Disputes in British Universities

AR, Cardiff University

The process of victimization at the hands of Cardiff University started with the first term examinations. I tore a ligament in my wrist carrying a large bag the day before the first exam. I went to the doctor who diagnosed the condition and gave me a note. The next day I went to the exam centre to let them know that I’d be missing my exams and applying for a re-sit but was told that I had to give my exams. In the next few days I gave 4 exams with a torn ligament, failed all four exams and almost fainted with pain each day. I was subsequently allowed a re-sit by the university without a word of apology for the pain they had caused.

However, the icing on the cake was yet to come. My first thesis was failed through non-submission. I attempted the thesis again and was given a failing mark of 41%, but I appealed and the university agreed that they had not considered my medical condition and allowed me to re-submit my thesis. In my final attempt I was given a failing mark of 43% despite the significant improvements.

I wrote to my supervisor asking for an explanation and was told “The marks we award to a dissertation is a mark not "only" for the output, but "also" for the process, which we observe. Since you never consulted me for your work process, and even while away you never consulted me over email, I do not see how one can understand improvement in your work… Everything else you say about this dissertation is unfortunately irrelevant.” (image A)

Shocked at his response I checked the university rules and learnt that there was no room for marking the ‘process’! Then I searched for my old correspondence with him and was delighted to discover that there was 5 months of emailed correspondence that I had not deleted (image B). I was sure that the university would see the error of his ways, kick him out and give me the degree with a polity apology and I would get on with my life.

I wrote about my dissatisfaction to the school secretary and requested guidance on what to do. She wrote back within 5 hours that my dissertation was being ‘returned’ to the external examiner (image C). I asked her to give him both of my attempts so that he could see the improvement and decide if all the changes were worth only 2marks. I though the university was trying to help, only later did I realize how evil they were being.

The course secretary told me that my dissertation was being returned to the external examiner on the 7th of May 2009. I requested for a comparison on the 8th of May 2009. The next day I had a mail from her requesting the eview results which I mailed to her. On the 15th of May she clarified that they wanted the actual work files and not the copy paste from my thesis. I sent that to her on the 23rd of May 2009. Documents given to me later by OIA showed that the external examiner handed in his signed report on the 18th of May 2009, five days before he could have seen the work files. His report criticized my work and said “It seems to me that, in contrast to the message sent by Selim (the supervisor) to the student, the marking of the dissertation is in fact entirely of the final product, not of the process”. Does anyone dare to second guess Hitler and say “well, it seems to me that despite what Hitler said, he really didn’t hate Jews”?

However, the external examiners report also criticized the university for failing to provide adequate supervision and recommended “An important problem with this student is that he did not consult his supervisor at all either in the original period or after the first failure mark was given. Key messages about content and progress could have been given which must have helped the student improve the dissertation. This consultation must be primarily the responsibility of the student. However, it would be useful if a check of engagement could be made at some point in the supervision process and the administration could send any student who has not made contact a message explaining why consultation with their supervisor is essential and the risk that the student would run if they chose not to consult pointed out. A further such message could be given early on in the resubmission process. In this particular case the student clearly has no idea what is required”. Well, if my supervisor couldn’t explain the basics of writing a dissertation to me in 5 months who’s the negligent one? The external examiner was obviously not aware of the extensive correspondence and meetings I had with my supervisor which he sinfully denied (see image B again). I was not told of the external examiners finding till 7 weeks later when I enquired about it, despite the fact that his report carried clear instructions that the report should be made available to me. I wrote and complained to the school head who conveniently replied that he sympathized with my problem but that his hands were tied by the external examiners report (image D). It was at this point that I asked for the report and was given a copy. Later on, I discovered that Cardiff University actually had printed rules for resolution of such issues and that the school head was required to give a written report on my complaint which I supposed to agree to, otherwise the complaint was supposed to be moved to a higher forum. None of those rules were ever followed.

Later, I learnt that the school head and the external examiner were both known to each other for at least 8 years. They were co-participants at the European Monetary Conference Forum held at CARBS in 2002 and are listed as such in the appendix of the book “Money matters: Essays in Honour of Alan Walters” By Alan Arthur Walters and Patrick Minford. Intriguingly, a hand written and underlined note “Sent 14/5/09” is clearly visible on the back of one of the copies of the External Examiners report that is not signed by the External Examiner, but the same message is not visible on other copies! Who sent the report on the 14th of May 2009 and to whom was it sent 4 days before the External Examiner signed it? I requested OIA to provide me with the formal request that Cardiff Uni had sent to the external examiner and his formal reply, not just his report, but the OIA and Cardiff Uni conveniently ignored the request.

I appealed to the board and provided them with emails between my supervisor and me which showed extensive interaction. They ruled that all was well and good. I appealed to the OIA and highlighted the same issues. They remarked that they noted three points and stayed totally quiet on the others while ruling that my appeal was unjustified. Documents provided to me by OIA showed other disturbing facts. For one, Cardiff Uni tried to make it look as if I’d requested the external examiner, which I had never done. Secondly the head of the economics sections wrote at one point that one dissertation had been reviewed while at least two more of his correspondence show him claiming that two dissertations had been reviewed in response to my request for a comparison.

Throughout the process, the Cardiff University and the OIA stubbornly refused to acknowledge or comment on the most blatant abuse of authority by my supervisor, his own email which confessed to having marked my thesis in the wrong manner. Throughout the process, no one once responded to my assertion that the supervisor lied when he claimed that I never met him; on one even commented on the issue of his lies and his admission that he never taught me the basics of writing a thesis. For over a year, I’ve had one simple request, compare the two dissertations and you’ll see what a difference there is. How hard is that to do? Why doesn’t Cardiff Uni do it? Because they know that their staff member did the wrong thing, and they don’t want to do anything about it. For over a year, the university hasn’t even bothered to initiate an inquiry into the conduct of my supervisor. What a farce!

In the meantime, I’m not able to get the job I could potentially get with a MSc degree and 9 years of work experience. The job that I do have is constantly under threat and my employer is giving me notice after notice and has ever gone as far as to request my to either submit my degree or tender my resignation or else face potential termination. I have a 15 month old daughter and my parents are also dependent on my income for survival, as is the case in many developing countries. Can you imagine the financial and mental pressure that I live with each day, awaiting a termination letter and wondering how to feed my baby girl?

As I said to OIA, millions of students choose education in the UK because they believe in its integrity, not just in its quality. Cardiff itself enjoys enormous revenue boosts from international students that pay the full fee and spend money at the shopping malls. If these are the standards by which UK universities operate, the day will not be far away that international students shun the UK and deprive it of billions of pounds that it currently earns from them.