Row over choice of examiner

October 13, 1995

A part-time PhD student has challenged a university's absolute right to select its external examiners.

Roger Coghill, from Gwent, has asked the Queen as visitor to adjudicate in a row with Surrey University over his claim that the examiner chosen was unqualified in his field of research.

Mr Coghill's study into a relationship between electric fields in the home and three forms of illness has, according to him, produced dramatic results showing for the first time a dose-related link between electrical fields and two of the illnesses, myalgic encephalo-myelitis and childhood leukaemia.

In an article published in The THES in August 1992, Mr Coghill was quoted as having spent Pounds 50,000 of his own money on equipment for the study, but he reported difficulty in finding volunteer families for the measurements. He has since found 56 cases to take part in the study where there had been illness in the family and a similar number of controls and completed his work, which has been presented at two symposiums.

But Mr Coghill refused to allow one of the university's chosen examiners, Paul Grasso, to proceed with the examination of his thesis on the grounds that as a toxicologist with no connection with the field of bio-electromagnetics he was an inappropriate choice.

Professor Grasso has since become unwell and is now unable to act as examiner.

But according to Mr Coghill, the same issue will arise again because of the specialised nature of his research.

Mr Coghill said: "There are 600 members worldwide of the Bio-electromagnetic Society, and even though many of them are connected with the national grid and the National Radiological Protection Board, and would be opposed to my findings, nevertheless any of them would be scientifically acceptable to me to examine my paper."

The Lord Chancellor's department has confirmed that it has documents relating to the dispute and is in the process of appointing a judge to act on behalf of the Queen. A Surrey University spokeswoman said: "The identification and appointment of external examiners properly belongs to the university and is not a matter for negotiation with the research student."

The university would abide by the visitor's decision, she added.

But Mr Coghill said that unless his thesis is examined by someone qualified in his field of study he will be asking for the return of his fees, some Pounds 5,000.

He will resubmit his work elsewhere.

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