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I am studying for a Ph.D. and have reason to believe that the examiners are not specialised in the field of research being examined. What action can I take?

I am studying for a Ph.D. and have reason to believe that the examiners are not specialised in the field of research being examined. What action can I take?

A successful Ph.D. course is founded in part on a successful relationship between the student and their supervisors. If that relationship is not a functioning, healthy one, then this can cause severe problems for the student, which can easily impact on their ability to complete their research and gain their doctorate. This is particularly true if the person charged with grading the student's work is not actually specialised in that field of study. 

Many Ph.D. students, and indeed many students, pupils and the parents of pupils at every level of our education system, mistakenly believe that they have no rights when it comes to unfair treatment at the hands of their educators or supervisors. In fact, the opposite is true.

The fact is that since 1998, when university tuition fees were first introduced, the relationship between student and educating body changed and has become one with the same dynamic as any other consumer and their service provider. So, as university fees have gone from zero up to £9,000, and as the cost of the average Ph.D. course in the UK is between £3,000 and £6,000 annually (and as much as £18,000 for international students), those students who are dissatisfied with the level of education or supervision that they are receiving would be very remiss if they didn't do something about it.

Poor Ph.D. assessment amounts to breach of contract

The contractual relationship between student and educational institution is set out in the rules and regulations, policies and procedures of said institution. In all educational institutions, however, the following situations all amount to a breach of contract between student and university:

  • supervisors regularly not attending supervisory sessions
  • university staff making errors concerning internal procedures which have serious consequences for students
  • university's failure to provide adequate supervision
  • university's failure to arrange an external examiner

In most of these cases, we would always advise attempting to solve your disputes internally in the first instance. However, in cases where you believe your Ph.D. has been graded poorly because of the lack of expert knowledge on the part of the examiner, then you would be well advised to seek the professional legal counsel of a specialist education lawyer.

At Match Solicitors, our team of highly experienced education lawyers have represented many Ph.D. students and have achieved satisfactory outcomes on their behalf. We try to avoid litigation, as it is a long, stressful and costly process. However, if we believe you have a case and other avenues have been exhausted, it is certainly something we will pursue.

In the first instance, however, if you feel your Ph.D. has not been properly supervised, or has been poorly assessed by examiners who are not specialised in your field of research, give us a call to speak to one of our lawyers today. 

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