Surrey to pay up over PhD fiasco

March 12, 2004

The view of the student as customer is driving up legal costs, reports Phil Baty

Surrey University is to pay £12,000 compensation to a woman denied a PhD after seven years' work, even though her supervisor repeatedly said that her thesis was up to scratch and ready for submission.

Lord Falconer of Thornton, the lord chancellor, ruled this week that Surrey must pay Marie Jacqueline Powell the equivalent of two years of maintenance and tuition costs because she had been improperly supervised. The compensation reflects the time it is estimated it would take her to get her thesis up to PhD level.

Ms Powell had asked for at least £25,000 and for "exemplary damages", but Lord Falconer said he was unable to make a punitive award and largely agreed with the university's estimate of maintenance costs at £4,000 a year, combined with part-time tuition fees of £1,403 a year.

Last year, The Times Higher reported that Ms Powell had won her case against the university.

In 1994, she registered for her self-funded PhD at the department of languages and international studies. But when she submitted her thesis in July 2001, she was told it did not even warrant the award of an MPhil. It has since been published as a book.

Lord Falconer, acting on behalf of the Queen, who is the university's visitor, found that Ms Powell's supervisor, head of department James Riordan, had been wrong to advise her repeatedly that her work was progressing well and, ultimately, to advise her the work was ready for assessment.

Lord Falconer said: "The nature of the flaws found by the examiners suggest that it should have been evident to her supervisor earlier that this thesis was not being prepared in accordance with accepted standards.

"Her supervisor had failed to fulfil his responsibility to inform her of the standards expected," he said.

A university spokeswoman this week simply repeated a statement issued to The Times Higher in December: "Instances of this nature are extremely rare.

We note that there are aspects of the supervision of this student which the visitor found to be satisfactory and that the petitioner was equally satisfied with it during the course of her research."

Want to blow the whistle?

Contact Phil Baty on 020 7782 3298 or email him at

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