Public interest cases

Social Media - June 2016


Social media and Fitness to Practise

Cardiff University

A student at Cardiff University studying for a professional qualification in the School of Healthcare Sciences posted a private message on social media asking another student if she had ‘a spare’ supply of a prescription medication. The student was referred to the Fitness to Practise Co-ordinator and then to the University’s Fitness to Practise procedures. Following an investigation and a hearing the student was withdrawn from the programme.

The student complained to the OIA after his appeal was rejected. He had appealed on the grounds of extenuating circumstances, that he was brought up in a different culture and that English was not his first language. The University determined that these factors were known to the panel that made the decision to withdraw him and that the student had given no reason that he had not raised these issues in his original hearing.

The student also complained that the penalty was unfair as he had not intended to act unprofessionally and was unaware that the drug was a controlled substance.

The OIA reviewed the process followed and found that the University had acted reasonably and in line with its procedures. The penalty was within the discretionary range available to the Fitness to Practise committee. We decided the case was Not Justified.


Student responsibility

Coventry University

A student at Coventry University complained to the OIA after the University rejected her appeal against a finding that postings on her Facebook account breached its code of conduct.

The student complained that the University’s findings were not reasonable as the postings had been written by someone else who had access to the account. The University took the view that as the account was in the student’s name and, under Facebook’s terms and conditions it is not possible for two people to share an account, she was responsible for the content. The University issued a final written warning to the student and required her to write a letter of apology.

The University’s procedures allowed for an appeal on three grounds – that information had not been taken into account in the original decision, that proceedings had been unfair, or where a student had been expelled. The OIA was satisfied that the student’s appeal did not fall under any of those grounds.

We were satisfied that it was reasonable for the University to conclude that the student was accountable for the content of the Facebook post, even if she were not the author of the post. We concluded that it was reasonable for the University to state she had a responsibility to ensure that all content associated with the account was in line with the University’s regulations and code of conduct.

We decided the complaint was Not Justified.


Inappropriate use of social media

Edge Hill University

A student at Edge Hill University complained to the OIA after his appeal against the decision of a University disciplinary panel was rejected.

The student had posted offensive material on twitter. A disciplinary panel decided not to withdraw him from his course subject to meeting a number of conditions. The student failed to meet one of the specified conditions, to attend a ‘Digital Footprint Workshop’. The workshop was rescheduled to suit him several times but he did not attend. The University convened a second disciplinary panel which decided unanimously to expel him. The student appealed this decision.

The Minutes of the new disciplinary panel showed that members of the panel had been concerned that the student had not apologised, had shown no awareness of the serious consequences of his actions, and had “displayed a total disregard for the Student Disciplinary process”. In these circumstances, we consider it was reasonable for the University to reject his appeal on the basis that he had not provided evidence of sufficient significance to call into question the fairness of the decision.

The OIA decided the complaint was Not Justified.