An appeal victory fails to net first

August 13, 2004

A mature student whose final degree result was less than one percentage point short of first-class honours has been refused an upgrade, even though the university has upheld her complaints about poor teaching and a flawed assessment.

The University of East London has accepted that mature student Karen Merrin was made to sit a flawed exam that was not part of its validated methods of assessment and offered her substandard tuition for her dissertation.

But UEL has told the 52-year-old mother that, although it accepts that she was disadvantaged by its failings, she will have to retake the two assessments -with potentially months of additional study - if she wants to improve her classification. It says its rules do not allow discretionary upgrades.

Ms Merrin has taken her complaint to the new higher education ombudsman, the Office for the Independent Adjudicator. She told The Times Higher : "I was devastated to miss out on a first class by a fraction of a percent. I knew how hard I had worked and decided to appeal since I had reason to question practices on the course.

"But to have my appeal upheld, only to be told that I would have to undertake further study for my degree to be upgraded, was appalling. I am left with a £12,000 student loan, a degree that is hardly worth the paper it is written on and no confidence in the academic system."

She said she did not have the time to undertake further study.

Ms Merrin enrolled on an anthropology degree in 1999 and completed the course in 2002 with a mark of 68.76 per cent - 0.25 per cent short of a first-class degree.

At the academic appeal hearing last year, Ms Merrin explained that after a one-off test "answers were discussed while students still had their papers in front of them... several students began to add to their papers".

The School of Social Sciences accepted that the assessment "had not been conducted in accordance with the unit specification", but denied that answers were given out before the papers were collected - although the record states that a student confirmed Ms Merrin's version of events.

In December 2003, she was offered the chance to retake the Stonehenge unit "as if for the first time", but she declined.

The university will not comment while the case is being investigated by the OIA.

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