Good practice framework

The academic appeals process

Overview

81. A provider’s academic appeals procedure should set out clearly the grounds upon which an appeal may be made.

82. It is good practice for providers’ procedures for academic appeals to include:

  • a formal stage for the investigation and determination of academic appeals
  • a review stage

 

Early resolution

83. Academic appeals may not be readily amenable to early resolution because the core academic judgment will not be open to challenge. Nevertheless many providers have developed good practice in giving students an opportunity to seek clarification of an assessment or examination board’s decision, or to discuss their concerns with a nominated member of staff, for example at a ‘Results Surgery’ following the publication of results. This can provide an opportunity to manage the student’s expectations before he or she decides whether to submit a formal appeal. Where appropriate and proportionate the student should be provided with a written outcome.

84. The formal stage should be dealt with by people who have not been involved previously. The provider should write to the student setting out the outcome at the conclusion of this stage.

85. The review stage is where the student can appeal to a higher body within the provider for a review of the process of the formal academic appeal to ensure that appropriate procedures were followed and that the decision was reasonable. This stage does not necessarily require a reconsideration of the issues raised. The provider should write to the student setting out its decision at the conclusion of this stage.

Case study: Early resolution of academic appeal

A student is concerned about her examination result and wants to make an academic appeal. The provider’s appeal regulations include an early resolution process under which students can discuss concerns about assessment outcomes with a member of staff. The student attends a meeting with her Head of Department and they discuss her concerns. The Head of Department explains how the examination was marked and moderated, and checks the marks awarded are correctly recorded on the results database. The student is reassured that the examination has been marked properly and the marks recorded accurately. The Head of Department explains how she can appeal if she remains dissatisfied. A note of the meeting is made.


Formal academic appeal

86. At this stage academic appeals will normally be considered centrally by the provider. In a larger provider appeals may be managed at faculty or department level but according to the provider’s procedures and with oversight by central staff.

87. Key questions to consider could include:

  • Is this a complaint or academic appeal? Should the student be referred to another procedure?
  • Has the student set out clearly what the academic appeal is about and which area(s) of the provider is /are involved?
  • Has the student provided evidence in support of the academic appeal?
  • What outcome is the student hoping for and can it be achieved?
  • What assistance or support can be provided to the student in taking this forward?

88. Some academic appeals may require the provider to take particularly swift action. These may include, but are not limited to:

  • cases where the impact of the issues raised has detrimental consequences for the student’s mental health or where the student displays significant distress
  • cases where external time limits apply for example in meeting regulatory requirements for the completion of professional courses.

 

What the provider will do when it receives an academic appeal for investigation

89. On receipt of a formal academic appeal the provider should undertake an initial evaluation to check that the academic appeal is submitted under the correct procedures, falls within the grounds upon which an appeal may be made, is submitted within any deadline, and is in the required format. This process may result in:

  • the student being referred to a different procedure
  • the academic appeal proceeding to formal consideration
  • the academic appeal being rejected because it is not made under the permissible grounds.

Where some parts of the student’s academic appeal fall outside the permissible grounds, this should be explained to the student. The appropriate member of staff should consider meeting with the student to do this.

90. There will be some cases where an appeal relates to external assessment by a Professional, Statutory or Regulatory Body. In these cases the PSRB is likely to have its own appeals procedures and the provisions of the framework may not apply.

Case study: Student’s mental health

An international student, studying for an MA, failed an assessment at the second attempt and was withdrawn from the programme. She submitted an academic appeal against the decision to withdraw her, on grounds of procedural error in an assessment. She also provided independent medical evidence which confirmed that the withdrawal has been affecting her mental health. The provider expedited the formal stage of her academic appeal in order to minimise any further detriment to the student’s health.

91. If the academic appeal is accepted for consideration the provider should allocate it to a member of staff who has had no previous involvement in the matter. It will not normally be appropriate to keep the name of the staff member investigating the appeal confidential. That would lack transparency and may undermine the student’s confidence in the process.

92. If the student’s expectations appear to go beyond what the provider can reasonably deliver or what is in its power to deliver, the staff member should explain this to the student as soon as possible in writing in order to manage expectations about possible outcomes.

Case study: Appeals that fall outside permissible grounds

A student submits an academic appeal on the ground that his printer broke on the afternoon of the assessment deadline. The provider’s academic appeal procedures permit students to bring an appeal on grounds of (1) procedural irregularity in the assessment process; (2) mitigating circumstances which were not (for good reason) made known to the exam board; and (3) bias on the part of the examiners. The procedures give examples of the sort of situations which might amount to mitigating circumstances. The examples specifically exclude computer or equipment failure.

The provider rejects the student’s appeal on the basis that it does not fall within the permissible grounds of appeal. It writes to him explaining that his appeal has been rejected because (a) equipment failure is not an acceptable mitigating circumstance; and (b) he did not bring his circumstances to the attention of the exam board at the appropriate time. The provider explains to the student how to take his appeal to the review stage if he is not satisfied with the outcome.

93. The procedures followed should be proportionate to the nature of the academic appeal and the complexity of the issues raised. The member of staff investigating the academic appeal may talk to key staff and consider documents and other evidence. The student’s school or department will usually be asked to comment on the academic appeal.

94. The appeal procedures should state whether the staff member investigating the complaint will meet with the student and whether an appeal panel will be convened. It is good practice to set out clearly:

  • the circumstances in which a hearing or meeting will be held or a panel convened
  • the process to be followed
  • whether and in what circumstances the student may attend a panel hearing or meeting
  • whether the student can be accompanied and/or be represented
  • whether the student is permitted to attend the meeting or panel by alternative means (for example by VIDEO LINK); and
  • whether the panel is permitted to conduct its discussions electronically.

Where the procedures do not allow for a referral to an appeal panel, it is good practice for the member of staff investigating the academic appeal to be able to confer with a second member of staff, where it is proportionate to do so.

 

Academic appeal hearings or meetings

95. In cases where a meeting or hearing is to be held, providers should take all necessary steps to ensure that the proceedings are conducted in a timely manner, with adequate notice given to the student. This includes informing the student of any right to attend; how to access advice and support; any right to be accompanied, for example by a friend or students’ union representative or student representative; and what role the representative or companion is permitted to play in the hearing or meeting. If the student is permitted to attend the panel hearing or meeting by alternative means (for example by VIDEO LINK) the procedures should explain how the provider will arrange and facilitate this.

96. It is good practice to provide the student in advance with information about the composition of the panel and a copy of the information to be considered.

97. Fairness requires panels to be free of a reasonable perception of bias. In the context of an academic appeal, such a perception might arise where the student has a close relationship with a panel member, or has made a formal complaint about a panel member. The provider needs to consider the constitution of panels and take steps to ensure that those charged with reaching a decision come to the matter afresh and are properly trained, resourced and supported. In addition it is good practice for panels to include an independent students’ union officer or representative.

98. Where a provider finds it difficult to convene a panel of individuals who can come to the appeal afresh, consideration should be given to bringing in staff from other parts of the provider, or from neighbouring providers, and to consulting with the student about the selection of panel members, in order to preserve the student’s confidence in the impartiality of the panel.

99. Academic appeal procedures are internal to a provider and should not be unduly formal. It will not be appropriate for a student or the provider to be legally represented at an academic appeal hearing except in the most exceptional circumstances.

100. It is good practice to take a note of any meeting or hearing, setting out attendance, a brief outline of the proceedings, and the reasons for the decisions taken.

 

Closing the academic appeal at the formal stage

101. The provider should write to the student setting out the outcome of the formal stage, including any decision to reject the appeal because it is not made under the permissible grounds, giving a clear explanation and outlining the reasons for each decision in straightforward language. This will help the student decide whether or not to pursue the matter further.

102. The decision should also give information about:

  • the student’s right to take the academic appeal to the review stage
  • the grounds on which he or she can do so
  • the time limit for escalating to the review stage
  • the appropriate procedure
  • where and how to access support.

If the appeal has been rejected because it does not come within the permissible grounds the provider should issue a Completion of Procedures letter.[15]

103. If the student does not take the academic appeal to the review stage within the time limit for doing so, the provider should close the matter and notify the student in writing. It is good practice to issue a Completion of Procedures letter at this stage if the student asks the provider to do so, but the letter should explain that the student has not completed the provider’s internal processes. The OIA publishes guidance on issuing Completion of Procedures letters.[16]

104. Where an academic appeal is upheld, the provider should explain how and when it will implement any remedy, whether that includes an apology and what the student can do if he or she remains dissatisfied with the outcome.

105. The provider should keep records of academic appeals and their outcomes (see paragraphs 127-129).

 

Review of academic appeals

106. If a student is dissatisfied with the outcome of the formal stage, he or she may be able to request a review. A request for a review may be on limited grounds, including but not confined to:

  • a review of the procedures followed at the formal stage
  • a consideration of whether the outcome was reasonable in all the circumstances
  • new material evidence which the student was unable, for valid reasons, to provide earlier in the process.

107. The review stage will not usually consider the issues afresh or involve a further investigation. An academic appeal must have been considered at the formal stage before it can be escalated to the review stage.

108. Providers can require a student (or his or her representative) to submit a request for review in writing, by e-mail or online by completing the appropriate form.

 

What the provider will do when it receives a request for review

109. The provider will allocate the request for review to a designated member of staff not involved at any previous stage. It is important to be clear from the start of the review stage exactly what is being reviewed, and to ensure that both the reviewer and the student understand the purpose and scope of the review. If the student’s expectations appear to exceed the scope of the review stage, the provider should explain this to the student as soon as possible in writing in order to manage expectations about possible outcomes.

110. The provider needs to make it clear in its procedures whether the reviewer is able to overturn the outcome of the formal stage, or whether the matter needs to be referred back to the formal stage for reconsideration.

111. Key questions to consider could include:

  • Were the relevant procedures followed during the formal stage?
  • Was the outcome reasonable in all the circumstances?
  • Has the student received clear reasons why the academic appeal was rejected at the formal stage?
  • If new material evidence has been provided has the student given valid reasons for not supplying this earlier?

 

Closing the academic appeal at the review stage

112. If the academic appeal is not upheld, the outcome of the review stage should be communicated to the student in writing by issuing a Completion of Procedures letter as soon as possible and within 28 days.[17] This should include a clear explanation and outline the reasons for the decision in straightforward language. This will help the student decide whether or not to pursue the matter further.

113. The decision should also advise the student about:

  • their right to submit a complaint to the OIA for review
  • the time limit for doing so
  • where and how to access advice and support.

The time limit for bringing a complaint to the OIA is 12 months. It is good practice to draw the student’s attention to any factors of which the provider is aware which mean that it is particularly important for the student to bring the matter to the OIA promptly (for example because the course is being discontinued).

114. Where an academic appeal is upheld, the provider should provide the student with a written outcome and explain how and when it will implement any remedy, and whether that includes an apology. It is good practice to issue a Completion of Procedures letter if requested by the student. If the remedy proposed includes referring the academic appeal back to the formal stage for reconsideration, it is good practice to ensure that reconsideration is concluded as soon as possible and, where practicable, within the 90 calendar days timeframe.

 

Independent external review (OIA)

115. Once the review stage has been completed, the student is entitled to ask the OIA, the independent ombudsman service, to review his or her complaint about the outcome of the provider’s academic appeals process. The complaint should be submitted to the OIA within 12 months of the date of the Completion of Procedures letter.

 

[15] OIA Completion of Procedures guidance Ibid.

[16] OIA Completion of Procedures guidance, Ibid.

[17] OIA Completion of Procedures guidance, Ibid.

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