Student refuses fees refund by UCL in course quality row

MSc student rejects 'inadequate' offer and prepares to seek further compensation. Paul Jump reports

July 28, 2011

A former student has rejected University College London's offer to refund her fees in a dispute over its handling of complaints about the quality of her course.

Georgina Chan left her job as a doctor to enrol on a new one-year MSc in clinical and public health nutrition at UCL in 2008-09.

However, she told Times Higher Education that she and several fellow students had raised concerns about the poor quality of teaching and lack of organisation on the course.

Dr Chan said one module had been cancelled, the timetable for assignments "kept changing" and feedback was often scant or tardy.

She said that even when an extraordinary "staff-student consulta- tive committee" was finally convened in June 2009, it failed to address the students' concerns adequately. She said her health was affected by the stress of dealing with the situation, and this contributed to her failure to graduate on time, in November 2009.

She also refused to complete an assignment that was set three weeks after the course's official end date, by which time she had already begun a new job as a public health doctor.

In July 2009, Dr Chan succeeded in convincing UCL to set up an academic panel to look into the students' complaints. The panel sat in December 2009 but concluded, in April 2010, that Dr Chan's complaints had not been substantiated.

She said the panel's report, which she obtained through a Freedom of Information request, revealed that it had relied on "hearsay" from course tutors, and it had decided that it was "not a body that was qualified to assess the validity of complaints on academic content".

She then filed a complaint through UCL's student grievance procedure, making demands that included a refund of her fees and compensation for alleged bullying, defamation of character, injury to feelings, medical problems and loss of earnings.

She also sought "appropriate reprimand" for UCL staff who she claimed had misled the academic committee review panel.

UCL has now offered her a refund of her £3,300 fees. But Dr Chan has rejected the offer as inadequate and said she is prepared to take her case to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator and ultimately civil courts.

Dr Chan finally graduated with distinction in November 2010. But she said UCL's failure to seek professional accreditation for the course - despite stating in its prospectus that it would do so - had prevented her from practising privately as a nutritionist and forced her to make a "massive detour" in her career plans.

In a statement, UCL says it did not give a timescale for obtaining accreditation and notes that graduates can apply for professional accreditation individually.

It says Dr Chan's complaints were adequately addressed by the academic panel, whose recommendations about course management have been acted upon.

"The academics responsible for the MSc have over 15 years' experience in designing and running MSc courses in nutrition and the panel were satisfied with their credentials to continue to supervise the course," it adds.

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