to ask for a review. However I think that courts, in all situations, should be used as a last resort.

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