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Competence standards - PI021704

Oxford Brookes University

A student complained to us about the University’s decision on a number of matters including the provision of reasonable adjustments.

The student had a diagnosed anxiety disorder and submitted a successful mitigating circumstances claim relating to exams and coursework. An alternative to a timed examination was not offered.

The course handbook did not state that timed, unseen examinations are directly linked to a competence standard for the programme. The University explained to us that the aim was "to assess students’ ability to think about which techniques to apply to a problem, rather than their research skills in looking for a technique to solve a question". It had been considering ways of finding out what the student could do without reference materials but had not found an alternative to exams, presentations or vivas by the time the student left the University.

We were concerned that the University had not demonstrated that the formal, timed, unseen examination format was itself testing a genuine competence standard that could not be tested in other ways. We were also concerned by an internal email that expressed reluctance to make adjustments for this student as that would disadvantage other students. The Equality Act does not prevent universities from treating disabled students more favourably than other students in order to remove a disadvantage.

We decided that this element of the student’s complaint was Justified and recommended compensation for distress and inconvenience. Her overall complaint was Partly Justified as we considered the University had acted reasonably on the other issues she raised.