Original statement on this site
Most British Universities have accountability systems which could correctly be described
as palm-tree justice - "cheap, nasty and quick"
in the words of an Australian
critic who was attacking the remnants of the British "accountability" system in Australian
Universities. (Comparatively speaking, the former polytechnics had a much more satisfactory system, under the
CNAA, but these have possibly been to a certain extent, if not largely, abandoned as these
new Universities attempt to remove their accountability)
In general, British Universities have three levels of "Mickey-Mouse" accountability
University departments are immediately accountable to an external examiner. Unfortunately, external examiners are appointed by the very same departments they are
supposed to be supervising. Presumably, it would be likely that the external examiner
and members of the department are already known to each
other, either from conferences, or guest seminars, and the like, and are possibly likely
to have a very cosy relationship.
It reminds me a lot of the way that owners of oil tankers are able to choose which country to
register their ships in.
At places like Newcastle University the identity of the External Examiner is kept
an absolute secret.
- It is not unnatural to expect that any major grievance about exam results would be
dealt with in the usual way i.e. before some hearing carried out in the accepted manner,
with experts to represent students, cross-questioning allowed etc. (as per the standard
model offered by the judiciary of this country). This is not the way most British Universities
operate - it varies from University to University.
At Newcastle, the sole method in which a student can express a grievance is to
write a letter to the Dean of Faculty, who then deals with it, in secret, without any further
communication with the student.
- The only other action you can take is to appeal to the University's Visitor.
To quote The Guardian : 'For students caught up in the Byzantine process of making a complaint
about their university, the "visitor" system may seem Dickensian. In fact it's not that modern'.
For the last few years, there has been an ongoing campaign to get rid of the Visitor, boosted by the European Human Rights
Act. The Government even said at one stage that it was going to abolish the post, but this does not seem to
have been fully achieved yet.