I agree with Daniel K. Sokol’s concerns about academics diagnosing the impact of illness on student performance (“Reserving judgement”, Opinion, 23 April). However, nowhere in his article does he mention the support structures in place to help students in such circumstances.
Encouraging students to engage with their personal tutors, ensuring an understanding of mitigating circumstances procedures, and making available both assessment extensions and student counselling services would go a long way to alleviating the need for lengthy appeals and complaints to the university and the Office of the Independent Adjudicator. There is an onus on the student to engage with the academic and pastoral support that is available while they are completing their studies so that timely assistance can be provided.
Director of online programmes
University of Liverpool Management School
I found Daniel Sokol’s article depressing, not least because it indicates that firms of lawyers are now specialising in academic appeals. Sokol calls the decision in the case of one student he advised “wrong” and “illogical”; it is neither. The student, David, seems to have experienced tooth pain on the day that his extended essay was due. If this was a lengthy piece of work, surely it could have been completed well before the due date, or could have been awarded an extension. In the case of the exam, most universities now have a “fit to sit” policy whereby, if a student presents at the exam, they are doing so on the basis that they are fully fit and cannot claim extenuating circumstances after the event. We are all fully aware of, and sympathetic to, the fact that severe pain will affect performance. David would have had the choice of getting a medical certificate that would have been considered by the exam board, and would presumably have earned him a first sitting later in the year, with no penalty. University regulations accommodate unforeseen circumstances.
I’m sure that Sokol has his client’s best interests at heart, but to assume that these circumstances merit an automatic “upgrade” to a 2:1 seems illogical to me. By what warrant is he making that assumption? If, as the university states, David was performing at a 2:2 standard, then it is justified in assuming that the tooth pain did not affect his work to the extent that he is claiming. Exam boards, in my experience, go out of their way not to disadvantage students, and a number of factors are taken into account when determining degree classifications. Ill health does not automatically result in the award of a higher grade, although that might have been the outcome sought by David and Sokol.