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Academic Appeal Regulations (Research Degree Programmes)

Download a printable version of the Academic Appeal Regulations - Research Degree Programmes.

1. Students may appeal to the Faculty Student Research Appeals Committee (FSRAC) against a decision of their School Postgraduate Research Committee about progression, assessment and/or award or against an examiners’ decision regarding the outcome of an oral examination.   If the appeal is unsuccessful students have the right to appeal this decision to the Central Student Research Appeals Committee (CSRAC).

2. The FSRAC comprises the Faculty Pro-Vice-Chancellor (or nominee) and a senior academic colleague who has no prior knowledge of the case. The CSRAC is a committee drawn from a panel of senior academics from across the University.

3. Appeals submitted by students against a decision of the Fitness to Continue in Study Panel (see Guidelines on Fitness to Continue in Study on the Grounds of Health and/or Safety) will be considered by a CSRAC on an ad hoc basis. In the case of such an appeal, membership of the CSRAC panel shall be altered to include not only senior academics from across the University, but at least one of the following, as deemed reasonably necessary or appropriate:

  1. Head of Student Affairs or nominee
  2. Head of Disability and Wellbeing or nominee
  3. Head of Accommodation and Hospitality or nominee
  4. Head of International Student Support or nominee
  5. Head of Public Engagement or nominee

The member representing central support services should not have had any previous involvement with the case.

4. The process outlined in these Regulations is set out in a flowchart in Annex 1.

Scope of the Procedure

5. Any registered postgraduate research student of the University may appeal to the FSRAC, on grounds, against a decision of their School Postgraduate Research Committee about progression, assessment and/or award or against an examiners’ decision regarding the outcome of an oral examination.

6. There is no appeal against academic judgement.  Academic judgement is a decision of an academic body about a matter, such as assessment, degree classification, research methodology, or course content/outcome.  It is a judgement made about a matter where only the opinion of an academic expert will suffice.

7. The FSRAC and the CSRAC have the authority to consider and address other issues which may not be a substantive part of the appeal, but come to light as part of the Committee’s deliberations.  The FSRAC/CSRAC may refer such matters back to the School Postgraduate Research Committee for further consideration, if appropriate.

8. In complex cases, where more than one procedure may apply, the Director of Academic and Student Affairs shall decide which University Regulations shall be followed.

Confidentiality

9. The University will take all reasonable steps to limit the disclosure of information as is consistent with investigating the issue(s) raised and the provisions of the Human Rights Act 1998, the Data Protection Act 1998, the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and any other relevant legislation.  All staff and students who become involved in the appeal process are required to respect the integrity of the process and the confidentiality of information arising from it both during and after the conclusion of the process, unless there is an overriding reason to disclose information.  Information will only be released to those who need it for the purpose of investigating or responding to an appeal; no third party will be told any more about the investigation than strictly necessary in order to obtain the information required from them.

Communication

10. The University will normally communicate by email with anyone involved in the University process.  In the case of registered students or University staff, this will normally be to their University email address.  Where correspondence is sent to a registered student by post it will be sent to the term-time address registered with the University. 

Notification of Decisions

11. Unless otherwise stated, notification of a decision will be sent to the student and copied to relevant persons normally within eight working days of the decision being taken.  If there is a delay in the decision being made, the student will be advised. 

Defamatory or Derogatory Comments

12. When submitting an appeal, appellants should be careful not to make unsubstantiated or defamatory allegations or comments about students, members of University staff or any other person.  If the University considers that an allegation or comment may be deemed to be defamatory, it may require it to be retracted or deleted before accepting an appeal.

Duty of Candour/Fabricated Evidence

13. It is expected that any person involved in any University process will treat all others involved with respect and courtesy and will behave honestly and with integrity throughout the process.  It is also expected that any evidence (written or oral) provided to the University will be true to the best of that person’s knowledge.

14. Any registered student considered to have acted dishonestly or to have provided false evidence may be referred for investigation under the Conduct Regulations (see Section VIII: Conduct Regulations), the Guidelines on Fitness to Continue to Study on the Grounds of Health and/or Safety and/or the Fitness to Practise Procedure (see Section X: Procedures) as appropriate.  

Evidence

15. The University reserves the right to request and consider independent evidence or professional opinion, including medical evidence and/or medical opinion, as it deems appropriate.  Where considered necessary, a committee may adjourn in order to allow time for such further evidence or professional opinion to be obtained. 

Suspension of Investigation

16. The University reserves the right to suspend any appeal procedure if the appellant behaves inappropriately.  In such cases the Chair of the FSRAC or the CSRAC will suspend the procedures and will advise the appellant accordingly, including the consequences of this decision on the appeal and any conditions which must be met in order to reinstate the appeal. The student may also be referred for investigation under the Conduct Regulations (see Section VIII: Conduct Regulations), the Guidelines on Fitness to Continue to Study on the Grounds of Health and/or Safety and/or the Fitness to Practise Procedure (see Section X: Procedures) as appropriate.  

Right to Be Accompanied

17. Any student has the right to be accompanied at any stage in the proceedings by a registered student of the University (which shall include a Students’ Union Sabbatical Officer), or by a member of staff of the University, or University Chaplaincy. At all stages of the process, students will be notified of their right to be accompanied. The role is one of support, not representation.

Equality, Diversity and Fair Treatment

18. The University has a legal, as well as a moral duty, to treat all students fairly.  The University values and promotes equality and diversity and will seek to ensure that it treats all individuals fairly and with dignity and respect.  The University seeks to provide equality to all, irrespective of: gender, including gender re-assignment; marital or civil partnership status; having or not having dependants; religious belief or political opinion; race (including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origins, including Irish Travellers); pregnancy, including maternity and paternity rights; disability; sexual orientation and age.

19. Within this procedure, where possible, there will be an equal gender balance on committees. 

Less Favourable Treatment

20. No person who submits an appeal will be treated less favourably as a result, whether or not the appeal is upheld.  Victimisation shall be grounds for a further, separate complaint.

Standard of Proof

21. At all times, the principles of natural justice shall be observed and the standard of proof shall be on the balance of probabilities.

Reasonable Adjustments

22. Students will be invited to notify Academic Affairs if they require any reasonable adjustments in order to make the process accessible.  This may include consultation with Disability Services.

Deadlines/Timescales

23. The University will endeavour to meet all timescales set out in this procedure. It may however prove impossible to meet these timescales when key staff are on leave, or otherwise indisposed, or where the complexities of the case warrant extended scrutiny.  Where it is not possible for the University to meet the deadlines, for whatever reason, the student will be informed.

 

Stage 1: Appeals to Faculty Student Research Appeals Committee (FSRAC)

24. Students have the right to appeal to the FSRAC against a decision of the School Postgraduate Research Committee on student progression, assessment and award or an examiners’ decision regarding the outcome of an oral examination, including the following decisions:
  1. Appeal against a decision that a student cannot progress to doctoral study or is required to withdraw from their current programme of study.  This includes students not allowed to progress on their current course and who are offered transfer to another research degree programme (and so their registration with the University is not terminated).  Students are not thereby denied the right to appeal.
  2. Appeal against a decision not to award the qualification for which a student is registered.  This relates to decisions made at the end of a student's research degree.
 
25. Students may request an appeal on any of the following grounds to Academic Affairs using the FSRAC Appeal Form:
  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 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 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.
26. The FSRAC shall have no authority to alter assessment/award decisions.
 
27. The FSRAC Appeal Form must be submitted within ten working days of the date of the written communication stating the progression, assessment, or award decision.  The grounds for appeal, with reasons, should be clearly stated.
 
28. On receipt of an appeal, Academic Affairs will refer the matter to the student’s Head of School (or nominee) for a response.
 
29. In responding to the issues raised in the appeal, the response from the School should include copies of all correspondence relating to the case and other relevant information, as required.
 
30. The student’s appeal and the School response will be considered by the FSRAC. A decision will be reached based solely on the paperwork submitted by the student and the School.
 
31. The FSRAC may:
  1. Recommend that the School meet with the student to mediate a solution to help inform the outcome of the FSRAC.
  2. Dismiss the appeal, with reasons, and confirm the original decision against which the appeal is made.           
  3. Uphold the appeal in part or full by varying the progression decision.
  4. Uphold the appeal in part or full by choosing one of the following in relation to the final examination (assessment/award) decision:
    1. Declare the oral examination null and void and direct that a new oral examination be conducted.  New examiners, including at least one external examiner, shall be appointed.  There shall be no fewer examiners than for the original examination.  The School shall not inform the examiners that they are conducting a re-examination on appeal.  There shall be an oral examination, and the examiners shall submit independent and joint reports in the normal way.
    2. Recommend to the examiners that, for reasons stated, they reconsider their decision.
    3. Give the student permission either to revise the thesis and re-submit for re-examination within a specified time or to re-register for a further period of time to undertake more research before re-submitting the thesis. The FSRAC shall specify whether the thesis is to be re-examined by the same or new examiners.
    4. Apply on the student’s behalf for a concession to the Study Regulations for Research Degree Programmes.

32. If the appeal has been upheld on the ground of inadequate supervision the FSRAC shall recommend to the School that one or moresupervisors be replaced.

33. In exceptional cases, the FSRAC may decide to refer the case to the CSRAC for consideration with the student present. There shall be no appeal against a referral to CSRAC as this does not constitute a decision on the appeal.
 
34.The decision of the FSRAC shall be communicated to the student within eight working days of the decision being made, giving the reasons in full and advising the student of their right to appeal to the CSRAC. Students will also be given all copies of information considered by the FSRAC. 

 

Stage 2: Central Student Research Appeals Committee

35.Students may appeal to the Central Student Research Appeals Committee (CSRAC) against decision of the FSRAC on any of the following grounds using the CSRAC Appeal Form:
  1. New evidence has become available which could not have been provided to the FSRAC (evidence that a student chooses to withhold from the FSRAC will not normally constitute new evidence).
  2. There has been a procedural irregularity by the FSRAC which has had a demonstrable impact on the outcome.
36. The CSRAC Appeal Form must be submitted to Academic Affairs within ten working days of the date of notification of the outcome of the appeal to FSRAC.
 
37. The CSRAC shall comprise a Pro-Vice-Chancellor (or nominee), who shall chair the meeting, and three Directors of Research or senior academic colleagues from across the University,  to include normally one representative from each of the Faculties within the University, i.e. Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences; Engineering and Physical Sciences; and Medicine, Health and Life Sciences. 
 
38.The CSRAC shall observe the following procedures:
  1. Students are required to attend to present their appeal in person before the CSRAC and shall be given at least five working days’ notice by email of the date and time of the meeting of the CSRAC. 
  2. The student shall be required to confirm within five working days whether they intend to attend the meeting of the CSRAC.  If the student does not confirm their attendance, the appeal may be deemed to be withdrawn.
  3. If students do not attend the meeting of the CSRAC, without good cause, the CSRAC has the right to consider the case and to reach a decision in the absence of the student and without further notice.  It is the student’s responsibility to establish good cause to the satisfaction of the CSRAC.
  4. Where the student establishes ‘good cause’ to the satisfaction of the Chair, then the meeting may be re-scheduled unless the student has indicated that they wish the case to be considered by the CSRAC in their absence.
  5. The CSRAC shall be provided with copies of all documentation considered by the FSRAC and any further information or documentation submitted by the student in relation to their appeal to CSRAC.  Where appropriate, the School may be required to provide a further response to the student’s appeal to CSRAC.
  6. The CSRAC may also require the Chair of the FSRAC (or nominee) to provide a written response to the student’s appeal. 
  7. The CSRAC shall require the Chair of the FSRAC (or nominee) to attend the meeting of the CSRAC. A representative(s) from the School may also be required to attend to provide information relating to the provision of the research degree programme, student performance and the basis on which the progression, assessment, or award decision was taken.  The student, the Chair of the FSRAC (or nominee) and the School representative(s) (if in attendance) shall be present whilst the others present evidence.
  8. Only members of the CSRAC and of the secretariat shall be present while the decision is made. 
  9. The CSRAC reserves the right to request and/or consider further evidence as it sees fit, and may reconvene to allow deliberations to be concluded.  Where possible, the same Committee members will attend the reconvened meeting.
39.The CSRAC may:
  1. Dismiss the appeal, with reasons, and confirm the original decision against which the appeal is made.            
  2. Uphold the appeal in part or full by varying the progression decision.
  3. Uphold the appeal in part or full by choosing one of the following in relation to the final examination (assessment/award) decision:
    1. Declare the oral examination null and void and direct that a new oral examination be conducted.  New examiners, including at least one external examiner, shall be appointed.  There shall be no fewer examiners than for the original examination.  The School shall not inform the examiners that they are conducting a re-examination on appeal.  There shall be an oral examination, and the examiners shall submit independent and joint reports in the normal way.
    2. Recommend to the examiners that, for reasons stated, they reconsider their decision.
    3. Give the student permission either to revise the thesis and re-submit for re-examination within a specified time or to re-register for a further period of time to undertake more research before re-submitting the thesis. The CSRAC shall specify whether the thesis is to be re-examined by the same or new examiners. 
    4. Apply on the student’s behalf for a concession to the Study Regulations for Research Degree Programmes.
40. If the appeal has been upheld on the ground of inadequate supervision, the FSRAC shall recommend to the School that one or more supervisors be replaced.
 
41. The decision shall normally be confirmed in writing to the student, with reasons, within eight working days of the decision having been taken.
 
42.There is no further internal appeal against a decision of the CSRAC.

 

Central Monitoring and Record Keeping

43. Minutes of the meeting, including an individual note of each decision, shall be taken as a formal record of the meeting and retained.

44. The Director of Academic and Student Affairs shall make an annual report on academic appeals to the Research and Postgraduate Committee.  Individual students shall not be identified in the report.
 
Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman

45. There is no further internal appeal against a decision of the CSRAC. However a student who feels aggrieved by the decision may make a complaint to the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman  within six months of notification of the University’s final decision.

Further Information

46. For further information, please visit Academic Appeals.