Education & Family

University faces standards watchdog warning over PhD

The university standards watchdog has delivered a strongly-worded criticism of the University of Bedfordshire - after an external examiner's failing of a PhD student was overturned.

The university's head, Les Ebdon, is to be head of the Office for Fair Access.

The Quality Assurance Agency described the university's appeals process as "superficial and uncritical".

The watchdog found that the appeal, which backed the awarding of the PhD, was "not conducted impartially".

In response, the University of Bedfordshire said the QAA had criticised the university's processes and not its academic standards.

"At the time, we did not have a process in place for handling PhD appeals specifically, mainly because they are extremely rare and, in fact, we had never had any such appeals," said a spokeswoman.


The university gained a higher profile during the controversy surrounding the appointment of its vice chancellor, Professor Ebdon, to become the director of the OFFA university access regulator.

There was a political battle between ministers and MPs on a select committee over Professor Ebdon's appointment to the post, which he begins in September.

It is relatively unusual for the QAA to deliver such a strong message, naming and shaming an individual institution in this way.

The watchdog was responding to concerns that followed the failing of a PhD student by an external examiner.

An appeal against this fail judgement was upheld by the university - with the new panel of examiners passing the PhD.

This prompted an examiner to raise concerns with the standards watchdog.

The subsequent investigation by the QAA found a list of shortcomings, which it says meant that the "principle of natural justice was applied inconsistently and unevenly".

It also found that the original examiners had not been informed about the appeal.

The QAA says the university now has six weeks to produce an "action plan" in response.

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