Legal threat over course 'chaos'

July 8, 2005

Salford University faces the threat of legal action from up to 139 senior public-sector professionals over its handling of their masters degree courses.

Professionals, including National Health Service managers and social workers, sitting "action learning" masters courses, have complained of "total chaos" since the Revans Centre for Action Learning and Research, where they were studying, was subsumed into the main university in 2004.

An investigation by The Times Higher has established that some students have been removed from registration. Others say they received no communication with the university for almost a year, before being given just a few months to write up dissertations. Some with dissertation deadlines of July 30 have still not been assigned a supervisor or have not met new contacts at Salford to discuss their theses.

The university said that while it was "very concerned that some students have reported that the level of service has been insufficient" only one student had made a formal complaint. It said it was making "every effort" to help students complete their work, on a case-by-case basis.

Students were contacted in June 2004 by the administrators of the centre asking for confirmation of their status and progress, although some claimed that they did not receive the letters.

Almost a year later, in April 2005, students received another letter. Some were told they had been removed from the register, and others, whose registration period had ended, were told they had until the end of July to submit their final dissertations.

After the April 2005 letter, Howard Naylor, the action learning facilitator for the NHS in Country Durham and Tees Valley, whose trusts funded about a dozen students at Revans, sent a memo to students. It said: "The deadline of July 30 was completely unrealistic for most students. In many cases, students have had little if any support with their work since June 11 2004.

Indeed, many students have had no replacement supervisory support. Also, for many students, the April 2005 letter was the first official contact they have had from the university since the June (2004) letter."

Mr Naylor said that a meeting with the university on April 20, 2005 had achieved little, and the only concession was that the July 30 deadline could be negotiated on a case-by-case basis.

"It is clear I have taken this as far as I can, and I am sorry I have not been able to achieve a more positive outcome for the 139 NHS/SSD Revans students," he wrote.

This week, Mr Naylor said that students and their trusts were paying about £5,000 for the courses. "We feel this has been handled very badly and we expect the university to sort out this situation and give students a fair chance to complete," he said.

"If it does not, individual students and their employers may very well consider taking things further, and potentially outside the university."

A spokeswoman for Salford said it was difficult to estimate the precise number of students who felt dissatisfied as the nature of the courses allowed "various progression routes", differing submission dates and varying levels of communication.

She said that the university had sought to speak with all students to establish individual plans. "We have made every effort to provide a flexible and understanding approach," she said.

phil.baty@thes.co.uk

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