For years Universities have been able to hide behind academic judgment, quickly following suit was the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA). However, does the recent ruling in a case by a medical student at the University of Leicester limit the OIA’s scope on this issue?

The medical student’s case was considered unjustified in the first instance by the OIA. The OIA decided against considering the issue of whether the processes and reasoning underpinning the University’s decision to not allow the medical student a repeat year was in fact fair.

The court concluded that the OIA did in fact have the remit to consider potential procedural unfairness and irrationality. It would seem that what now falls within the scope of “academic judgment” has been narrowed. Academic Judgment is to apply to decisions that are purely academic in nature, i.e. grading, attaining progression requirements etc. This is not to be confused with processes and rationale used to come to decisions. The OIA should consider the reasoning behind University decisions “if there is objective evidence of matters which suggest procedural unfairness, bias, impropriety…”

This would suggest that the current approach the OIA have adopted at reviewing cases has placed a wider interpretation on “academic judgment” and have potentially allowed a number of University decisions go unchallenged under this umbrella.

What happens now regarding complaints remains to be seen. From my experience with the OIA they tend to review the issue of reasonableness but not one of fairness. Fairness does not even appear as a principle to be considered by the OIA. However the Judge in this case is perhaps putting in the notion of fairness when considering complaints –“whilst there is no principle of fairness which requires, as general rule, that a person should be entitled to challenge a purely academic judgment on his or her work or potential, each case must be examined on its own facts.” 

1 comment

  1. Steve Davey April 13, 2015 at 10:07 pm


    Thank you for publishing this article and your previous article about legal representation in submitting a complaint to the OIA. From my own experience of the OIA, they are seriously and blatantly biased towards the HEI. This bias was evident in the research of Price and Laybourne in 2009. Nothing seems to have changed. The remit is unjustly narrow – whether the HEI correctly followed its own procedures. As a student, I was not permitted to know what happened (or not), in relation to possible disciplinary action against the HEI staff, I complained about. So there was no transparency of accountability about whether the HEI correctly followed such procedures and what happened. Under the existing rules, the HEI can decide what aspect, if any, of the complaint they can respond to the OIA about. There appears to be no rules about disclosure or answering the salient points of the complaint. The OIA can be selective, without justification, as to what they ‘adjudicate’ on. How convenient to both parties. Just as it is convenient to the OIA that a student does not enlist legal advice and representation. Apparently this would cause delay. No matter even without my having legal representation. it still took the OIA over a year to ‘investigate’ my complaint, after the eighteen months my complaint had sat at the HEI. Further, the HEI handler of my complaint liaising with the OIA, is a solicitor and former employee of the OIA ! The OIA claims to be independent and impartial. Yet it could not in my case where my complaint was found to be unjustified, recommend my receiving financial compensation, without the pre-agreement of the HEI. The complaint outcome statistics do not add up. They do not add up because the process is a sham. The OIA is protecting the funding HEIs who wield more long term power and influence over the OIA, than any individual students making a transient complaint. I find it of some solace that there are lawyers such as yourself that are commenting on the OIA. If I was a lawyer, I would do everything within my knowledge and skill to expose what is taking place. Once again thank you.

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