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Are students being let down by academic misconduct tribunals?

View profile for Mollie Jones
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The Times have addressed this issue in their recent article which brings attention to the concerns surrounding academic misconduct tribunals. A shortage of qualified staff has unfortunately resulted in a decline in the quality of tribunal panel members and students who appeal and appear in front of tribunals are often now facing panel members who have no legal experience or formal training.

The article highlights that a student’s tribunal appeal may not be successful solely on the basis that those responsible for reviewing the issue are not qualified to make such decisions. This has inevitably placed students dealing with university disputes in a disadvantaged position as they are not given the opportunity to receive a fair appeal process and are unable to seek suitable resolution for their disputes. 

Additionally, the lack of legal representation during such appeals is also an issue. During appeal processes, some universities allow students to have legal representation however; the majority of institutions do not. Arguably, it is this lack of legal involvement that allows the tribunal panel to breach the principles of natural justice and get away with it, ultimately depriving students of a fair and just appeal process. If panel members responsible for making tribunal decisions have no legal knowledge, then in hindsight, it is merely just expecting a lay person to know the education law procedure and apply it adequately. 

The article includes numerous examples of how students have been let down by the system previously as panel members have failed to fully understand the issues presented before them. In one particular disciplinary case referred to in the article, the university were asked for details of the training received by members of an academic misconduct panel to which it replied: ‘’Our regulations do not stipulate specific training requirements’’.

Whilst the Office of Independent Adjudicator (OIA) handles complaints against universities, advises them to ‘’ensure that decision-making staff are properly trained, resourced and supported’’. However, there is no sanction in breaching this advice. Both of these factors are concerning and arguably unjust. If the OIA are stating the importance of having properly trained staff, then why is this requirement evidently being ignored?

Facing a misconduct tribunal is extremely important for students as it’s ultimately their only chance to put forth their appeal in hope of achieving a positive outcome. The decisions made in tribunal hearings are decisions that will greatly affect the future of the students involved which leads us to question why such an important decision is being made by those who have no academic training or knowledge to do so. This is a deficiency in the system and without appropriate legal representation involved; panel members may continue to make unsatisfactory decisions and students will continue to be failed by the system. Our specialist higher education lawyers understand how to challenge that system.

At HCB Solicitors we are specialists in education law and as such, we have expert knowledge on this particular area of law. We understand the importance of appealing life changing decisions such as expulsions, poor academic results and general education disputes. If you or someone you know are experiencing issues of this nature, our university lawyers are happy to speak to you today so please call.