Students' tales of the unexpected

What is a deadline to the legally dead, spooks and spymasters? Jack Grove on extraordinary excuses

August 30, 2012

Credit: Getty
Spirited defence: student's 'genuine belief' in ghosts won deadline extension

Ghosts, erupting volcanoes and the outbreak of civil war are some of the stranger excuses offered by students who failed to submit work on time.

The list of unusual excuses has been compiled by John Curry, lecturer in computing at City of Bath College, who contacted Times Higher Education after reading about the comical crop of exam howlers in this year's annual competition.

Mr Curry, who teaches a BSc in applied computing accredited by the University of Bath, said he had been amused and amazed by some of the extraordinary legitimate reasons and genuine excuses that he had been given over the past 14 years.

One student asked for extra time after he was wrongly held as a spy in China, while another undergraduate gained an extension because he had been declared legally dead and the Indian government was trying to seize his home, Mr Curry said.

One student asked for leniency because his World of Warcraft character had died.

Variations on "the dog ate my homework" excuse have met with little sympathy - these have included pets deleting work or eating a USB stick. Similarly, pet illnesses and disappearances cut no ice.

"Some of the excuses seem pretty improbable, but when you have someone's death certificate in their hands, you have to accept their excuse," said Mr Curry, an expert on cyberwarfare.

Excuses relating to IT disasters that were once accepted by lecturers now tend to be dismissed, he added.

"Students are told to back up their work, and universities now have extensive IT facilities if something happens," he said.

"Some of the excuses are just [a way] to stall for 24 hours. If you go on social media, you can improve your mark marginally by just picking up on the gossip about a paper.

"I think lecturers are more aware that undergraduates communicate with each other like this."

Other stalling excuses include "I left my work at home", "lent it to a friend who lost it" and the bluff - "I thought the hand-in was tomorrow", Mr Curry added.

More unusual, but bona fide, reasons he has encountered include students being held at gunpoint, being unable to fly to the UK because rebels were shelling an airport and being kept awake by a ghost.

"That person genuinely believed there was a ghost and I actually accepted their word and gave them a few more hours," he said.

"I'm actually more sympathetic to someone who just says 'I have not done the work' because they are being honest. I might give them a few more hours. However, that is very, very rare - it's only happened on one occasion."

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