St Mary’s sued over collapsed hypnosis course

A High Court action will determine whether former students on a much-criticised hypnosis degree course receive compensation

June 16, 2016
Man being hypnotised by swinging pendulum
Source: iStock

Former students from a controversial hypnosis degree course are suing a university for allegedly failing to check the quality of the now-defunct programme.

Fifteen students who signed up to the course in clinical hypnosis validated by St Mary’s University, Twickenham will take their legal action to the High Court next month, almost four years after the programme was terminated midway through their studies.

The claimants – many of whom are seeking more than £100,000 each in compensation – say St Mary’s was negligent in how it validated the course, which was run by a hypnosis training company called Brief Strategic Therapy & Clinical Hypnosis (BST) Foundation.

This validation agreement meant that St Mary’s owed a “duty of care” to the students, even if they were not taught by the university directly, according to court papers for the hearing, which is due to start on 14 July.

Students on the course, which ended in September 2012 when St Mary’s terminated its agreement with BST after the publication of a damning report by the Quality Assurance Agency, say they are entitled to damages for loss of earnings from not being able to work as hypnotherapists, as well as “distress and disappointment” caused by the course’s collapse.

St Mary’s rejects the claim, saying the students were not enrolled at the university and it “did not owe any contractual…duty to the claimants in respect of its validation of [its] courses”, according to its defence statement.

It also rejects claims related to misrepresentation in course literature, saying the BST Foundation was solely responsible for its materials, adding that “any claim…ought to be brought against BST, rather than [St Mary’s]”.

Much of the negligence claim is set to centre on the individual who was in charge of checking the course’s academic standards at the time, Tig Calvert, who was then a St Mary’s psychology lecturer.

However, Dr Calvert was also employed by the BST Foundation as the course’s director, in effect meaning that she was vetting her own course, the court papers suggest.

Her employment by St Mary’s means the university is “liable either directly or vicariously for [her] actions” as course director, the claimants’ statement says.

This includes the university’s failure to recognise that the limited teaching hours offered by the BST Foundation meant that the course could not constitute an honours degree, court papers state.

Teaching was held on “no more than 12 Saturdays” per year in groups of around 30 students, which was “significantly below” what was promised and expected, the claimants say.

To complete the 1,200 hours of teaching and study hours required for an honours degree over three years by QAA guidance – 40 hours a week on average – was also “fundamentally impossible” for these part-time students, their statement adds.

St Mary’s denies these claims, and declined to comment on the case when approached by Times Higher Education.

However, in a sworn statement, Claire Taylor, pro vice-chancellor for academic strategy, said that the “QAA report did not in any way question the academic standards of quality of the programmes”.

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Reader's comments (1)

Collapsed hypnosis course QAA report ( page 2 paragraph 6) ...." The concerns team considered that the system for assessing practical and oral assignments, when assessment of practical work is on this scale, is not fit for purpose and is putting academic standards at risk." QAA's report (page 2, paragraph 9) ..." in the case of the quality management of these programmes, the team considered that SMUC had not exercised sufficient oversight of the partnership, either at validation or in ongoing monitoring. This has resulted in procedural irregularities, the use of inadequately qualified and trained staff in teaching and assessment, confused practice, and the provision of inaccurate and incomplete information. This has put the academic standards of the awards at risk and diminished the quality of the learning opportunities for students on these programmes."

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