Keele to probe standard of PhDs

November 7, 1997

KEELE University has launched an investigation into academic standards in its only 5-star rated department after a research student was accused of plagiarism.

Leaked documents seen by The THES reveal that a panel was convened to investigate allegations made against a research student in the department of biomedical engineering and medical physics. In a report to the university senate the panel recommended a wider investigation into standards of supervision there.

It also recommended that the university's research degrees subcommittee review the level of collaboration acceptable between a research student and an internal examiner and consider the process for appointment of examiners of research degrees.

The panel called for the student's PhD to be withdrawn. A memorandum revealed that vice chancellor Janet Finch recommended that the senate called on the university's governing council to withdraw the PhD. The council met on October 10 and approved the withdrawal. The student, who has an automatic right to appeal, denies plagiarism.

Allegations of plagiarism came from Sarah Haynes, of South Manchester University Hospital. Dr Haynes questioned the academic merit of the thesis and the academic judgement of the examiners. She claimed that the student made substantial use of research methodology and results from a thesis submitted by Tom Browne in 1995, the year before the thesis in question was submitted.

Dr Haynes had been working on a research project with Dr Browne from 1991 to 1993. They had designed equipment which they claim the Keele student had incorporated into the thesis without proper acknowledgement.

She also alleged that the student used photographs of this equipment without agreement and with no acknowledgement. The student said that Dr Haynes must have put her photographs in the thesis file with "malicious intent". The panel rejected this explanation.

Electron photomicrographs, were also allegedly used without agreement and acknowledgement.

The panel said the allegation concerning the examiners' adademic judgement was outside its terms of reference. Keele said: "This is the first time such action has had to be taken by the university. We are committed to maintaining the highest academic standards and to protecting the integrity of our degrees."

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