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Vincent2013
Vincent2013, JustAnswer Expert
Category: Law
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Experience:  Qualified solicitor and barrister (non-practising) with 7+ years experience
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Legal action against a UK university. I was awarded an MSc

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Legal action against a UK university. I was awarded an MSc degree from Birkbeck College, University of London in 1992. As a collegiate university individual colleges run their affairs but the award of degrees is made by the University of London. The university sets out how awards are made in its Conduct of Examinations Regulations. Those regulations for the year of my graduation state that overall marks in excess of 70% MUST will be awarded a degree of distinction. I was awarded 66% and 76% for 2 papers in year 1 averaging 71% for year 1, and 70% and 76% in year 2 averaging 73%. Overall the mark was therefore 72%. These regulations were not available to me when I graduated. I have asked the university to correct what I deem to be an administrative mistake or to explain under which regulations it was possible to supersede the regulations mentioned above. They have declined to do so merely stating that an appeal against my marks is out of time. I have pointed out I am not appealing against my marks but against erroneous administration in the classification of the award. What legal process is open to me?
Submitted: 3 years ago.
Category: Law
Expert:  Alice H replied 3 years ago.
Hello and welcome to Just Answer.

My name is XXXXX XXXXX I'm happy to help with your question today.

-The degree was awarded 21 years ago according to the date you've given. Did you appeal the decision immediately? If not, why the delay?
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

I did not appeal the decision because at time there was no reason for me to doubt the award. Information was closed. There was no transparency. I had no basis to know the circumstances in which a Distinction was awarded. It was only last year when I applied for New Zealand citizenship that the information arose. I applied for a transcript from the University as I had long lost my degree certificate. The transcript stated a distinction award. I then asked for a new degree certificate at which point the University said the transcript was in error and I was not awarded a distinction. I then sourced the Regulations on the Conduct of Examinations 1992 which governed degree awards. This doc was not openly available in 1992. As I say that doc clearly states that OVERALL marks in excess of 70% MUST be awarded a distinction. It would appear that the College submitted my marks at an overall 72% but then arrogated powers it did not have to ensure an award of pass rather than distinction. I have asked on what basis the pass rather than distinction was awarded to no avail. If there were a legitimate power then fine, I would accept it. But all the University will say is that I am out of time to appeal my marks. But I do not want to appeal the marks. I was content with them at that time and remain so. I would like the Courts to require the University to explain on what basis I was not awarded a distinction and if there is no legitimate basis for the rightful award to be made.

Expert:  Alice H replied 3 years ago.
Michael.

Thanks for the additional information which is really helpful. I have every sympathy and know how disappointing this situation must be. I was in a similar position many years ago when I had a dispute with my law school about my marks etc. I know from my own experience how frustrating it is to get an institution to admit making a mistake.

I think the college is wrong about the time limit. Whilst you are out of time for Judicial Review (must be started within 3 months of matter in issue arising), there is a possibility that you could sue for breach of contract. Strictly speaking the limitation period expires 6 years from the date of breach - which occurred in 1992. But since the full circumstances only came to light last year, you could argue that the time limit starts then. It's an unattractive argument I'm afraid but this your only possible course of action. All other courses of action are time barred.

In order to pursue this matter further it would be worthwhile sending a letter of claim to the University setting out the basis on which you intend to take legal action. On receipt of their reply you can then decide whether to start a claim or not.

You should follow the pre-action protocol under the Civil Procedure Rules which I have set out below. Section 2.1 under Annex A sets out amongst other things how your letter of claim should be drafted plus how the defendant should respond:


SECTION I – INTRODUCTION
1. Aims
1.1
The aims of this Practice Direction are to –
(1) enable parties to settle the issue between them without the need to start proceedings (that is, a court claim); and
(2) support the efficient management by the court and the parties of proceedings that cannot be avoided.
1.2
These aims are to be achieved by encouraging the parties to –
(1) exchange information about the issue, and
(2) consider using a form of Alternative Dispute Resolution (‘ADR’).
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2. Scope
2.1
This Practice Direction describes the conduct the court will normally expect of the prospective parties prior to the start of proceedings.
2.2
There are some types of application where the principles in this Practice Direction clearly cannot or should not apply. These include, but are not limited to, for example –
(1) applications for an order where the parties have agreed between them the terms of the court order to be sought (‘consent orders’);
(2) applications for an order where there is no other party for the applicant to engage with;
(3) most applications for directions by a trustee or other fiduciary;
(4) applications where telling the other potential party in advance would defeat the purpose of the application (for example, an application for an order to freeze assets).
2.3
Section II deals with the approach of the court in exercising its powers in relation to pre-action conduct. Subject to paragraph 2.2, it applies in relation to all types of proceedings including those governed by the pre-action protocols that have been approved by the Head of Civil Justice and which are listed in paragraph 5.2 of this Practice Direction.
2.4
Section III deals with principles governing the conduct of the parties in cases which are not subject to a pre-action protocol.
2.5
Section III of this Practice Direction is supplemented by two annexes aimed at different types of claimant.
(1) Annex A sets out detailed guidance on a pre-action procedure that is likely to satisfy the court in most circumstances where no pre-action protocol or other formal pre-action procedure applies. It is intended as a guide for parties, particularly those without legal representation, in straightforward claims that are likely to be disputed. It is not intended to apply to debt claims where it is not disputed that the money is owed and where the claimant follows a statutory or other formal pre-action procedure.
(2) Annex B sets out some specific requirements that apply where the claimant is a business and the defendant is an individual. The requirements may be complied with at any time between the claimant first intimating the possibility of court proceedings and the claimant’s letter before claim.
2.6
Section IV contains requirements that apply to all cases including those subject to the pre-action protocols (unless a relevant pre-action protocol contains a different provision). It is supplemented by Annex C, which sets out guidance on instructing experts.
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3. Definitions
3.1
In this Practice Direction together with the Annexes –
(1) ‘proceedings’ means any proceedings started under Part 7 or Part 8 of the Civil Procedure Rules 1998 (‘CPR’);
(2) ‘claimant’ and ‘defendant’ refer to the respective parties to potential proceedings;
(3) ‘ADR’ means alternative dispute resolution, and is the collective description of methods of resolving disputes otherwise than through the normal trial process; (see paragraph 8.2 for further information); and
(4) ‘compliance’ means acting in accordance with, as applicable, the principles set out in Section III of this Practice Direction, the requirements in Section IV and a relevant pre-action protocol. The words ‘comply’ and ‘complied’ should be construed accordingly.
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SECTION II – THE APPROACH OF THE COURTS
4. Compliance
4.1
The CPR enable the court to take into account the extent of the parties’ compliance with this Practice Direction or a relevant pre-action protocol (see paragraph 5.2) when giving directions for the management of claims (see CPR rule 3.1(4) and (5)) and when making orders about who should pay costs (see CPR rule 44.3(5)(a)).
4.2
The court will expect the parties to have complied with this Practice Direction or any relevant pre-action protocol. The court may ask the parties to explain what steps were taken to comply prior to the start of the claim. Where there has been a failure of compliance by a party the court may ask that party to provide an explanation.
Assessment of compliance
4.3
When considering compliance the court will –
(1) be concerned about whether the parties have complied in substance with the relevant principles and requirements and is not likely to be concerned with minor or technical shortcomings;
(2) consider the proportionality of the steps taken compared to the size and importance of the matter;
(3) take account of the urgency of the matter. Where a matter is urgent (for example, an application for an injunction) the court will expect the parties to comply only to the extent that it is reasonable to do so. (Paragraph 9.5 and 9.6 of this Practice Direction concern urgency caused by limitation periods.)
Examples of non-compliance
4.4
The court may decide that there has been a failure of compliance by a party because, for example, that party has –
(1) not provided sufficient information to enable the other party to understand the issues;
(2) not acted within a time limit set out in a relevant pre-action protocol, or, where no specific time limit applies, within a reasonable period;
(3) unreasonably refused to consider ADR (paragraph 8 in Part III of this Practice Direction and the pre-action protocols all contain similar provisions about ADR); or
(4) without good reason, not disclosed documents requested to be disclosed.
Sanctions for non-compliance
4.5
The court will look at the overall effect of non-compliance on the other party when deciding whether to impose sanctions.
4.6
If, in the opinion of the court, there has been non-compliance, the sanctions which the court may impose include –
(1) staying (that is suspending) the proceedings until steps which ought to have been taken have been taken;
(2) an order that the party at fault pays the costs, or part of the costs, of the other party or parties (this may include an order under rule 27.14(2)(g) in cases allocated to the small claims track);
(3) an order that the party at fault pays those costs on an indemnity basis (rule 44.4(3) sets out the definition of the assessment of costs on an indemnity basis);
(4) if the party at fault is the claimant in whose favour an order for the payment of a sum of money is subsequently made, an order that the claimant is deprived of interest on all or part of that sum, and/or that interest is awarded at a lower rate than would otherwise have been awarded;
(5) if the party at fault is a defendant, and an order for the payment of a sum of money is subsequently made in favour of the claimant, an order that the defendant pay interest on all or part of that sum at a higher rate, not exceeding 10% above base rate, than would otherwise have been awarded.
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5. Commencement of pre-action protocols
5.1
When considering compliance, the court will take account of a relevant pre-action protocol if the proceedings were started after the relevant pre-action protocol came into force.
5.2
The following table sets out the pre-action protocols currently in force and the dates that they came into force –
Pre-Action Protocol Came into force
Personal Injury 26 April 1999
Clinical Disputes 26 April 1999
Construction and Engineering 2 October 2000
Defamation 2 October 2000
Professional Negligence 16 July 2001
Judicial Review 4 March 2002
Disease and Illness 8 December 2003
Housing Disrepair 8 December 2003
Possession Claims based on rent arrears 2 October 2006
Possession Claims based on Mortgage Arrears etc. 19 November 2008
Dilapidations(commercial property) 1 January 2012
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SECTION III – THE PRINCIPLES GOVERNING THE CONDUCT OF THE PARTIES IN CASES NOT SUBJECT TO A PRE-ACTION PROTOCOL
6. Overview of Principles
6.1
The principles that should govern the conduct of the parties are that, unless the circumstances make it inappropriate, before starting proceedings the parties should –
(1) exchange sufficient information about the matter to allow them to understand each other's position and make informed decisions about settlement and how to proceed;
(2) make appropriate attempts to resolve the matter without starting proceedings, and in particular consider the use of an appropriate form of ADR in order to do so.
6.2
The parties should act in a reasonable and proportionate manner in all dealings with one another. In particular, the costs incurred in complying should be proportionate to the complexity of the matter and any money at stake. The parties must not use this Practice Direction as a tactical device to secure an unfair advantage for one party or to generate unnecessary costs.
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7. Exchanging Information before starting proceedings
7.1
Before starting proceedings –
(1) the claimant should set out the details of the matter in writing by sending a letter before claim to the defendant. This letter before claim is not the start of proceedings; and
(2) the defendant should give a full written response within a reasonable period, preceded, if appropriate, by a written acknowledgment of the letter before claim.
7.2
A ‘reasonable period of time’ will vary depending on the matter. As a general guide –
(1) the defendant should send a letter of acknowledgment within 14 days of receipt of the letter before claim (if a full response has not been sent within that period);
(2) where the matter is straightforward, for example an undisputed debt, then a full response should normally be provided within 14 days;
(3) where a matter requires the involvement of an insurer or other third party or where there are issues about evidence, then a full response should normally be provided within 30 days;
(4) where the matter is particularly complex, for example requiring specialist advice, then a period of longer than 30 days may be appropriate;
(5) a period of longer than 90 days in which to provide a full response will only be considered reasonable in exceptional circumstances.
7.3
Annex A sets out detailed guidance on a pre-action procedure that is likely to satisfy the court in most circumstances where no pre-action protocol applies and where the claimant does not follow any statutory or other formal pre-action procedure.
7.4
Annex B sets out the specific information that should be provided in a debt claim by a claimant who is a business against a defendant who is an individual.
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8. Alternative Dispute Resolution
8.1
Starting proceedings should usually be a step of last resort, and proceedings should not normally be started when a settlement is still actively being explored. Although ADR is not compulsory, the parties should consider whether some form of ADR procedure might enable them to settle the matter without starting proceedings. The court may require evidence that the parties considered some form of ADR (see paragraph 4.4(3)).
8.2
It is not practicable in this Practice Direction to address in detail how the parties might decide to resolve a matter. However, some of the options for resolving a matter without starting proceedings are –
(1) discussion and negotiation;
(2) mediation (a form of negotiation with the help of an independent person or body);
(3) early neutral evaluation (where an independent person or body, for example a lawyer or an expert in the subject, gives an opinion on the merits of a dispute); or
(4) arbitration (where an independent person or body makes a binding decision), many types of business are members of arbitration schemes for resolving disputes with consumers.
8.3
The Legal Services Commission has published a booklet on ‘Alternatives to Court’, CLS Direct Information Leaflet 23 (www.clsdirect.org.uk) which lists a number of organisations that provide alternative dispute resolution services. The National Mediation Helpline on 0845(NNN) NNN-NNNNor at www.nationalmediationhelpline.com can provide information about mediation.
8.4
The parties should continue to consider the possibility of reaching a settlement at all times. This still applies after proceedings have been started, up to and during any trial or final hearing.
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SECTION IV – REQUIREMENTS THAT APPLY IN ALL CASES
9. Specific Provisions
9.1
The following requirements (including Annex C) apply in all cases except where a relevant pre-action protocol contains its own provisions about the topic.
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Disclosure
9.2
Documents provided by one party to another in the course of complying with this Practice Direction or any relevant pre-action protocol must not be used for any purpose other than resolving the matter, unless the disclosing party agrees in writing.
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Information about funding arrangements
9.3
Where a party enters into a funding arrangement within the meaning of rule 43.2(1)(k), that party must inform the other parties about this arrangement as soon as possible and in any event either within 7 days of entering into the funding arrangement concerned or, where a claimant enters into a funding arrangement before sending a letter before claim, in the letter before claim.
(CPR rule 44.3B(1)(c) provides that a party may not recover certain additional costs where information about a funding arrangement was not provided.)
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Experts
9.4
Where the evidence of an expert is necessary the parties should consider how best to minimise expense. Guidance on instructing experts can be found in Annex C.
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Limitation Periods
9.5
There are statutory time limits for starting proceedings (‘the limitation period’). If a claimant starts a claim after the limitation period applicable to that type of claim has expired the defendant will be entitled to use that as a defence to the claim.
9.6
In certain instances compliance may not be possible before the expiry of the limitation period. If, for any reason, proceedings are started before the parties have complied, they should seek to agree to apply to the court for an order to stay (i.e. suspend) the proceedings while the parties take steps to comply.
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Notifying the court
9.7
Where proceedings are started the claimant should state in the claim form or the particulars of claim whether they have complied with Sections III and IV of this Practice Direction or any relevant protocol.
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Transitional Provision
9.8
The amendments to paragraph 9.3 do not apply to a funding arrangement entered into before the 1st October 2009 and paragraph 9.3 in force immediately before that date will continue to apply to that funding arrangement as if paragraph 9.3 had not been amended.
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ANNEX A
Guidance on pre-action procedure where no pre-action protocol or other formal pre-action procedure applies
1. General
1.1
This Annex sets out detailed guidance on a pre-action procedure that is likely to satisfy the court in most circumstances where no pre-action protocol or other formal pre-action procedure applies. It is intended as a guide for parties, particularly those without legal representation, in straightforward claims that are likely to be disputed. It is not intended to apply to debt claims where it is not disputed that the money is owed and where the claimant follows a statutory or other formal pre-action procedure.
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2. Claimant’s letter before claim
2.1
The claimant’s letter should give concise details about the matter. This should enable the defendant to understand and investigate the issues without needing to request further information. The letter should include –
(1) the claimant’s full name and address;
(2) the basis on which the claim is made (i.e. why the claimant says the defendant is liable);
(3) a clear summary of the facts on which the claim is based;
(4) what the claimant wants from the defendant;
(5) if financial loss is claimed, an explanation of how the amount has been calculated; and
(6) details of any funding arrangement (within the meaning of rule 43.2(1)(k) of the CPR) that has been entered into by the claimant.
2.2
The letter should also –
(1) list the essential documents on which the claimant intends to rely;
(2) set out the form of ADR (if any) that the claimant considers the most suitable and invite the defendant to agree to this;
(3) state the date by which the claimant considers it reasonable for a full response to be provided by the defendant; and
(4) identify and ask for copies of any relevant documents not in the claimant's possession and which the claimant wishes to see.
2.3
Unless the defendant is known to be legally represented the letter should –
(1) refer the defendant to this Practice Direction and in particular draw attention to paragraph 4 concerning the court's powers to impose sanctions for failure to comply with the Practice Direction; and
(2) inform the defendant that ignoring the letter before claim may lead to the claimant starting proceedings and may increase the defendant's liability for costs.
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3. Defendant’s acknowledgment of the letter before claim
3.1
Where the defendant is unable to provide a full written response within 14 days of receipt of the letter before claim the defendant should, instead, provide a written acknowledgment within 14 days.
3.2
The acknowledgment –
(1) should state whether an insurer is or may be involved;
(2) should state the date by which the defendant (or insurer) will provide a full written response; and
(3) may request further information to enable the defendant to provide a full response.
3.3
If the date stated under paragraph 3.2(2) of this Annex is longer than the period stated in the letter before claim, the defendant should give reasons why a longer period is needed.
3.4
If the defendant (or insurer) does not provide either a letter of acknowledgment or full response within 14 days, and proceedings are subsequently started, then the court is likely to consider that the claimant has complied.
3.5
Where the defendant is unable to provide a full response within 14 days of receipt of the letter before claim because the defendant intends to seek advice then the written acknowledgment should state –
(1) that the defendant is seeking advice;
(2) from whom the defendant is seeking advice; and
(3) when the defendant expects to have received that advice and be in a position to provide a full response.
3.6
A claimant should allow a reasonable period of time of up to 14 days for a defendant to obtain advice.
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4. Defendant’s full response
4.1
The defendant’s full written response should –
(1) accept the claim in whole or in part; or
(2) state that the claim is not accepted.
4.2
Unless the defendant accepts the whole of the claim, the response should –
(1) give reasons why the claim is not accepted, identifying which facts and which parts of the claim (if any) are accepted and which are disputed, and the basis of that dispute;
(2) state whether the defendant intends to make a counterclaim against the claimant (and, if so, provide information equivalent to a claimant’s letter before claim);
(3) state whether the defendant alleges that the claimant was wholly or partly to blame for the problem that led to the dispute and, if so, summarise the facts relied on;
(4) state whether the defendant agrees to the claimant’s proposals for ADR and if not, state why not and suggest an alternative form of ADR (or state why none is considered appropriate);
(5) list the essential documents on which the defendant intends to rely;
(6) enclose copies of documents requested by the claimant, or explain why they will not be provided; and
(7) identify and ask for copies of any further relevant documents, not in the defendant's possession and which the defendant wishes to see.
4.3
If the defendant (or insurer) does not provide a full response within the period stated in the claimant’s letter before claim (or any longer period stated in the defendant’s letter of acknowledgment), and a claim is subsequently started, then the court is likely to consider that the claimant has complied.
4.4
If the claimant starts proceedings before any longer period stated in the defendant’s letter of acknowledgment, the court will consider whether or not the longer period requested by the defendant was reasonable.
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5. Claimant’s reply
5.1
The claimant should provide the documents requested by the defendant within as short a period of time as is practicable or explain in writing why the documents will not be provided.
5.2
If the defendant has made a counterclaim the claimant should provide information equivalent to the defendant's full response (see paragraphs 4.1 to 4.3 above).
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6. Taking Stock
6.1
In following the above procedure, the parties will have a genuine opportunity to resolve the matter without needing to start proceedings. At the very least, it should be possible to establish what issues remain outstanding so as to narrow the scope of the proceedings and therefore limit potential costs.
6.2
If having completed the procedure the matter has not been resolved then the parties should undertake a further review of their respective positions to see if proceedings can still be avoided

Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Thank you. As you say, this does not appear a very attractive way forward. There would appear a strong likelihood that the University would be confident in relying on the 6 year rule to strike it out. It seems odd that there is no legal mechanism whereby the University must at least justify the regulatory basis on which a pass rather than distinction was awarded even if they cannot be forced to rectify the award. In addition, I would have thought that the fact that the University issued a transcript last year thereby technically superseding the 1992 degree certificate, stating an award of distinction - albeit retracted a month later when I then asked for a new degree certificate - would be a hook to hang a case.

Expert:  Alice H replied 3 years ago.
Hi Michael. I think its certainly worth sending a letter of claim setting out your complaint. Depending on the response you can decide whether to take things any further. This procedure will not cost you anything and by sending a letter of claim you have nothing to lose. The time issue, as we've discussed above, is clearly a problem. I suggest that once you have a response you come back to me to discuss the next steps. Alex
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Thx Alex. Having reviewed your advice again I an still struggling to see the merits of this approach. The University's lawyers will immediately recognise it is out of time and will respond accordingly. In addition they will be under no legal obligation to reply at all. The most likely reply is the former. This will also demonstrate that I am struggling to find a hook on which to seek redress. I require somethng that will issue from the Courts that will require a response. As I say, I do not expect that response to say they were wrong but I do expect it to set out the regulatory basis on which they were able to set aside the Regs I mentioned and award a pass rather than distinction. I should add this whole matter has no practical bearing, it is merely a matter of principle. I have had a long successful career since 1992!

Expert:  Alice H replied 3 years ago.
Morning

You are right about the time limit issue.

Of course, 20 years or so has passed since the original results were published.

I have opted out because in reality there is nothing further I can add.

Another expert might be able to help but I imagine you will get the same or similar response.

All the best

Alex
Customer: replied 3 years ago.
Relist: Answer quality.
Expert:  Jo C. replied 3 years ago.
HI.

Thank you for your question . My name is XXXXX XXXXX I will try to help with this.

I am sorry but I can only agree with my colleague.

Come what may, and this is no criticism, 20 years have passed and higher Courts hate delay.

You can always apply to extend time for the purposes of judicial review. There are some that have been done 20 years later but its not common.

I'm sorry this isn't the answer you wanted but it is the position that you face and I have a duty to inform you truthfully.

Hope this helps. Please let me know if you need more information.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

I think there is an evident distinction between seeking JR - implicitly about whether the administrative process in reaching a decision was conducted appropriately - and requiring an administrative body to transparently explain the basis on which a decision was made. The latter is not questioning that the process was correct it is merely seeking transparency. There must be a legal requirement for such information to be presented. As I say, my understanding is the relevant regulations are the Conduct of Examinations Regulations 1992 which set out how awards are made. I am asking the University to explain which regulations, if any, it used to supersede these governing Regulations. If there were none, at least I would know that I did in fact reach a Distinction, irrespective of the record the University hold. It is objectively a reasonable request.


 


As I also pointed out, Birkbeck College in June 2012 issued me with a transcript of my degree which stated an award of distinction, which was then retracted a month later. I would have thought that by issuing that transcript the clock would have been re-set as it was a subsequent administrative action not in keeping with the original decision.

Expert:  Jo C. replied 3 years ago.
Ok. Best of luck then.

Opting out.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.
Relist: Answer quality.
The answer focuses on remedies that are out-of-time and therefore of no use. It also focuses on judicial review in respect of the process in which a decision was made as a means to argue that it was the wrong decision. But I have asked for a method whereby the College is legally required to explain the precise regulatory basis of their decision and not necessarily to overturn it. If I can discern the former I will then be in a position to know if the latter is possible.
Expert:  Nicola-mod replied 3 years ago.
Hello,

It seems the professional has left this conversation. This happens occasionally, and it's usually because the professional thinks that someone else might be a better match for your question. I've been working hard to find a new professional to assist you with your question, but sometimes finding the right professional can take a little longer than expected.

I wonder whether you're OK with continuing to wait for an answer. If you are, please let me know and I will continue my search. If not, feel free to let me know and I will cancel this question for you.

Thank you!
Nicola
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Yes, happy to wait.

Expert:  Nicola-mod replied 3 years ago.
Hello,

We will continue to look for a Professional to assist you.

Thank you for your patience,
Nicola
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

M0re than 3 weeks has elapsed. Perhaps I should re-list the question without the history trial?

Expert:  Nicola-mod replied 3 years ago.
Hello,

I'm happy to try to find another expert to assist you - please tell me you'd like to proceed.

Thank you,
Nicola
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Perhaps you can re-list the question without all the email trail.

Expert:  Vincent2013 replied 3 years ago.

Hi, thanks for your question and sorry that you have been kept waiting. My name's XXXXX XXXXX I'm going to try help you with this.

 

From the above replies, it seems to me that your remaining question is 'can I compel the university to provide me with information telling me how it came to its decision regarding my degree classification?'.

 

Outside litigation, there are two ways in which a person can require a university to disclose information:

 

- the Data Protection Act (DPA) - for most personal information; and

- the Freedom of Information Act (FIA) - for information held by public bodies, other than that which can be requested under the DPA or that which is exempt from disclosure.

 

I understand that you have had sight of some 1992 regulations and that, if a calculation contained within those regulations had been correctly applied to your marks, you would have been awarded a distinction. If this is the case, they were either not applied or not applicable. You could ask the University, in accordance with the FIA "what regulations were in place for the classification of masters degrees for undergraduates who were awarded their degrees in [month] 1992'.

 

You could also make a concurrent application under the DPA for your academic records including 'the basis on which your degree was classified'.

 

I don't believe that either of these requests would fall under any current exemptions and the university would have to respond within 20 days (in respect of the FIA request) and within 40 days (in respect of the DPA request).

 

You should try and formulate your data requests as specifically as possible and, in doing so, remember that the aim of a request is to recover information and not seek admissions of error. A fishing expedition may just result in a response for greater specificity.

 

Under the legislation, the information requested needs to be recorded within a document in order for the university to be required to give you a substantive response. It may be that there just isn't any data that is physically available to justify how your particular degree was classified in conflict with regulations that were in force at the time (e.g. if it was an error - with no paper trail). However, a combination of your transcript and the information requested above should presumably provide the answers you are looking for.

 

The University of London has a page that deals directly with FIA requests and which can be found at http://www.london.ac.uk/foi.html and the website of the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) contains some further information on these requests at http://www.ico.org.uk/for_organisations/freedom_of_information/guide/receiving_a_request

As for DPA requests, University of London's data protection guidelines can be found at http://www.london.ac.uk/fileadmin/documents/about/DP_Guidance_-_revised_June_2011_rev_.pdf and, again, there is some useful information on the ICO's website at http://www.ico.org.uk/for_organisations/data_protection/the_guide/principle_6/access_to_personal_data

 

I hope this information is useful and if you need any further clarification, please do not hesitate to ask.

Vincent2013, JustAnswer Expert
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Experience: Qualified solicitor and barrister (non-practising) with 7+ years experience
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Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Many thanks Vincent. This is helpful and seems a positive way forward.


 


In respect of the question "what regs were in place....1992" I have already asked that question and been informed it was the Regs I have referred to previously (ie) they state an overall mark in excess of 70% is a distinction. I would expect the reply to cite the same Regs and I would not expect the answer to volunteer how the Regs were applied in my case. To obviate this problem, would it be outside the bounds of FIA requests to ask specifically "What regs were in place and precisely how were they applied to my case to arrive at the classification awarded?" It is entirely speculation on my part but it seems to me that Birkbeck College must have been treating the University Regs as discretionary guidance rather than mandatory and modified the class of degree according to its own broader criteria; something which it would appear they had no authority to do. Converselt, if they did have such discretionary authority that would be fine and would close the matter. But as I say, without being informed fully the basis of the award one can only speculate.


 


Your helpful advice is an outside litigation route. Does it follow that there is a litigation route to secure the information. And following on from that, if the information is provided in full and it shows that the degree classification did not accord with governing Regs, is there a litigation route to amend the error.


 


Regards


 


Mike

Expert:  Vincent2013 replied 3 years ago.

Hi Mike,

 

Thanks very much for your reply. The reason I thought it might be a good idea to make a formal request regarding the regulations that governed the classification of your degree is because I wasn't sure how you had come across the 1992 regs. For instance, whilst their titular reference is to 1992, it could be possible that they applied to the degrees of graduates commencing study in September 1992 onwards (and that previous regulations may have governed graduates that began studying in, say, 1989 but graduated in 1992). Is this possible? Or is it clear from the wording of the regs that this cannot be the case? Asking them directly on this point via an FIA request would at least resolve any question as to the regs application to an MSC awarded at the end of the 1991 academic year (which, I understand, is when yours was awarded).

 

As to how you formulate your information request. Absolutely, I completely agree. The obligation of the university to provide information will be triggered by any request for information. However remember that (i) they are exempt from providing information if it could be requested by an application under the DPA and (ii) the information must be in documentary form for them to be required to provide a substantive response. Making requests under both pieces of legislation would be adviseable. Detailed instructions on how to do this can be found from the information in the links I provided before.

 

As to litigation, I do agree with my expert colleagues above. I think it would be very difficult to take legal action against the University as you are out of time for JR and a civil claim. However, litigation is never the only route and if you can recover more concrete evidence from an FIA and/or DPA request, it may enable you to enter into more constructive dialogue with the University. Armed with clear evidence, a personal campaign may allow you to instigate a conversation with top-tier personnel who may engage with you on the issue. Certainly, any administration department will have simply given you a standard response that you cannot appeal ( in order to save resources) but by forcing them to investigate via requests for information (that cannot be ignored) they will, at least, have to engage and this may start some momentum.

 

There are of course no guarantees but I do wish the best of luck and please don't HESITATE to get in touch if you need any more help. I would be delighted to assist.

 

Please also remember to rate my answers if you are satisfied with them (otherwise JustAnswer do not credit me for my work).

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