Sunshine, freedom, festivals … exam results. The summer is a mixed time for students, it can shape entire futures. Unfortunately not all students receive good news. An examination board can make or break a summer, deciding that a student has failed an assessment, received a lower degree class than expected, or worse, been withdrawn from their course. These are huge decisions, not least in this current economic climate, and it is important to know that they can be challenged. A decision of a university’s board of examiners will give rise to the option for a student to make an academic appeal.
Often a student might have good grounds to appeal an academic decision. Have there been extenuating circumstances, such as illness, family or personal issues? Is there an underlying disability or has appropriate provision been made for an existing disability? Has the course been appropriately taught and has the work been properly marked? Have the examiners considered any borderline grades? Have all regulations and procedures been followed? Universities do make mistakes, believe us.
The grounds for an academic appeal can be wide ranging, and, in our experience, it is essential that they are raised properly and timely. It is crucial to avoid the risk of the University viewing an appeal dismissively, not taking it seriously, or simply failing to treat the student as an individual for whom the success or failure of their academic appeal has severe consequences. It is important to set out an academic appeal persuasively, with appropriate evidence and, where necessary, a clear explanation of procedural arguments. We have also seen many cases where an appeal administrator might, quite wrongly, dismiss an appeal as being a challenge to ‘academic judgement’ – a concept of which many students are not aware. In certain circumstances and with the right facts, academic judgment may be challenged.
Academic Appeals – what should I do?
- Check the deadline:
It is very important to be aware of any appeal deadline. Different universities have different deadlines and it is best to prepare well in advance. If a deadline is missed it is likely that you will not have any further chance to make your academic appeal. Do not leave things to the last minute!
- Read the procedures:
Make sure you are aware of the academic appeal procedures. These can be complex and we regularly find numerous occasions where a university fails to follow its own processes. Every university will have its own procedures which will set out the allowable grounds upon which students can bring an academic appeals. To not follow these allowable grounds can seriously risk a rejected appeal.
- Gather your evidence:
It is essential to get your evidence as soon as you can. There may be the need to get information from your doctor or hospital which can take time. We are adept at advising on evidential issues and, in our experience, there can often be further evidence to get which can make or break an appeal.
- Don’t be dissuaded:
Often tutors or others might tell you that it is not worth appealing, that you have no grounds and that you can’t win. You have a right of appeal and it is always better to use it. If your appeal is weak, we will tell you. We have genuinely seen cases where a student has been told there is no hope, only – upon investigation – to find good grounds of appeal. It is important to bear in mind that often members of staff or student unions can miss important legal points. This can often be the case where a disability or complex procedural point is involved.
- Seek advice:
The decision affects your future and your career. Take advice on the decision. The university has legal advisers, why shouldn’t you?
- It is not too late:
A case can be winnable even after a decision has been made. There can be times when a university can be persuaded to revisit an appeal it has previously rejected. Alternatively there is always the option to take a complaint to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education.
In this current economic climate it is essential to ensure your appeal is as strong as it can be. A successful academic appeal can have a lifelong impact.
And salvage a summer.