Top payout for 'substandard' handling of case

June 17, 2010

The UK student complaints body has awarded its highest-ever compensation payment, owing to a university's "substandard" handling of a case in which a PhD candidate became embroiled in a legal battle over allegations of harassment.

Although the Office of the Independent Adjudicator found that it was reasonable for the university's disciplinary court to declare a finding of harassment against the student - known as "S" - because her behaviour had been "wholly inappropriate", it said the institution's procedures were too formal and encouraged students to seek legal representation.

The student involved went through a series of formal hearings, spent more than £30,000 on solicitors' fees and was kept waiting for the university's final decision for more than three years.

After taking her complaint to the OIA, she was awarded £45,000 in compensation.

Rob Behrens, the independent adjudicator, said: "It is the highest amount we have awarded and is a reflection of the substandard handling of the case by the university.

"Some of the things that went on in that case caused concerns. There was, for example, a so-called 'university court' to deal with the issue, in which a judge was brought into the university and told the student during the hearing to be quiet because it was a 'court of law'.

"That was surprising and overly formal."

The OIA's annual report says that the level of formality in the university's procedures "encouraged students to seek legal representation": however, the institution had originally agreed to pay only £2,000 towards the legal costs of "S".

Figures published this week show that the number of complaints received by the OIA exceeded 1,000 for the first time in 2009.

The proportion of complaints found to be justified was small - 5 per cent - and lower than the previous year (7 per cent). Thirteen per cent were found to be partly justified and 75 per cent "not justified".

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