Submission from John Wildman
1. Statement of Personal Background Experience
1. I lost the hearing in my left ear due
to a cholesteatoma (a benign tumour) at the age of 16. Nevertheless,
I achieved a place at the University of Liverpool to read a Bachelor's
degree in Psychology and Neuroscience which I started in September
2. Although I had declared my disability, I was
not provided with note-takers for lectures, sometimes for entire
modules. The University later claimed that this was my duty to
3. The University did not put the SENDA provisions
of the Disability Discrimination Act in place for my cohort of
students in 2003. There were no alternative dates for examinations
or adjustments based on need.
4. In my second year the tumour began to re-grow
and worsened in my final year. This caused dizziness, tinnitus,
infections and severe pain. I fell and broke my wrist requiring
an operation. Three letters from my ENT Consultant to the University
were disregarded. I was advised by my tutor to complete my degree,
delaying an operation on my ear condition.
5. Agreed extensions to course work were
not honoured and the University capped my coursework marks. My
supervisor for my "Third Year Project" resigned and
was not replaced. I was failed by 1% for this element.
6. Due to a certified illness, I missed
three examinations in my final year. There was no opportunity
to sit them on an alternative date.
7. I was awarded a Pass degree instead of
the 2.1 which was my expectation. This meant that I was ineligible
for Graduate Basis for Registration (GBR) with the British Psychological
8. Soon after I graduated, I underwent the
operation that I had previously delayed. This went wrong because
I was not given antibiotics and this left me very ill for over
a year. Consequently, I was unable to bring the University to
account under the Disability Discrimination Act because I missed
the six month time limit for bringing action.
9. My complaints under the University system
were all handled by the same Director who was responsible for
disability support at the University. Complaints to University
Council members were not substantially answered.
10. A complaint to the University Visitor,
administered by the Office of Independent Adjudicators for Higher
Education (OIA) was unsuccessful. A Small Claims Court action
was similarly unsuccessful. In both cases the University position
was put only by the Director responsible. He incurred £18,500
in legal costs.
11. At no point did the University attempt
to seek a solution to my situation and rejected my advances about
re-sitting my third year.
12. I subsequently gained a Master's degree
in Sport and Exercise Science (Psychology) at Manchester Metropolitan.
13. Without the GBR, I could not enrol for
a specialist psychology Master's accredited by the BPS. Only with
the Secretary of State's approval of the Disability Discrimination
Code of Practice for Professional Organisations did the BPS make
a "reasonable adjustment" and admit me to GBR in October
14. I have applied for many PhD and NHS
clinical and research jobs. All have required a 2.1 or First at
undergraduate degree level. My Master's degree is disregarded.
2. Disability Issues in Higher Education
1. I accept that understanding of the duties
and provision of services has improved considerably since my experience
of the negligence of the University of Liverpool. Since leaving
university, I have had involvement with the charity Scope which
provided into work initiatives for graduates with disabilities.
However, this scheme has recently been mothballed.
2. My own case was recently featured in
the Higher Education Academy conference "Into the professions:
enabling entry and success for disabled learners."
3. The number of Disability cases against
Universities brought in the County Court is very small, but this
probably reflects the difficulty of the process. Awards by the
OIA in disability cases are very low.
1. HEI's must be given greater responsibility
for assisting students with disabilities into work. This will
encourage improved perceptions of their employability and clarify
2. Cases within the Disability Discrimination
Act Part 4, Further and Higher Education, should be brought before
the more familiar and appropriately experienced Tribunal Service.
3. A nominated University Council member
should have responsibility for disability issues.
3. QAA Code of Practice
1. The QAA issues Codes of Practice on a
number of topics to condition the delivery of university activities.
These are no mandatory, given the "light touch" supervisory
regime of QAA and Funding Councils.
2. The University I attended did not have
in place measures meeting QAA Code standards on:
Public Law (Nolan Committee) standards
3. I asked HEFCE to investigate these matters
under its "whistle blowing" process. This was refused
on the basis that they could not respond to student complaints.
4. It is a contradiction that the Quality
Assurance Authority precepts are not enforced. The Codes set out
standards, not aspirations and are often reiterations of requirements
in other regulations.
5. Students should have a reasonable expectation
that the university they choose will adhere to the "industry
standards" set by the Quality Authority.
6. Proposal: That QAA Codes of Practice
are mandatory and that this is a principle of the Funding Councils'
memorandum with universities.
4. The Academic Record and entering work
1. My attendance at lectures, seminars and
tutorials while at university was very good. Disability related
illness and injury significantly affected only my final year,
final term, examinations and assessments, for which the University
had no alternative arrangements
2. An employer within the NHS has recently
asked me to provide evidence of the areas of study in which I
had engaged as part of a "reasonable adjustment". In
specialist fields of practical application like my own (Psychology
and Neuroscience) this has more relevance than a degree standard
based on a short period of examination. Thus, the Academic Record
enables compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act.
3. I applied for a PhD training studentship
at the Institute of Hearing Research (part of the Medical Research
Council). The Research topic embraced areas with which I was familiar.
However, the required competency was for a First or 2.1 degree
in any of a range of disparate scientific disciplines. An Academic
Record would better match applicants to job requirements.
4. The Academic Record is warmly endorsed
5. The Status and Function of the Master's
1. The number and variety of Master's degree
courses has increased as people choose specialisms, vocational
study or enhancement of their first degree awards.
2. The abolition of funding for Equal and
Lower Qualifications will increase this trend.
3. Because of the diversity of awards, there
appears to be an unwillingness to recognise the academic merit
of a Master's degree.
4. Appointment minimum qualification standards
set by the NHS and Research Councils are for a 2.1 or First at
first degree level. The value of a Master's is taken to raise
a 2.2 to 2.1 level. This places a Master's as equivalent to a
Second Class degree.
5. This position is not consistent with
the perception of a Master's as a higher level degree (level 5
6. It is accepted, however, that the increase
in Master's degrees of a vocational nature may have devalued the
academic status of the qualification.
7. That the "Master's" degree
be examined, with the possible outcome of differentiating between
those of a vocational nature and those which enhance academic
6. Appointment to PhD Studentships
1. Anecdotal evidence and personal experience
indicate that very few PhD studentships carrying a stipend funded
by Research Councils are awarded to graduates who studied outside
the host institution.
2. A recent advertisement for a PhD scholarship
required applicants to have a "first class degree from a
3. The majority of research funding and
thus PhD opportunities is directed through Russell Group Universities.
4. This progression through to doctorate
studies under present arrangements is not reflecting "Wider
5. (a) That PhD opportunities must be advertised
outside the host institution
(b) That an appointment panel include an independent
7. Student Complaints
My experience of using the Office of Independent
Adjudicator for Higher Education's service for resolving my dispute
with the University of Liverpool proved to have a number of flaws:
1. The OIA process is one of review. As
such, it presumes that the student's complaint has been already
closely considered by the university's internal processes and
that that process meets QAA standards.
2. The QAA has a Code of Practice which
establishes minimum standards for university complaint procedures.
3. In March 2007, Professor Neville Harris
of the University of Manchester Law Department found that the
quality of procedures varies widely across the sector and that
there was an increased risk of unfairness occurring.
4. In my own case, I did not have the opportunity
to personally put my case to anybody of the University or the
OIA. This opportunity is required by Human Rights legislation.
5. The OIA did not have a grasp of the Disability
Discrimination Act, which was the basis of my complaint.
6. The OIA reiterates the Public Law precepts
of the Nolan Committee in its guarantee, yet all the complaints
I made against the university, including to the OIA, were handled
by the same manager that was responsible for those issues which
were the subject of the complaint.
7. I was young and ill and from a "Wider
Access" background. The process of appeal against the adverse
OIA decision, through a Judicial Review, was not a realistic option.
Indeed, the education solicitor I consulted clearly did not know
how to go about it.
8. The OIA argument for its own continuation
is its own relative economy. However, the costs and consequences
to students of a failure in the university/student relationship
9. That the OIA is wound up and the dispute
process beyond those within the University be vested in the Tribunals
I understand that the OIA has itself instituted
a review of its arrangements, to which I have contributed.