Whistleblowers: Review finds Oxford Brookes 'deficient'

February 6, 2004

A group of students seeking tens of thousands of pounds in compensation after Oxford Brookes University failed to gain professional accreditation for their vocational degree have had their case boosted by an independent review.

The THES reported in July last year that Oxford Brookes had rejected complaints from more than 30 students that the university had failed in its duty of care and contractual obligations after it repeatedly failed to gain professional "recognised qualification" status for its osteopathy degree course. Professional status was essential to allow them to practise as osteopaths.

But an independent review of the university's complaints committee's conclusion has ruled that key aspects of its findings were "unreasonable".

The reviewer has recommended that the university revisit its offer to make ex gratia payments to students who enrolled on the degree course in 1998 and 1999. Payments of up to £5,000 were offered at the time but most students rejected them as too low.

The Osteopathy Act of 1993 established the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC) to regulate professional education and register practitioners.

Courses had to gain accreditation by 2000.

The GOsC rejected the university's application for recognition in 2000. In 2001, the GOsC warned that "more needed to be done" before Oxford Brookes re-applied. It agreed not to re-apply in 2002 but received recognition last year.

Although recognition was not a requirement when the students enrolled, they argued that the course had been marketed as a vocational degree leading to professional practice. The cohorts had to undertake extra study on recognised courses elsewhere to gain professional status. This delayed the start of their careers, in the case of the 1998 cohort by 17 months .

The university complaints committee ruled there had been no failure in the duty of care because "there was no evidence that the university had ever claimed that the course would lead to registration with the GOsC".

Overturning this conclusion, the review ruled: "Whatever the precise semantics, the student expectation that the course was about securing registration in accordance with their chosen profession's newly specified requirements was entirely reasonable."

The review, carried out by Jennifer Bone, former chair of the Society for Research into Higher Education, also rejected the complaint committee's findings that the university made reasonable decisions at each stage of the process of seeking accreditation.

The review ruled that the university's initial application for recognition was so clearly deficient that it should have been aware of its likely failure and should have ensured it was more rigorously prepared.

The review also rejected the committee's ruling that the students had been kept informed of the developments. It found that the students had been "communicated misinformation" at one meeting when the university falsely claimed it did not have access to reports from the GOsC about its first inspection.

A spokeswoman for Oxford Brookes said that the university's board of governors would consider shortly what action to take.

She said: "The university's BSc (Hons) osteopathy programme was awarded recognised qualification status by the Privy Council in November 2003 after a robust process of inspection and evaluation of the programme and the university's quality structures by the General Osteopathic Council."

Want to blow the whistle?

Contact Phil Baty on 020 7782 3298
or email him at phil.baty@thes.co.uk

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