Whistleblowers: Oxford Brookes 'fails' osteopathy graduates

June 13, 2003

Almost 50 students could claim compensation totalling about£1 million from Oxford Brookes University after a third intake of students confirmed that they had joined a mass complaint that their degree course failed to equip them properly for a career.

The THES reported last month that up to 37 students who joined Oxford Brookes' osteopathy degree course in 1998 and 1999 were seeking a full refund of course fees of about £4,000 and compensation of up to £28,000 each after the university failed to gain professional accreditation for the degree.

Now it has emerged that 11 students who joined the course in 2000, before the university suspended enrolment, have joined the protest. One of the 2000 cohort has been threatened with legal action after he withheld his tuition fees.

The 1998 and 1999 student cohorts first complained in December last year, and had a hearing under the university's formal complaints procedures in February. But they have been told that they will not receive news on the outcome of the hearing until the end of June at the earliest, when the university is due to meet with its insurers to finalise the matter.

The row centres on the university's failure to gain professional accreditation for the course. Under the Osteopaths Act of 1993, all courses leading to professional practice had to be formally accredited with "recognised qualification" status by 2000, after inspections by the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC).

Recognised status was not a requirement when the students enrolled, but they say the course was marketed as a vocational course for practitioners and the university had adequate prior warning of the new rules. According to minutes from the February complaints hearing, obtained by The THES this week, the GOsC rejected the university's application for recognised qualification status after a May 2000 visit.

Hopes that the university would reapply for accreditation in 2001 were scuppered after the GOsC made it clear that there was "more that needed to be done". Plans to reapply again in 2002 were also thwarted, as "the university concluded that it would still not be in a position to be confident that its application would be successful". The re-application was deferred again until March this year, and the university is waiting to hear the outcome.

The 1998 and 1999 cohorts have had to undertake additional study, several months after their expected move into professional careers, to become registered as osteopaths.

A formal complaint by the 2000 cohort, signed by 11 students, also claims that the failure to gain accreditation has had "serious adverse effects".

They also say that Oxford Brookes failed to provide progressive vocational qualifications at the end of the first and second years, as promised in course literature. The students were promised diplomas in remedial massage and in manipulative therapy but did not receive them. This prevented them from earning money in the field while they studied for the full award.

One student from the 2000 cohort, Robert Hill, has been threatened with legal action by the university to recover tuition fees he has withheld in protest at the problems.

In April this year, his MP Andrew Murrison (Conservative, Westbury), wrote to the vice-chancellor, Graham Upton. He said in the letter: "It does seem to me that it reflects extremely badly on Oxford Brookes University, and I am very surprised that you should be adding insult to injury by taking legal steps against my constituent."

The university said it could not comment on individual students but said that the complaints of the year 2000 cohort would be considered as part of the general complaint that would be concluded shortly, after consultation with the university's insurers.

The university denied that it had ever guaranteed that the course would gain recognised qualification status and said it had done its best to obtain it under difficult circumstances. Students had been given partial fee waivers for additional study and those suffering particular hardship had been offered financial help for additional expenses. The university said the provision had been extensively reviewed and it expected to be formally accredited shortly.

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