Grievance poses academy 'threat'

Graduate demands judgment over degree class; not in court, says university. Paul Jump reports

October 7, 2010

A legal bid by a former Queen's University Belfast undergraduate to force the university to increase his degree classification would have serious consequences for the academy if it succeeded, commentators have warned.

Andrew Croskery graduated from Queen's this summer with a 2:2 in electrical engineering. However, he claims he did not receive adequate tuition and that if he had done he would have got a 2:1.

He is now seeking a judicial review of the university's decision not to use its discretion to increase his degree classification.

He also alleges that during an internal investigation into his supervision, the university refused to consider evidence he had submitted to support his claim that it had been inadequate.

Mr Croskery claims the university told him that he had to choose between graduating and appealing against his degree classification, and breached his human rights by refusing to consider an appeal after he graduated.

The university claims that the courts are not the appropriate place for the matter to be resolved. A judge is expected to decide whether to hear the case in the next few weeks.

Bahram Bekhradnia, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, warned that if the case were successful it could unleash a wave of similar challenges.

"Of course it is important that universities do right by students. But if a student feels they are getting inadequate supervision, contact or anything else, they should deal with it up front and at the time. Otherwise the floodgates will be opened and it will be impossible to judge genuine cases from chancers," he said.

Roger Brown, professor of higher education policy at Liverpool Hope University, described the case as a battle between academic authority and the marketisation of higher education.

He said a ruling in favour of Mr Croskery would be "disastrous" because it would undermine universities' academic authority.

He noted that legal challenges of college grades were quite common in the US but said British courts had taken the view in similar previous cases that universities were in the best position to make academic judgements.

Richard Langley, head of litigation and dispute resolution at law firm Bircham Dyson Bell, said Mr Croskery would have an "uphill struggle" to prove that the university had acted irrationally in not increasing his grade.

"It involves a very subjective judgement and it is impossible to determine what he would have got with different supervision," he said.

He also warned that, at best, the judge would require the university to reconsider its decision, which it may uphold.

He said that of more danger to universities were claims for damages on the grounds that poor supervision had led to a lower degree classification that damaged career prospects.

"This may well be a growth area since students paying tuition fees are so much more aware of their entitlements," he said.

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