The Higher Education Law Specialist at Charles and Co Solicitors, Sukhvir Gill, has noticed an increasing trend in matters relating to University Fitness to Practise processes, in that students are not always getting a fair opportunity to test the evidence against them. Without good legal representation a number of students are being withdrawn from Universities, despite incomplete evidence being presented, no witnesses being called and no opportunity for the student to examine the word of others.
This is not a fair process and more needs to be done to ensure that University Fitness Practise Policies are in line with those of the professional bodies that have delegated their power to the Higher Education Institutions.
Not every student instructs a Solicitor early on, primarily because a number of Universities advise against it. A number of students try and handle the situation themselves, but when you think that a whole team behind the scenes at the University are collaborating and working together to present a case against a student, the odds are really stacked against the lone student. Also, once a fully qualified member of your professional body, you would seek out legal support if you were up before a disciplinary or Fitness to Practise Panel. It should be the same for students and they should be actively advised of their right to have legal assistance by the Universities.
At Charles and Co our Higher Education Law Specialist represents students on a variety of professional degree courses that are governed by a professional body and subject to Fitness to Practise Regulations. We have successfully defended students in such cases and have ensured that students continue on with their course and graduate to join their chosen profession.
Our Higher Education Law Specialist has also recently had a high proportion of postgraduate clients, particularly those trying to achieve a PhD. Supervision is key and without good quality supervision a student’s progress can be seriously hindered. However, we also recognise that many students are working within a small community of Professors and experts and do not want to draw attention to themselves by being perceived as difficult. Often students will put up with poor quality supervision and limited research facilities until it’s all too late.
More and more PhD students have become disappointed with the level of support and backing from either their supervisor, or the Faculty, or in the worst cases both. It has been really hard to shift the mind-set that speaking up, in a well-articulated manner, will not necessarily jeopardise your positon within the Faculty.
We have also been astounded by the deliberate and blatant disregard some Faculties have towards University Regulations. It would be prudent to go through the Faculty Regulations governing your PhD, Master, MPhil and cross-referencing what is says should be happening versus what is actually happening.
When you think about the levels of fees involved in this area of study, not to mention time put into research, it is important that you do not let uneasy matters ride along for years, whilst the University rack up the fees.
There are always policies and procedures in place; it is just getting the University to follow them that can be the issue. We cannot stress enough the importance of a student feeling empowered enough to challenge the University if things just are not as you would expect. Universities are amenable to our involvement because it helps create that barrier to get things fixed for the better of all involved. In most cases Universities do actually want students to be successful in their academic progression, they want you to be able to tell others about what a great University they are if nothing else.