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The legal rights of PHD students

View profile for Andrew Barrowclough
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Our expert higher education lawyers are often asked to advise PHD students further to an unsuccessful attempt to obtain a doctorate and this area of education law is in itself a very specialist niche area.

The legal position regarding PHD students is interesting. They have a contractual relationship with their University as do all students because they pay fees and in return are given ‘an education’ but the circumstances are different. PHD students have a significant amount of personal responsibility regarding their own studies as they are not taught in the traditional sense and instead simply have close supervision from a supervision team (usually 2 professionals). They often also use lab facilities or the computers of the University to complete experiments or to collate their data based on their chosen hypothesises.

Whilst most hard working University students achieve their PHD some encounter a number of difficulties along the way which could include the following:

  • Funding issues in getting the PHD course agreed initially or during the course itself.
  • A disagreement with the supervision team about the direction of the Thesis or the title.
  • Inadequate supervision provided. This is the most common complaint that our specialist education law solicitors encounter. It can include infrequent supervision or the supervisor not having the necessary expertise to assist the student properly.
  • A refusal to convert the initial MPhil course into a PHD.
  • Inappropriate Viva examiners who do not have the necessary expertise to assess the Thesis. To obtain a PHD the student must provide an ‘original contribution’ and sometimes this can mean that the examiners do not understand the area adequately.
  • Poor feedback given further to a Viva which makes it impossible to make the necessary corrections for the re-assessment. Very few PHD Students pass first time- either minor or major corrections are usually needed but students must be assisted to be given the chance to correct the piece of work.

A failure to take into account extenuating circumstances which have affected the student’s studies over a sustained period of time.

Our higher education law solicitors can assist with any of the above issues and have been successfully in resolving these cases in an appropriate manner. Compensation is a last resort- after years of study what a student obviously wants is their doctorate which is achievable if the case is argued correctly. If you need such advice please do contact our team today on 02920 291704.


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