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Guidance for Schools

This guidance has been provided to advise Schools on the procedure to be followed in relation to academic appeals made by a student enrolled on a Research Degree Programme within their School and what is required when such an appeal is submitted.

The process outlined below will be followed in accordance with the  Academic Appeal Regulations (Research Degree Programmes). This guidance should be read in conjunction with the Regulations and the General Provisions Relating to Academic Appeals, Conduct, Academic Offences and Student Complaints. Where there is any doubt, the Regulations take precedence over this guidance.

Overview of Procedures

The appeals procedure is a two-stage process:

Stage 1 – consideration of the appeal documentation by the Faculty Student Research Appeals Committee (FSRAC), subject to the outcome of an initial and independent sifting/review process where it is not clear that sufficient evidence and/or a sufficiently compelling case has been presented.  A Sifting Panel will consider the case in the first instance, and if it decides to reject the appeal, the appeal documentation will be considered by the Review Panel, who will either confirm or overturn the decision of the Sifting Panel. If the appeal is accepted by either the Sifting or the Review Panel, the appeal documentation will be shared with the relevant School and a formal, written response will be requested.  The appeal documentation submitted by the student, and the School response, will be considered by the FSRAC.  All aspects of the process at this stage are based on a consideration of paperwork alone.

Stage 2 – consideration of the appeal documentation by the Central Student Research Appeals Committee (CSRAC), subject to the outcome of an initial and independent sifting/review process where it is not clear that sufficient evidence and/or a sufficiently compelling case has been presented.  The sifting/review process follows that for the Stage 1 Appeal to FSRAC with the staff involved having no prior knowledge of the case.  If accepted, the student will be invited to attend a meeting of the CSRAC.  The Chair of the FSRAC will also be invited to attend the meeting to detail the reasons for the FSRAC outcome.

Stage 1: Appeal to FSRAC

A student may appeal, on grounds, to the FSRAC against a decision of their School Postgraduate Research Committee (SPRC) made in relation 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:

(i) 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);

(iii) There has been a procedural irregularity which has had a demonstrable impact on the progress/assessment/award outcome;

(iii) There is evidence of inadequate assessment on the part of one or more examiners in an oral examination;

(iv) 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.

Before sending an appeal to a School for response, appeals may be considered by a Sifting Panel comprising two senior members of University staff (the Sifting Panel) to determine whether the student has presented sufficient evidence and/or a sufficiently compelling case.  Appeals which are deemed not to be supported by sufficient evidence and/or a sufficiently compelling case will be rejected.  Any appeals that are rejected will be reviewed by two further senior members of University staff (the Review Panel). Staff appointed to Sifting and Review Panels will have had no previous knowledge or involvement in the student’s case.

Those appeals which are rejected at “sifting/review” will not be sent to Schools for a response. However, the Appeals and Complaints Team will notify the School of those students whose appeals were rejected.

A decision to reject an appeal through the Sifting and Review Process is final and these students will have no further right of appeal within the University. If a student still feels aggrieved by the outcome or the process, they may appeal to the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman (NIPSO).

Those appeals that are not rejected at “sifting/review” will be referred 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).

Where appropriate, a response may be required from another department within the University (eg Student Wellbeing / Disability Services).

Academic Affairs will convene and service a meeting of the FSRAC, which will comprise the Faculty Pro-Vice-Chancellor (PVC) (or nominee) and another senior colleague appointed by the Faculty PVC.  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 online, if appropriate; for example, via MS Teams. 

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 Central Student Research Appeals Committee (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 made by the SPRC in one of the following ways as appropriate to the appeal case:
    • Declare the Annual Progress Review (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 with regard to final examination (assessment/award) and take action in one of the following ways, as appropriate to the appeal case:
    • 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 it has 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 other information considered by the FSRAC.    

Stage 2:  Appeal to Central Student Research Appeals Committee (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:

(i) New evidence has become available which could not have been provided to the Faculty Pro-Vice-Chancellor (PVC) as part of the FSRAC.

(ii) 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.

Where it is not clear that sufficient evidence and/or a sufficiently compelling case has been presented by the student, the appeal may first be considered through the Sifting and Review Process, following the same procedure as that employed under Stage 1 Appeal to FSRAC.  Staff involved will, however, have had no prior knowledge of the student’s case. 

A decision to reject an appeal through the Sifting and Review Process is final and these students will have no further right of appeal within the University but may appeal externally to the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman (NIPSO) within 6 months of notification of the decision of the Review Panel. 

If an appeal is accepted at the Sifting and Review stage, 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 PVC (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) will be required to attend the meeting to explain the reasons for the FSRAC’s decision and may also be required to provide a written response to the student’s appeal to CSRAC.   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.  

Where appropriate, a response may be required from another department within the University (eg Student Wellbeing / Disability Services) and a representative from that department may also be required to attend the CSRAC meeting.

The CSRAC may:

  • Dismiss the appeal, giving reasons
  • Uphold the appeal in part or in full by varying the progression decision made by the SPRC in one of the following ways as appropriate to the appeal case:
    • 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 with regard to final examination (assessment/award) and take action in one of the following ways, as appropriate to the appeal case:
    • 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