Public Interest Cases

Disciplinary issues (non-academic) - May 2015

 

Engagement with university procedures

University of Essex

A student at the University of Essex was reported for alleged participation in an incident in which drugs were found on the University campus. He failed to attend two meetings with the University Proctor and was fined for non-attendance. Following the second meeting the Proctor decided to consider the case in the student’s absence, and imposed a fine, suspended pending the student attending a drugs awareness course. The student was also fined for other offences, and refused future access to University accommodation. His appeal against these penalties was rejected. He complained to the OIA.

The OIA found that the University had followed its disciplinary processes correctly and found the complaint Not Justified. The Student Conduct procedures were clear that attendance at meetings with the Proctor during term time was mandatory. The procedures also set out the range of penalties available to the University.

 

Use of evidence

University of East London

A student at the University of East London appealed the decision of a disciplinary panel to exclude her from the University for gross misconduct, following a break-in on the campus during which examination papers were stolen.

The decisions of the disciplinary and appeals panels rested on CCTV footage. The student complained to the OIA that the CCTV footage alone was insufficient evidence that she had been party to or aware of the incident.

The disciplinary panel had watched the footage and reached the ‘unanimous decision’ that the student’s actions including being present when the break in took place, greeting the culprit and showing ‘jubilation’ on seeing the examination papers, were sufficient “on the exercise of the balance of probabilities, to convince the Disciplinary Panel that the appellant knew what was going on, and was a willing party in the disciplinary offence.”

The OIA was offered, but did not take up, an opportunity to review the CCTV footage. We reviewed the detailed written notes on the footage considered by the disciplinary and appeals panels at the University, the student’s responses to questions, and the notes of discussions at the Appeals panel.  We were satisfied that the Appeal Panel’s conclusion that the decision of the disciplinary panel that the student had been party to the incident was reasonable, noting that the ‘balance of probabilities’ is the standard of proof required by the University disciplinary procedures.

We found the complaint Not Justified.

 

Balance of probability

Buckinghamshire New University

A student at Buckinghamshire New University complained to the OIA about the outcome of disciplinary procedures instigated by the University. The University concluded that he had committed major misconduct in relation to damage at his student accommodation. He appealed against that outcome, and the penalty applied, but his appeal was rejected on the grounds that he had not provided material evidence to support his appeal.

The OIA was satisfied that the University had followed its procedures when investigating the allegations against the student. We were satisfied that the University conducted a thorough investigation which included consideration of witness statements and photographs. The student disciplinary procedures are clear that “The balance of probabilities should be used in University disciplinary matters, as opposed to the evidence being ‘beyond reasonable doubt.”

The OIA found the decision of the disciplinary panel and the decision to disallow the student’s appeal reasonable and found the complaint Not Justified.

 

Case involving criminal proceedings

University of Sheffield

Student A complained to the OIA about the University of Sheffield’s handling of an incident involving himself and another student, student B. The incident took place on University premises, and student A suffered a significant injury. Student B was subjected to criminal proceedings but was discharged by the court. The University did not suspend him, or instigate disciplinary proceedings against him.  Student A subsequently withdrew from the University. He complained that no action had been taken against student B and that the University had failed to communicate with him.

The OIA found the case Partly Justified on a number of grounds, including that the University did not keep adequate records of its decision not to suspend student B, or consider whether in the circumstances it should inform student A of its decision. We concluded that it was reasonable for the University to await the outcome of criminal proceedings before pursuing disciplinary action against student B.

The University’s disciplinary regulations precluded it from taking any disciplinary action against a student where criminal proceedings against that student had resulted in an acquittal. We concluded that it was not reasonable for the University to maintain such a blanket ban. The disciplinary procedures applied a lower standard of proof than criminal proceedings, and a student might be found guilty of a breach of the University’s code of conduct even though he had not been found guilty of a criminal offence. It was not therefore reasonable to dismiss student A’s complaint against the decision not to take disciplinary action. We note that the University has now changed its policy in this respect.

We recommended that the University pay compensation to student A. We also recommended that the University review and develop its guidance on the procedures relating to the discipline of students to include details on what actions it takes in deciding whether to suspend a student.

 

Academic appeals and  disciplinary proceedings

Brunel University

Brunel University referred the student to a disciplinary panel to consider an allegation that he had provided forged medical evidence to support an academic appeal. The University suspended consideration of the academic appeal pending the outcome of the disciplinary process.

Following consideration by a disciplinary panel the student was found to have forged medical certificates and was expelled from the University, but was permitted to retain the academic credits he had already achieved. His appeal against the finding of the disciplinary panel was dismissed as he had not presented a prima facie case.

The student complained to the OIA about the process and penalty of the disciplinary procedure and about the University’s decision not to continue with his academic appeal. The OIA found that the disciplinary issues had been dealt with correctly under the University’s procedures and that the penalty was within the range available. We considered that the decision not to proceed with the academic appeal was reasonable as any remedy would have been overridden by the fact that the student had been expelled from the University.

We found the complaint Not Justified.

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University of Westminster

A student at the University of Westminster was found to have forged evidence to an academic appeal against withdrawal for lack of academic progress. The University rejected the appeal on the basis of fraudulent evidence and because it had been submitted out of time. It informed the student that the appeal would be referred to a disciplinary panel as it broke the Student Code of Conduct.

The OIA was satisfied that the University had acted within its regulations in bringing disciplinary proceedings and that its decision and the penalty imposed were reasonable.

We found the complaint Not Justified.