NUS aid helps student fight on

October 31, 1997

A POSTGRADUATE student who claimed he was badly let down by his supervisor has accepted up to Pounds 1,000 from the National Union of Students to help fight a case for damages against his university.

Don Staniford, a PhD student at the University of East Anglia, alleged his supervisor, David Brown, deputy director of the university's Centre for Environmental and Risk Management, had failed to give him support or properly monitor his progress. He claimed UEA had inadequate monitoring systems for postgraduate supervision.

The university has already upheld Mr Staniford's complaints about supervisory deficiencies twice and offered him more time and money to complete his PhD. But Mr Staniford refused the offer after taking legal advice. He will use the Pounds 1,000 to employ a barrister to present his case to the university visitor.

Mr Staniford, who is now researching student complaints procedures in UK universities, enrolled at East Anglia in October 1993 to study for a PhD at the School of Environmental Sciences.

He complained formally about "inadequate" quality and quantity of supervisory support in October 1996, as soon as the university had instigated a complaints procedure.

His complaint was upheld by the dean of environmental sciences, Fred Vine, who offered him a change of supervisor and any extra resources needed for fieldwork and other expenses.

Mr Staniford refused that offer, saying it was not enough to compensate for two years of wasted study and loss of potential earnings. He also refused a subsequent offer.

He is now taking sick leave from the university while he fights his case. He is supported by David Ball, a former director of UEA's Centre for Environmental and Risk Management. Mr Ball said his principal concern was to maintain standards, particularly for fee-paying foreign students.

Professor Vine said he had upheld the complaint because university supervisory procedures had failed to some extent. On the supervision issue, he said it was difficult to establish one person's word against another's but he had given Mr Staniford the benefit of the doubt.

Mr Brown no longer taught PhD students but ran a successful MSc course. He said: "There have been no other complaints about his work."

The university is now reviewing monitoring arrangements for postgraduates in a number of schools, including environmental sciences.

Sue Kennett, legal research and advice officer at the National Union of Students, said she had to deal with a number of complaints countrywide concerning supervisors. Particularly common, she said, was the claim that supervisors mislead students about the quality of their work.

She said the NUS had serious doubts about the visitor system because students were not entitled to legal aid while universities usually had access to professional legal advice.

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