This guidance provides advice on best practice for Schools in relation to Student Support Meetings and responding to appeals to the Faculty Student Appeals Committee (FSAC). It will also assist members of staff who are not familiar with the appeals process, and guide staff attending the Central Student Appeals Committee (CSAC) on behalf of the School. This guidance should be read in conjunction with the Academic Appeal Regulations (Taught Programmes) 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.
The guidance refers to information required by the FSAC to enable it to reach a fair and balanced decision. It should also help to avoid further requests for information or clarification by Academic Affairs from Schools.
Student Support Meeting
Schools are required to invite any student who has not met the requirements to progress, or who is required to withdraw, to a Student Support Meeting (SSM). Where a student has failed one module and still has a further attempt, it may be considered sufficient (instead of calling the student to a SSM) to write to the student advising them of the Board’s decision. If so, the School should set out clearly:
- The need to enrol for a resit and that this will be capped (if appropriate)
- The implications for the student of another failure
- The importance of disclosing any circumstances which they consider may affect their academic performance
- The contact details of the University’s support services: Student Wellbeing Service and SU Advice
- The contact details of the student’s Adviser of Studies or Personal Tutor should they wish to meet to discuss their academic situation further
- The option of coming to a SSM if they would like to discuss their academic situation.
- The right to appeal the Board's decision and the deadline to appeal (within 10 working days of the publication of results).
Please note that Schools can choose to call students who have one fail to a SSM if they wish – for example, where the School wants to be assured that the student understands the implications of further failures.
Students who should be called in to a meeting include those:
- Who have failed two or more modules
- Who have failed to meet an agreed academic target
- Who are ineligible for an award of a degree or other qualification on completion of the final stage of their studies
- Whose academic progress gives cause for concern
- Whose next attempt is their last before being asked to withdraw.
This list is not exhaustive and Schools should use their judgement in deciding if there are other students not listed in the categories above but who could benefit from attending an SSM.
Schools are required to have processes in place to ensure that the SSM include at least two members of senior School staff who are appropriately qualified to advise students on their progress; this may include administrative staff. Where possible, Schools should ensure a gender balance in the membership of the meeting. Staff should be able to advise students on their progress, the programme regulations, their options and where to seek further and additional help, if required.
The SSM has no discretionary powers to overturn decisions or consider evidence of exceptional circumstances. The purpose of the meeting is to explain the academic progress decision to the student and to ensure that appropriate support is in place. The meeting must take place within 10 working days of the deadline for the publication of results.
When meeting with a student, it is recommended that the minutes of the School Exceptional Circumstances Committee and Board of Examiners’ meetings are available, so the student can be provided with an explanation of how the decision was reached, if indeed the student’s case was specifically discussed at the Board. A note of the SSM should be made and retained to ensure there is a record of any issues raised or action agreed. The Student Support Meeting Pro-Forma is suggested as an example of good practice. The student should be asked to sign the form and should also be given a copy. It is also helpful to retain copies of the SSM invitations in order to evidence that support has been offered.
It is also good practice that any advice given to a student by an Adviser of Studies or Personal Tutor about their progress, or any referrals to support services, be recorded in a follow-up email to the student.
If students bring new evidence to the SSM about why they believe they did not perform well in the examination / assessment, they should be advised to appeal only if the evidence could not have been provided to the School before the meeting of the Board of Examiners.
Where a student discloses that their performance has been affected by circumstances that they consider to be extremely personal and sensitive, they should be advised to indicate this within the FSAC Appeal Form so that appropriate processes to ensure confidentiality of personal and sensitive information can be applied.
Should a student wish to appeal the decision of the Board of Examiners, they should be advised that their appeal must meet at least one of the grounds set out in the Academic Appeal Regulations (Taught Programmes).
The appeals procedure is a two stage process:
Stage 1 – the appeal documentation submitted by the student will be considered (on paperwork alone) by the Sifting Panel, who will determine whether, or not, the student has presented sufficient evidence and/or sufficiently compelling case. If the Sifting Panel rejects the appeal, the appeal documentation will be considered (on paperwork alone) by the Review Panel, who will either confirm the decision of the Sifting Panel or overturn the decision of the Sifting Panel. If the appeal is accepted by either the Sifting Panel or the Review Panel, the appeal documentation submitted by the student and the School response will be considered by the FSAC on the paperwork alone. The FSAC comprises the Faculty Pro-Vice-Chancellor (PVC) (or nominee, who is a senior academic) and two colleagues, at least one of whom is an academic member of staff.
Stage 2 – a student may appeal against the decision of the FSAC, on grounds, to the CSAC. The student will be invited to attend a meeting of the CSAC. The CSAC comprises of the Chair and three members; all of whom to be senior academics from across the University. The Chair of the FSAC (or nominee) will also be invited to attend the meeting to detail the reasons for the FSAC outcome.
Responding to Appeals
Sifting and Review Stage
Before sending an appeal to a School for response, appeals will be considered by 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 sufficient 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 of, or involvement in, the student's case.
Those appeals which are rejected at sifting and review stage 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 considers that there has been maladministration in the processing of their appeal, they may submit a complaint to the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman (NIPSO).
Those appeals that are not rejected at sifting and review stage will be sent to Schools for a response.
It is recommended that all School responses are completed on the template provided.
All School responses must be returned to the Appeals and Complaints Team by the deadline specified by email.
To avoid any confusion, a School response should be factual and should clearly outline the Board of Examiners decision, provide a response to the grounds of appeal and address 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 each 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 FSAC. 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, is combined with the student appeal documentation and sent to the FSAC for consideration.
Students will receive a copy of the School response and any accompanying documents. Therefore, in line with GDPR requirements, it is imperative that the School should redact any information which should not be disclosed to the student (e.g. the names of other students in the minutes of meetings of Boards of Examiners or emails). Any such detail included within the School response is likely to constitute a data breach.
Responding to Grounds of Appeal
In terms of responding to the student's ground(s) for appeal, please address the following:
Was the School aware of this information?
Did the student make any attempt to inform the School of any exceptional circumstances? If so provide details.
Had the School made students aware of the guidelines for exceptional circumstances? If so, how?
Is there any evidence that a procedural irregularity took place?
If yes, is there evidence that the procedural irregularity had a demonstrable impact on the academic outcome?
(PG Taught only)
Did the student inform the School of any concerns regarding inadequate supervision prior to submitting the appeal? If so, give details.
What to include in a School Response
The School response should include the following information:
- Has the student referred to any other issues in their appeal that the School should respond to?
- How does the School inform students of the Exceptional Circumstances procedure?
- Did the student submit a request for exceptional circumstances for this set of examinations/assessments? Has the student used the Exceptional Circumstances procedure in the past, either for exams or for coursework?
- Did the School set its own deadline for the submission of exceptional circumstances applications? If so, please provide evidence of how students were informed of the date.
- Was the student invited to a Student Support Meeting and did they attend?
- If the School raises ‘fit to sit’ in its response, please provide evidence of how students were informed of the 'fit to sit' policy and its implications.
- Is there any other information the FSAC should know about?
Where there has been a procedural irregularity, the School response should clearly identify this and state the impact on the student's academic outcome.
- A copy of the letter notifying the student of the decision of the Board of Examiners.
- Copies of the records from any Student Support Meetings attended by the student.
- A copy of any relevant applications for exceptional circumstances.
- A redacted copy of the minutes of the Board of Examiners decision if the student’s case was specifically discussed at the Board meeting.
- Copies of correspondence to the student advising of support available to the student within the University, if relevant.
- A copy of the Student Handbook.
- A copy of the module/programme specification or School Handbook if it will assist FSAC in understanding the context of the decision of the Board of Examiners.
- Copies of emails or other information sent to students regarding the School’s ‘fit to sit’ policy, and the Exceptional Circumstances Procedure.
- Copies of attendance records, if relevant.
- Any other relevant information.
- School Response Form
A School response form can be found here: FSAC School Response Form
Submission of School Response
The School must forward a written response to the student’s appeal to Academic Affairs by the agreed date. The School response and additional documentation must be provided to Academic Affairs via SharePoint, as advised by email.
Whilst it is recognised that there are tight deadlines at this stage of the appeals process, if the School is in a position to respond earlier than the specified deadline, this would assist the Appeals and Complaints team greatly.
In accordance with the Academic Appeals Regulations (Taught Programmes) all information submitted by the School will be shared with the members of the FSAC (and, if the student appeals the FSAC decision, members of the CSAC), the student and their representative. It is therefore imperative that the School ensures that all other students’ names and personal information are redacted and the information complies with the University guidance on data protection.
It should also be noted that information relating to a student could be requested at a later date as part of a Subject Access Request under Data Protection legislation, or in a response to a complaint to the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman (NIPSO); therefore, Schools are advised to provide all relevant information to the FSAC as part of the response to the appeal.
The FSAC Meeting
The FSAC will normally meet in March, July and September each year (following the three main diets of examinations). Ad hoc meetings may also be scheduled, subject to availability, if waiting for the next scheduled meeting would be detrimental to the student. The meeting may be held electronically. The FSAC will consider the student’s appeal and the School’s response on the paperwork alone, so the School’s response must include all relevant information required by the FSAC to make its decision.
Whilst the Appeals and Complaints Team will advise on the procedure and attend the FSAC as a secretary, it is the Faculty's responsibility for convening the FSAC and ensuring that the Committee is quorate. The FSAC comprises the Faculty Pro-Vice-Chancellor (PVC) (or nominee, who is a senior academic) and two colleagues, at least one of whom is an academic member of staff.
The student will receive a copy of the School’s response and a copy of the Record of the Outcome setting out the FSAC’s decision.
Decisions by the FSAC
The FSAC may:
- Dismiss the appeal, with reasons, and confirm the original decision against which the appeal was made
- Refer the matter back to the Chair of the Board of Examiners, with or without a recommendation*
- Uphold the appeal in part or in full, and may permit the student to re-sit or re-take a failed module(s)
*Where matters are referred back to the Chair of the Board of Examiners for consideration, a full meeting of the Board is not required. However, the Chair should normally consult with at least two members of the Board e.g. the External Examiner and the Director of Education, when reconsidering appeals. A record of decisions made through this process must be kept as an addendum to the minutes of the original Board of Examiners meeting. The student should be formally notified of the decision of the Board of Examiners and advised of their right of appeal to FSAC if they remain dissatisfied with the outcome.
In exceptional circumstances, the FSAC may refer the case to the CSAC for consideration with the student present. There is no appeal against a referral to the CSAC.
The CSAC Meeting
A student who is dissatisfied with the decision of the FSAC may appeal, on grounds, to the CSAC within 5 working days of the outcome of the appeal to FSAC. As with FSAC, if it is not clear that the student has presented sufficient evidence and / or a sufficiently compelling case, the appeal will be considered in accordance with the Sifting/Review process.
The CSAC will normally meet in April, August and October each year. However, ad hoc meetings may also be scheduled, subject to availability, if waiting for the next scheduled meeting would be detrimental to the student.
The student will be invited to present their appeal at a meeting of the CSAC. Where possible, this meeting will take place in person.
The CSAC may request the Chair of the FSAC (or nominee) to attend the meeting, or to provide a written response to the student’s appeal. The CSAC may also require a representative of the relevant School to attend the meeting to provide information relating to the course, student performance and the Board of Examiners decision. If the Chair of the FSAC (or nominee) or the School representative is unable to attend, the CSAC may proceed in their absence.
Academic Affairs will inform the student and staff member of the date and time of the appeal hearing, normally at least five working days in advance of the CSAC hearing, and will attempt to schedule the appeals from each School together. However, due to a number of factors Academic Affairs may not have the flexibility to move the times of appeal hearings. Many factors must be taken into account when scheduling appeals, such as the composition of Committees and the availability of members. The co-operation and patience of all staff is therefore appreciated.
Where the time between the first and second attempts at an examination/assessment is tight and a student’s progress may be impacted, it may be necessary to convene a CSAC at short notice (for example, between semester two examinations and the August resits). Academic Affairs will give as much notice of this as possible.
Assistance from Academic Affairs
If you have any questions about any aspect of the process please contact a member of staff from the Appeals and Complaints Team in Academic Affairs:
Mrs Becky Ferguson Rebekah.Ferguson@qub.ac.uk Ext 3156 Ms Jennie Hammond email@example.com Ext 3156 Mrs Anna Bell firstname.lastname@example.org Ext 3167 Mrs Karen McKnight email@example.com Ext 3002