Union backs THES

March 19, 1999

'There are fundamental questions of how the university's procedures allowed this to languish for so many years after it had first been identified'

Complaints about flawed and "incorrect" teaching material at Liverpool John Moores University, revealed by Whistleblowers last week, were raised at the university more than two years ago. But the university only last week announced a formal review of the material, following THES inquiries.

Lecturers' union Natfhe this week called on secretary of state for education David Blunkett to initiate an external inquiry into how "the university's procedures allowed this to languish for so many years after it had first been identified".

In reviews for The THES, independent experts dismissed information given in an undergraduate human physiology course hand-out, designed to teach students the basics of human respiration, as "incorrect", "inadequate", "outmoded" and "fundamentally wrong".

Natfhe's higher education official for the north, Adrian Jones, said this week that complaints about the material were raised by a staff member as early as 1996. The university has confirmed this.

Liverpool John Moores's initial response to the complaints was to dismiss them. The university confirmed in a statement that the issue was raised internally in 1996, but an investigation by "appropriately qualified academic staff" had found "that there was no foundation for the allegations and that the material was not incorrect".

Despite this finding, the university did find it necessary to establish a special students' workshop "to ensure the students' correct understanding of the material". The university said the matter had been "resolved to the satisfaction of the students". But Mr Jones said this week: "I have already told the vice-chancellor that the total number of students, past and present, who have approached me is about 40. I will disclose the correspondence to an independent external inquiry. All the students want is corrected course material."

The university said the issue was exclusively one of "academic and professional judgement". It said that a formal academic review panel had now been established because "as is sometimes the case with matters of academic judgement, further views have been submitted to the university".

But Natfhe disputes the university's action. Mr Jones said: "It is quite misleading for the university to say it is only a matter of academic and professional judgement - there are also the fundamental questions of how the university's procedures allowed this to languish for so many years after it had first been identified."

The THES first approached the university about the controversial material - used as part of degrees in biomedical sciences and microbiology - in November 1998. At the time, director of biomolecular sciences Hilary Evans, when asked directly about allegations of flawed teaching material said: "We have never had a problem with microbiology. If someone is saying things that are not true we don't want people trying to undermine what is going on." This week Professor Evans signed a letter to The THES that states:

"The module in which this material appears was first challenged within LJMU in late 1996."

Two weeks ago the university also said there had been no official complaints about any course material in any of the biomedical sciences. It now says complaints had been raised in 1996 and repeated in late 1998.

Mr Jones said: "I'm in correspondence with the secretary of state and the university's senior managers as I believe a transparently independent investigation should review the procedures as well as the academic judgement."

Letters, page 15

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