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I failed my viva voce examination but I believe that much of this is because of poor supervision on my PhD. What can I do?

I failed my viva voce examination but I believe that much of this is because of poor supervision on my PhD. What can I do?

If you have failed your viva voce examination and feel that the poor quality of your supervision was partly to blame for this outcome, you are well within your rights to launch an appeal. A great many students of both further and higher education often mistakenly assume that they have no rights to appeal or any recourse to the law when it comes to the standard of the education or supervision that they receive from their university or college. Fortunately, this is not the case.

Every student has a contract with their university…

The relationship between students and their UK educational institutions changed forever almost two decades ago when university tuition fees were introduced in 1998. With the introduction of fees, the whole dynamic of the relationship developed from student and teacher to that of consumer and service provider.

In the intervening years, fees have risen steadily and today the average cost of a Ph.D. programme in the UK is between £3,000 and £6,000 per annum (rising to as much as £18,000 for overseas students) and depending on the University. Therefore, with such substantial amounts of money now being required, students who feel short-changed would be foolish not to appeal against poor results as a result of sub-standard provision of service.

Poor Ph.D. supervision is equal to breach of contract

The specific relationship between you and your college or university will be described in the contract you have signed with your institution, including said institution's specific policies, procedures, rules and regulations. In all UK educational institutions, however, there are a number of situations that result in a breach of contract, such as when:

  • your supervision is demonstrably inadequate
  • your supervisor regularly fails to attend your supervisory sessions
  • university staff make serious errors regarding internal procedures
  • an external examiner has not been arranged

The standard of supervision is also considered unacceptable if your supervisor:

  • is not an expert in your area of research;
  • is frequently absent and unavailable;
  • does not provide sufficient feedback;
  • does not represent your work at Review Panels;
  • does not provide essential extra materials.

The procedure to follow when problems arise...

In cases where you are not happy with your Ph.D. supervision, you should in the first instance raise your concerns directly with your supervisor, preferably in writing, identifying the additional support you require and being completely straightforward and open about your situation. If no satisfactory resolution is forthcoming, you should then seek to meet with your supervisor in person and establish a dialogue to address your concerns. If you still have no luck, attempt to speak to your second supervisor. You should, however, defer to the internal research regulations.

If you have tried these channels and the support you need is still not being provided, you may be left with no other option than to launch a formal complaint. In these cases, a breach of contract case (ultimately) may be all you can do to get your academic career back on track and successfully complete your doctorate. It would also make sense to seek legal counsel at this point.

At Match, one of our areas of expertise is assisting students who are in dispute about the quality of their Ph.D. supervision. If you're having problems, don't hesitate to give us a call to discuss your case. 

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