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This guidance has been provided to advise Schools on the procedure for academic appeals by a student on a research degree programme within their School and what is required from them when such an appeal is submitted.

The appeals procedure now includes a Stage 1 appeal to the Faculty Student Research Appeals Committee (FSRAC).  The process outlined below will be followed in accordance with the Academic Appeals Regulations (Research Degree Programmes).  This guidance should be read in conjunction with the Regulations.  Where there is any doubt the Regulations take precedence over this guidance.

Overview of Procedures

Stage 1: Appeal to FSRAC

A student may appeal, on grounds, to the Faculty Student Research Appeals Committee against a decision of their School Postgraduate Research Committee relating to progression, assessment or award or an examiners’ decision regarding the outcome of an oral examination.  The appeal must be submitted to Academic Affairs within 10 working days of the date of the written communication of the decision.

A student may appeal on one or more of the following grounds:

  1. New evidence has become available which could not have been provided to the School (evidence that a student chooses to withhold from the School will not normally constitute new evidence);
  2. There has been a procedural irregularity which has had a demonstrable impact on the progress/assessment/award outcome;
  3. There is evidence of inadequate assessment on the part of one or more examiners in an oral examination;
  4. There is evidence of inadequate supervision. This refers not to the academic judgement of supervisors regarding the quality of students’ work, but rather to the adherence to University regulations, procedures and codes of practice for the supervision of postgraduate research students.  The student shall be expected either to show that they took action at the earliest possible stage to deal with any alleged supervisory problems, or to explain why they did not take such action.

Academic Affairs will acknowledge receipt of the appeal and will refer the appeal to the student’s Head of School (or nominee) for a response.  The School response should be forwarded to Academic Affairs, normally within 10 working days of receipt (see section School Response to a FSRAC appeal below). 

Academic Affairs will convene and service a meeting of the FSRAC, which will comprise the Faculty Pro-Vice-Chancellor (or nominee) and another senior colleague appointed by the Faculty Pro-Vice-Chancellor.  The FSRAC will meet and consider the student’s appeal and the School response on the paperwork alone, so the School's response must include all relevant information required by FSRAC to make its decision.  Neither the student, nor a representative from the School will attend.  The meeting of the FSRAC may be held electronically. 

The decision shall be communicated to the student, normally within eight working days of the decision being taken.  The student will be advised of their right to appeal to CSRAC on relevant grounds.

The FSRAC may: 

  • Recommend mediation
  • Dismiss the appeal, giving reasons
  • Uphold the appeal in part or in full by varying the progression decision:
    • Declare the APR (including differentiation) null and void and direct that a new APR be held.
    • Recommend to the SPRC that it reconsider its decision.
  • Uphold the appeal in part or in full (assessment/award) and:
    • Declare the oral examination null and void; new examiners will be appointed.
    • Recommend that the examiners reconsider their decision.
    • Permit the student to revise and resubmit the thesis or to re-register and undertake more research before re-submitting the thesis.  The FSRAC will specify whether the thesis will be examined by the same or new examiners.
    • Apply on the student’s behalf for a concession to the Study Regulations for Research Degree Programmes.

A record of the FSRAC meeting will be taken. The Record of Outcome will be retained as a record of the issues considered by the FSRAC and the decision made. 

The Record of Outcome giving reasons and advising of the student’s right to appeal will be sent to the student, normally within eight working days of the decision being taken.  The student will also be sent a copy of the School’s response and any information considered by the FSRAC.    

 

Stage 2:  Appeal to CSRAC

If the student is dissatisfied with the outcome of the Stage 1 appeal (the FSRAC decision), they may appeal to the CSRAC by submitting an appeal to Academic Affairs within 10 working days of the written notification of the Stage 1 outcome on the following grounds:

-       New evidence has become available which could not have been provided to the Faculty PVC as part of the FSRAC.

-       There has been a procedural irregularity by the FSRAC which had a demonstrable impact on the outcome.

Academic Affairs will acknowledge receipt of the appeal and will be responsible for servicing the CSRAC.

If an appeal is received, the Head of School will be notified (copied to the Faculty PVC) and details of a nominee to represent the School at the meeting of the CSRAC will be requested.

The CSRAC will comprise a Pro-Vice-Chancellor (or nominee) (Chair) and three Directors of Research or senior academic colleagues from across the University (normally one from each Faculty).  The student shall have the right to attend the CSRAC meeting to present their case.  The Chair of the FSRAC (or nominee) may be required to provide a written response to the student’s appeal to CSRAC and shall attend to explain the reasons for the FSRAC’s decision.  The School may be required to provide a further written response to the student’s appeal and a representative from the School may also be required to attend the meeting of the CSRAC to provide further information relating to the provision of the research degree programme, the student’s performance and the basis on which the progression, assessment or award decision was taken. The School should provide copies of any additional documentation including written evidence in relation to the student that had not previously been available to the FSRAC.

The CSRAC may:

  • Dismiss the appeal, giving reasons
  • Uphold the appeal in part or in full by varying the progression decision
    • Declare the APR (including differentiation) null and void and direct that a new APR be held.
    • Recommend to the SPRC that it reconsider its decision.
  • Uphold the appeal in part or in full (assessment/award) and
    • Declare the oral examination null and void - new examiners will be appointed.
    • Recommend that the examiners reconsider their decision.
    • Permit the student to revise and resubmit the thesis or to re-register and undertake more research before re-submitting the thesis. The CSRAC will specify whether the thesis will be examined by the same or new examiners.  If the appeal is upheld on the ground of inadequate supervision, the CSRAC will recommend that one or more supervisors be replaced for the further period of research.
    • Apply on the student’s behalf for a concession to the Study Regulations for Research Degree Programmes.

Guidance for Schools

  • School Response to an FSRAC Appeal

    Upon receipt of an appeal under the Academic Appeal Regulations (Research Degree Programmes), by Academic Affairs, the appeal will be referred to the Head of the relevant School (or nominee) for a response to the student’s appeal.  The response will be sent to Academic Affairs, normally within 10 working days of receipt by the Head of School (or nominee) of the student’s appeal.

    Academic Affairs will advise the student that the appeal has been referred to the School for a response. 

    To avoid any confusion, a School response should be factual and should include details of the Board of Examiners decision, a response to the grounds of appeal and any other issues raised by the student. Evidence to support the School response is helpful in ensuring that the FSAC have all necessary information with which to make a fair decision on the student’s case.

    If the School is supportive of the student’s appeal, this should not be indicated in the School response but, rather, in an accompanying email to the Appeals Team; the Team will bring this to the attention of the FSRAC. As the student receives a copy of the School response, such indications by Schools can create an expectation on the part of the student that the appeal will be upheld.

    The School response, and appended evidence, will be combined with the student appeal documentation and sent to FSRAC for consideration.

    Students will receive a copy of the School response and any accompanying documents. Therefore, it is imperative that the School should redact any information which should not be disclosed to the student (eg the names of other students in the minutes of meetings of Boards of Examiners or emails).

  • Addressing the Grounds of Appeal

    The School response should address each ground of appeal cited by the student in turn, giving as much detail as possible. 

    The information below provides advice on the information that should be included in the School response.  However, the response should not include copies of documents that have already been submitted by the student with the appeal application.

    Ground 1: New evidence has become available which could not have been provided to the School (evidence which was withheld from the School will not normally constitute new evidence).

    The School response should address the following:

    1. Was the “new evidence” known to the School?
    2. When was the “new evidence” brought to the School’s attention?
    3. To whom was it disclosed?
    4. What steps were taken by the School to address the issue/s and/or provide support?
    5. Could the “new evidence” have been disclosed to the School at an earlier date?
    6. If so, what steps would the School have taken to address the issue/s and provide support?

    Ground 2: There has been a procedural irregularity which has had a demonstrable impact on the progress/assessment/award outcome.

    The School response should address the following:

    1. Does the School accept that there was a procedural irregularity?
    2. If not, why not?
    3. Does the School accept that it impacted the student’s performance in the manner described?

    Ground 3: There is evidence of inadequate assessment on the part of one or more Examiners.

    The School response should include the following information:

    1. The date of submission of the thesis.
    2. The date of the oral examination.
    3. The date of appointment of the Examiners.
    4. The names, qualifications and area and level of expertise of the Examiners.
    5. Details of any issues raised by the student relating to the assessment process prior to submission of the appeal.
    6. Any comments by the Convenor relating to the conduct of the oral examination, including the tone / mood of the examination [was the debate heated or cordial; was it necessary for the Convenor or anyone else to intervene?].
    7. The duration of the oral examination (was a break offered?).
    8. Were the issues raised in the Examiners’ Independent Reports properly addressed and examined during the oral examination?
    9. Did the Examiners’ Joint Report address any alleged shortcomings during the oral examination on the student’s part?
    10. Was the student given a fair opportunity to defend their thesis?

    Ground 4: There is evidence of inadequate supervision. 

    This refers not to the academic judgment of supervisors regarding the quality of students’ work but rather to the adherence to University regulations, procedures and codes of practice for the supervision of postgraduate research students. 

    The student will be expected to show that they took action at the earliest possible stage to deal with any alleged supervisory problems, or to explain why they did not take such action.  Details of any issues raised by the student should be included in the report.

    The School response should include the following information:

    1. Have supervisors been appointed appropriately and in line with the relevant regulations?
    2. Was there a delay in appointing supervisors or was there a time gap between a change of supervisors? If so, does the School acknowledge that this impacted on the student’s progress? 
    3. Did the student have regular meetings with their supervisor(s)?
    4. Are records of the meetings available?
    5. Did the student raise any issues regarding supervision at APR meetings?
    6. Were there any changes of supervisor or requests for a change of supervisor?
    7. Did the School take the necessary action to address any issues raised by the student regarding supervision?
    8. Did either supervisor raise any issues during the period of supervision relating to supervision?
  • Further Information

    The School response should also include a timeline for the period during which the student was registered on the research degree programme.  This should provide the following details:

    1. Date of successful differentiation.
    2. Any unsuccessful attempts at differentiation.
    3. Any approved leave of absence.
    4. Any unapproved periods of absence.
    5. Date/s of any change of supervisor/s.
    6. Anticipated submission dates/approved extensions/actual submission date.
    7. Time spent away from campus (Belfast) to carryout research. 
    8. Changes in registration i.e. full-time to part-time, thesis only, including dates.

    Copies of any corroborating documentation, e.g. emails, SPRC minutes, Supervision Records, Annual Progress Review Reports, Internal Examiner’s Independent Report, External Examiner’s Independent Report, Examiners’ Joint Report, Convenor’s Report, etc. should be attached to the School response.

    The School response should indicate whether any points made by the student are conceded and the reasons for conceding. 

    The School should consider whether any of the challenges made by the student relate to academic judgement (which cannot be appealed).

  • Deadline for School Response

    The School response should be forwarded to Academic Affairs, normally within 10 working days of receipt of the student’s appeal.