New definition of ‘legal battle’

Fights break out as Brunel law students queue overnight to avoid unpopular supervisors in first-come, first-served system. Melanie Newman reports

October 1, 2009

Fights broke out as law students queued for up to 11 hours last night to secure the dissertation supervisor of their choice at Brunel University.

More than 100 students queued outside Brunel Law School overnight in the hope of working with their preferred academic, after the school introduced a first-come, first-served supervisor-allocation system.

Staff began allocating supervisors at 7am this morning, but the university said today that it would rethink the system to ensure there is “no repeat” of the problems.

A student who had queued since 8pm the previous night and complained of being “absolutely freezing” spoke to Times Higher Education on condition of anonymity. The student said that those queuing had been advised by last year’s finalists that a supervisor could “make or break” a dissertation, which counts for 40 credits of their degree mark.

“There are some people you just don’t want. If everybody in the school were a good supervisor, we wouldn’t have to do this. You’ve no idea how distressing it was to see people punching each other in the queue,” said the student.

One student, who is understood to have collapsed and been removed by campus security staff, “begged to be allowed to stay in the queue”, in the words of one eyewitness.

The first-come, first-served system was introduced in the last academic year by Dimitrios Giannoulopoulos, the law school’s co-director of undergraduate studies.

Student Law Society president Ilkay Timur, who joined the line this morning, admitted queuing “wasn’t a good experience”, but added that some of her peers had an exaggerated view of the importance of the supervisor to their dissertation mark.

“Speaking as a law student and not as president, all the lecturers have said the same thing: you are the difference between a 2:1 and a first,” she said. Students had started queuing early last year, she added, but “this year people took it to another extreme”.

A spokesman for Brunel said the university was “very concerned” that law students had queued overnight and was “disappointed to see the lengths to which some feel they have had to go”.

“In preparing for their dissertation, students are informed that neither their choice of topic nor their first choice of supervisor can be guaranteed. It seems that they have done all they can to try to achieve their first topics and supervisors,” he said.

“While it would be unfair on current students to change the process of allocating dissertation supervisors for this year, the university will consider what changes are required to ensure there is no repeat of this situation.”

The spokesman added: “The university has confidence in the skills and effectiveness of its dissertation supervisors and has in place stringent measures to ensure the quality of the dissertation-supervision process.”

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