Academic appeals increase over a third in five years

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The number of academic appeals submitted to the University has increased by a third over the past five years, Palatinate can reveal.

A total of 256 appeals were submitted to the University last year, compared to just 192 in 2013/14.

Students can submit a formal appeal for various reasons, including unexpected adverse circumstances, evidence of marks being calculated incorrectly, and discrepancies in decision making.

256 appeals were submitted to the University last year, compared to just 192 in 2013/14

An Anthropology student – who prefers to remain anonymous – struggled in her first year exams due to circumstances she couldn’t disclose to the University. She was told via an email that she would have to withdraw from her course unless she appealed the decision.

Speaking to Palatinate she said: “The University and my college were very helpful and kind towards the situation. I had a meeting to discuss how academic appeals work and what I needed to do.

“They told me it usually takes 8 – 12 weeks to process the appeals however they got back to me within 2 weeks of submitting it, and allowed me to resit first year on exam status only.”

The number of appeals upheld by the University has more than doubled over the past five years. 43% of all requests made last year were reviewed and accepted, according to a Freedom of Information submitted by Palatinate to the University.

The number of appeals upheld by the University has more than doubled over the past five years.

Most appeals are dealt with within a Faculty, but around 15% of all requests go on to be raised at a Senate level.

Another student told Palatinate that she was forced by the University to withdraw from her degree in November last year. They claimed that she hadn’t attended any contact hours, which she refutes.

What followed was “hell for five months” as her appeal was first rejected by her Faculty before being accepted at a Senate level. She didn’t have much hope going into the Senate appeal and said: “I didn’t think I’d win at this point so I just went wrote about every single thing to do with the situation. It was quite brutal looking back on it… and I won at the Senate level, on the grounds of them breaking several University policies.”

Despite difficulties with the Academic Appeals, around one in every hundred Durham students was involved in the process last year.

Around one in every hundred Durham students was involved in the process last year

Students from the Social Sciences & Health faculty were more than twice as likely to submit an appeal than those from Arts & Humanities. 1.6% of all Social Sciences & Health students requested an appeal last year, as compared to only 0.7% of Arts & Humanities students and 1.1% of Science students.

Appeals can vary from summative assignment marks to a change in the classification of a student’s degree

Appeals can vary from summative assignment marks to a change in the classification of a student’s degree. A Modern Languages student spoke to Palatinate about the difficulties she had faced whilst on her year abroad: “They decided halfway through my year abroad that they couldn’t provide health insurance/ pastoral support and therefore said that I couldn’t travel, despite me saying that I felt well enough.

“Having completed all the requirements, I sent the case to appeal and it was decided that because I couldn’t give medical evidence that I was well, the year abroad could not be accredited.

“The whole process was a complete nightmare with no one really knowing who was responsible”

“The whole process was a complete nightmare with no one really knowing who was responsible and the University generally being pretty ill prepared to support students whilst abroad.”

The reason behind the increase in appeals is unclear but could be linked to last year’s academic strike action over pension disputes. The action was led by the University and College Union (UCU) and disrupted 14 days of teaching in April 2018. Speaking to Palatinate, The University and College Union (UCU) said: “Whilst the rise in appeals could be due to a number of factors, that it came at the same time as the most significant and widespread strike action that we have ever undertaken is probably not surprising.

“14 days of strike action by academic and academic related staff was always going to have an impact on the day-to-day running of Durham University, and the student experience was always going to take a hit.”

“The potential impact of our action was well understood. The University engaged various staff, strategies and processes in an attempt to mitigate those impacts. But the impact was always going to be felt in one way or another – which it was.

“UCU members do feel totally vindicated by taking the action that we did [the 2018 strike action]”

Jon Bryan, University and College Union

“UCU members taking industrial action at Durham University for such a prolonged period of time in the first half of 2018 was always going to be felt in different ways. Let’s not forget that it also included working to contract, as well as 14 days of strikes.

“When you look at what has happened in terms of the outcomes of the strike, UCU members do feel totally vindicated by taking the action that we did.

“The various factors which could be attributed to this rise could perhaps be the subject of a piece of academic research! Possible reasons for the rise in appeals may well include the fact that some students were emboldened by our strike action. They came out and supported us on picket lines and saw what could be done to fight for what you believe in. An increasing belief in challenging an injustice or a decision that has been made that you do not agree with, may well form part of the story.

“We have well-established transparent processes to help students who make an appeal” says the University

Professor Alan Houston, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Education), told Palatinate: “We have well-established, transparent processes to help students who wish to make an appeal. “The number of appeals we receive remains very low, relative to our student numbers. Whilst there has been an increase in the past five years, this can largely be attributed to the rise in the number of students over that period.

“We encourage our students to engage with their studies, and to be active participants in their own learning. Having the opportunity to challenge academic decisions forms part of this process.”

Photograph by William Mewes via Creative Commons

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