Students win payouts for 'regrettable difficulties'

January 13, 2006

Sheffield University has offered payments totalling more than £22,000 to students on a troubled masters degree course.

In the latest move reflecting a growing consumer-rights culture on university campuses in the UK, Sheffield has agreed to make "ex-gratia payments" to 41 students in the 2004-05 cohort, in recognition of "the regrettable difficulties experienced", including problems caused by the loss of a key member of staff.

It is unclear if the payments - averaging £550 per student - will be accepted by all students, as it is understood that some are keen to pursue the case further.

The Times Higher reported in August last year that students on Sheffield's popular MA in translation studies had had a series of complaints about the quality of their course upheld, and they subsequently claimed that they had been denied proper supervision by tutors.

The students, who lost their popular course director Elke St John part way through their studies, complained of cancelled modules, problems with timetables, delays in receiving essay marks and feedback, and "inconsistencies" between modules, with variable workloads and teaching hours.

In a letter sent to the students last month, seen by The Times Higher , Sheffield's assistant registrar, Marie Boam, says that the "overall experience" of the students on a Japanese translation course module had "not been as the university would wish", which was "sincerely regretted".

But Ms Boam denies that they had failed to receive proper supervision.

She says that while appropriate supervision had been given to the three students who were registered for a formal dissertation, "it is clear that a larger number of students had believed that certain other modules would also afford a level of support and supervision akin to that provided for a dissertation.

"Clarity about supervision arrangements for dissertations was provided by the new course director."

Paul White, pro vice-chancellor for teaching and learning at Sheffield, said in a statement that, after certain aspects of the students' complaints had been upheld in spring last year, "a number of actions were immediately taken to implement the recommendations of the investigating group".

Professor White said that the external examiner had reported that "the qualifications obtained would stand students in good stead", as they were equivalent to similar courses elsewhere.

He added: "However, the internal group recognised that there had been difficulties over the delivery of parts of the programme" and had agreed to the payments to recognise this.

"The university has recognised and effectively dealt with all complaints made by students on the course," Professor White said. "The majority of the students and the university feel that the issues raised have now been resolved satisfactorily."

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