Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

A Weaker Hand

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

A Weaker Hand

Article excerpt

The sector is discovering a claim of academic judgement immunity is not the trump card it was, say David Lawson and Leon Glenister

On academic and pastoral matters, "any judgment of the courts would be jejune and inappropriate". This statement was made nearly 15 years ago by Lord Justice Sedley in Clark v University of Lincolnshire and Humberside, one of the leading cases on how courts treat claims against universities.

Since then, courts have generally taken the view that they should not second-guess universities' academic judgements, while universities themselves have adopted complaints procedures that typically limit students' ability to challenge their grades. The Office of the Independent Adjudicator is also prevented by statute from hearing a complaint "to the extent it relates to matters of academic judgment".

But there are obvious issues with this formulation. For example, what if, across hundreds of candidates, some decisions are reached on a different basis from others? What if examiners make a fundamental mistake which can be seen without considering the academic subject matter? What if the grade is treated as correct but a question is raised as to what follows in terms of retakes or expulsion? And what if a university fails to follow its own rules?

More recent cases suggest the sands are shifting and that, in an era when the student-university relationship is coming increasingly to resemble that of purchaser-service provider, courts are becoming more careful in their consideration of claims which are on the borders of this "academic judgment immunity".

The most recent example is R (Gopikrishna) v OIA, on which the Administrative Court ruled in February. The claimant failed her second-year medical exams and the University of Leicester terminated her course on the grounds that there were insufficient prospects of her successfully completing the course. The university argued that was an academic judgement and the OIA upheld the institution's decision on that basis.

The student argued that the decision-making process was unfair. The university panel was critical of her performance in her first year without hearing about her mitigating circumstances, and failed to follow the requirement in Leicester's rules to consult her personal tutor.

The court found these failings of reason and procedure took the matter outside the realm of the academic judgement immunity, and struck down the OIA's decision. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.