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.”