Whistleblowers: Privy Council asked to rule over student

September 13, 2002

The Privy Council has been asked to rule on a mature student's claims that Swansea Institute failed to deliver his degree course adequately, and victimised him when he complained about the quality shortcomings.

Welsh Assembly member Peter Black has written to the Privy Council demanding compensation on behalf of Mike Jenkins, a 45-year-old former Royal Air Force mechanic, who enrolled on a BSc product design course at Swansea in 1997. Key among concerns raised by Mr Jenkins was that a lecturer read out the questions to a forthcoming exam paper, complete with detailed advice on how they should be answered, to a second-year class.

Mr Black has asked the Privy Council, the quasi-judicial visitor to the University of Wales, to look at Mr Jenkins's claims that Swansea Institute failed "in its contractual duties as an agent in the providing of University of Wales courses to Mr Jenkins". Mr Jenkins, who was subjected to abortive disciplinary action after raising his complaints, was eventually awarded an aegrotat degree without honours because of long absences caused by a stress-related mental illness. He claims he was treated unfairly.

The THES has obtained a tape recording, made by a student on Mr Jenkins's course, of a lecture delivered in May 1999 in which lecturer Rod Thomas briefs students for a June exam on product technology. Mr Thomas says: "So you can be clear in your mind exactly what is going to be happening... This morning I've just brought along the exam questions and I'll go over those with you so you don't have to worry about the exams."

He explains the questions in detail, referring students to the relevant class notes that will help them to answer. At one point he even explains in detail how a question should be answered: "Because I mentioned rotation, you need to show how the application takes place, so there is a little bit of mathematics in it." He concludes by offering to see students individually if they want "additional information" and asks: "Is everybody happy?"

David Warner, principal of Swansea Institute, said this week that although Mr Jenkins was never informed, the lecturer had been disciplined. "I heard the tape and took disciplinary action immediately against the member of staff concerned. This was two or three years ago," he said.

Mr Warner said that all of Mr Jenkins's other complaints had been examined and dismissed at every available procedural stage, and that "there is nobody left in the world short of the High Court in heaven that has not listened to him and rejected all his points".

A formal complaint by Mr Jenkins alleging that lecturers were repeatedly absent and that he was deliberately marked down by aggrieved members of staff was rejected by an internal complaints panel in December 1999. The panel heard that a "timetabling problem" had led first-year students to complain about the cancellation of lectures, and that the long-term sick leave of two members of staff had also caused problems, but it concluded that there was no absenteeism on the scale suggested by Mr Jenkins. An admitted discrepancy between Mr Jenkins's performances on some modules compared with others, which he said showed bias, "was just a reflection on the complainant's strengths and weaknesses", the panel heard.

Academic registrar Trevor Mallard concluded: "Your complaints have not been substantiated, and no further action is necessary... you have not been unfairly treated."

Mr Jenkins persisted with his allegations, raising them outside the institute, and in October 2000 he was suspended, facing charges that he had "interfered with the normal work of staff and students; disrupted activities properly carried out by the institute and had harmed the reputation of the institute". But on the eve of the hearing, the Campaign for Academic Freedom and Academic Standards intervened, claiming the disciplinary process was procedurally flawed.

It said that the institute had prohibited Mr Jenkins from contacting potential witnesses - "an extraordinary violation of his rights" - and had suggested that the registrar would approach Mr Jenkins's witnesses on his behalf, "an idea so preposterous that it is impossible to believe in the impartiality of anyone suggesting it", said Cafas.

The hearing was then dropped. Mr Jenkins later accepted an aegrotat degree but has since claimed he deserved an upper second and agreed to the inferior degree award under severe duress, and wants compensation.

Want to blow the whistle?
Contact Phil Baty on 020 7782 3298
or email him: phil.baty@thes.co.uk

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