'Talented' American loses case against Cambridge

September 11, 1998

Cambridge University has kicked an American postgraduate student off her course despite a tutor's admission that she was not adequately supervised. Her tutors described Kate Price as a student of "exceptional talent".

The university's complaints review committee has rejected Ms Price's claim that she was removed unfairly from her MPhil linguistics course in 1996. But the committee has recommended that the university should refund Ms Price's course fees and review its exam regulations. The committee found that the university's flawed procedures "aggravated her sense of grievance".

Ms Price claims she is a victim of anti-American prejudice and inflexibility and is considering legal action. Ms Price failed three out of four 2,000-word examination essays. But she claims that her tutors failed to communicate with her properly and she misunderstood the nature of the questions. She was denied an extension offered to fellow students, she said.

The examiner insists, however, that she failed on the grounds that she had "ignored the set topics" and was given grades to indicate "dismal failure".

Her appeal against the decision has won her the support of her tutors. Her first tutor, Peter Matthews, said: "I did not coach her as closely as I should have done ... I do hope it will be recognised that we did not get through to her quite what this part of the examination entailed."

Her second tutor, Vivian Law, director of linguistic studies at Trinity College, said that Ms Price had misunderstood the system because of her United States "academic background", but she was easily capable of passing "if resubmission of these essays were permitted".

Another said that Ms Price "is a student of exceptional linguistic talent. It would be no exaggeration to say that she is miles ahead of the other students".

In rejecting Ms Price's complaint, the review committee noted "several matters which have prolonged the consideration of the complaint".

It said that exam regulations had been "unclear and inconsistent" and that "the requirements for candidates to pass the essay component before being allowed to proceed was not communicated" to Ms Price. "This is an unfairness which is capable of constituting a procedural irregularity."

The committee also found that there is "a lack of transparency and consistency as to the information which should be given to candidates about the content and form of the examination". The procedures should be reviewed, it recommended.

But this did not matter, it said. In conclusion, the committee also said it was "glad" that Ms Price had been offered a PhD course elsewhere in the university. This is incorrect.

"After a year and a half of fighting, the actual final decision includes yet another incompetent error," said Ms Price. "I have had to start my studies all over again."

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