Public interest cases

Extenuating circumstances


Extenuating circumstances and fitness to practise requirements

Middlesex University

A student at Middlesex University submitted a claim for extenuating circumstances after she had been found unfit to practise. She made new information available at the appeal stage, relating to her circumstances outside university. She had chosen not to raise these issues at the original fitness to practise hearing.

The University was not satisfied that the circumstances described were sufficient to allay concerns about the student’s clinical practice, as “Health practitioners are required to make professional and appropriate decisions even in extreme circumstances outside work or to seek support in dealing with such eventualities.” It was able to demonstrate that it had followed its fitness to practise procedures correctly, had considered representations from the student, and that its decision to withdraw her from the course was within the scope of the regulations.

The OIA decided that the student’s complaint was Not Justified.


Clarity on how extenuating circumstances have been considered

Teesside University

A student at Teesside University taking a professional qualification claimed extenuating circumstances on different grounds for each of three attempts at an examination. She needed to pass this examination to achieve a degree that carried professional accreditation.

The University initially offered to award her a degree that did not carry professional accreditation and subsequently offered her a capped attempt at the examination that had been the subject of her earlier extenuating circumstances claims. To accept this offer she would be required to forfeit the award of the degree that did not carry professional accreditation. The University did not clearly explain to her how her extenuating circumstances had been considered or why a further attempt would be capped.

The OIA decided her complaint was Partly Justified on the grounds that decisions and communications were not transparent and that the University’s offer of a resit potentially put the student in a worse position since if she failed the examination she would end up with no degree. We recommended compensation for distress and inconvenience, and as a contribution towards the detrimental impact upon her earning potential which resulted from her not completing the accredited degree (that contribution took into account the fact that the student had chosen not to take the resit examination). We also recommended a review of the Assessment Review regulations.


Responsibility on students

University of Huddersfield

A student at the University of Huddersfield complained to the OIA after she failed her course and her appeal to the University was turned down.

The student submitted extenuating circumstances after receiving her results. She explained that she had not submitted them at the time as she felt she was able to deal with her issues on her own.

Universities commonly take the view that if a student does not declare extenuating circumstances as soon as they become aware of them they cannot be taken into account later unless there are compelling reasons why they were not declared at the proper time. We do not consider this approach to be unreasonable.

The OIA was satisfied that the University’s extenuating circumstances and fit to sit policies were clear and easily accessible to students. We considered that the student had a responsibility to highlight and seek advice on any issues that she felt had affected her performance.

We decided that the student’s complaint was Not Justified.


Consideration of extenuating circumstances

Royal Holloway, University of London

A student at Royal Holloway University of London appealed an assessment result on procedural grounds that the University had not considered her extenuating circumstances. She complained to the OIA after her appeal was rejected.

The student’s claim for extenuating circumstances had been omitted in error from the material considered by the Sub Board of examiners. When this came to light prior to the release of results, a virtual meeting was convened to discuss her case in light of the extenuating circumstances claim. The University apologised to the student for the error.

The assessment of the impact of extenuating circumstances on a student’s performance normally involves academic judgment, with which the OIA will not interfere. We were satisfied that the student’s circumstances had been properly considered by the reconvened virtual meeting of the Sub Board as soon as the original error was realised, and that the University had followed its regulations.

We decided that the complaint was Not Justified.


Delay in appealing

York St John University

A student at York St John University complained to the OIA after the University refused her appeal against withdrawal for academic misconduct.

The student submitted her appeal outside the deadline. She was given an opportunity to explain the reasons for her late submission but failed to do so. When her appeal was found ineligible she made a further appeal to the Vice Chancellor under the regulations, in which she claimed that the delay had occurred while she sought medical evidence to support a claim for extenuating circumstances.

The University’s regulations clearly stated that reasons for late submission should be provided at the time that the appeal was submitted. The student had failed to do this. The OIA considered that the University’s decision not to allow the appeal was reasonable.

We decided the complaint was Not Justified.


Grounds for appeal

University of Reading

A student who had been withdrawn from the University of Reading after failing assessments complained to the OIA that the University did not accept his grounds for a full appeal hearing.

The OIA decided the complaint was Not Justified. The student submitted a claim for extenuating circumstances well after the deadline. The circumstances he put forward included pressure of balancing studying with a full time job, which the University excluded as allowable grounds as students were permitted to work for no more than 16 hours a week. He also included medical evidence that was dated several months after the assessments had taken place. He was unable to provide reasons why he had not raised other issues at the time they arose.