Visitor must be shown the door 1

July 26, 2002

Lord Irvine's visitorial decision on the complaint of Dennis Foster about Exeter University's failure to provide adequate PhD supervision (Whistleblowers, THES , July 12) is rightly criticised by Foster's former supervisor (Letters, THES , July 19).

Visitors' decisions emerge haphazardly from a partial review of evidence. There are no hearings as required under article six of the Human Rights Act, and the only investigations into the case are desk reviews undertaken by civil servants. This system usually fails the student complainant.

In this case, Lord Irvine concluded that the supervision provided by the university was inadequate. This conclusion is challenged by Foster's supervisor on the grounds that without proper investigation this claim cannot be proven.

Having spent four years trying to obtain basic evidence to present a coherent case to Lord Irvine and to counter any impulse on his part to dismiss my case without the required evidence, it is no surprise to me that visitors' effectiveness is still impaired by low standards of proof and poor management of evidence. The visitor system needs radical reform. It should be replaced by a higher education ombudsman with the powers, ability and experience to investigate complaints with the rigour and thoroughness required to make final decisions on the academic reputations of complainants. So why is Universities UK not pursuing this reform after gaining the positive support it requires?

Neil McDougall

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