Whistleblowers: Surrey ordered to compensate PhD student

December 5, 2003

Surrey University must pay compensation to a failed PhD student because her supervisor omitted to tell her that her work was not good enough.

The Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer of Thornton, acting on behalf of the Queen as Surrey's quasi-judicial visitor, ruled last week that Marie Jacqueline Powell did not receive satisfactory supervision during her seven years of study at the university.

Although she had regular meetings with her supervisor, James Riordan, and received regular feedback, he was wrong to repeatedly advise her that she was making good progress and to recommend her work was ready for assessment.

"Her supervisor had failed to fulfil his responsibility to inform her of the standards expected," the Lord Chancellor said in his ruling.

Ms Powell registered for her self-funded PhD at the department of language and international studies in 1994. Professor Riordan, the head of department, resigned in October 2000 but agreed to continue to supervise Ms Powell.

Although in 1998 he said that her work - which has since been published as a book - would need more academic analysis, he otherwise praised her progress.

In November 1999 he commented that it was "looking good" and in May 2000 he said it was "solid and interesting" and he had "no worries" that she would be finished on time.

But after a viva in July 2001, Ms Powell was told that she would not be awarded a PhD and that her work did not even warrant an MPhil.

Lord Falconer said: "The nature of the flaws found by the examiners suggest that it should have been evident to her supervisor earlier on that this thesis was not being prepared in accordance with accepted standards."

The level of compensation will be set after representations from both parties. Lord Falconer suggested that Ms Powell was entitled to the equivalent of two years' - the time it is estimated it will take her to get her thesis to PhD level - maintenance and tuition costs, likely to be several thousand pounds.

A Surrey spokesman said: "The university will study the visitor's determination carefully before making its response. We have a code of practice for research supervision, and instances of this nature are extremely rare.

"There are aspects of the supervision of this student that the visitor found to be satisfactory, and that the petitioner was equally satisfied with during the course of her research."

Want to blow the whistle?

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


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