`It's Not Just The Money - It's A Matter Of Principle'

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The Independent Culture
DON STANIFORD, 27, enrolled in 1993 for a PhD at the University of East Anglia's school of environmental sciences. With a first-class degree from Birmingham University and an MSc from Lancaster, he was well placed to achieve a doctorate on the environmental impact of fish farming. But things did not work out as expected. He feels let down by his supervisor and is now appealing to the Queen, the university's Visitor.

"I got in to UEA without an interview - which seems a bit odd in retrospect. The initial training in research techniques and induction programmes were inadequate. I also lacked supervisory support. During my first three years I had only three supervisory committee meetings. I decided to complain, not only about the lack of quantity and quality of supervision, but also about the poor admissions system, the lack of induction, the lack of training for both myself and my supervisor and the inadequate monitoring of research progress. Finally, I complained about the complaints procedure - or lack of it. And as soon as a formal complaints procedure was introduced by the university I used it - the first person to do so. But the university did not adhere to its own procedures. Instead of taking six weeks it took more than six months. The university upheld all my complaints. Yet at first I received only a one-page letter, not even an apology or explanation, let alone any kind of compensation. Subsequently, the university did make an offer of financial compensation: first an extra eight months' paid study; then an extra 12 months. But still no explanation or investigation. I feel harshly treated and unfairly dealt with. Although the university has tried to broker a solution, it is too little, too late. I have lost time and money in lost earnings. But I'm not just in it for the money - it's a matter of principle. I want an investigation which I, perhaps naively, equate with truth. And I want compensation, which I equate with justice."

The university takes issue with some of Mr Staniford's points. It accuses him of mounting a long campaign against UEA and says it regrets his continuing attempt to undermine the reputation of a school with a high reputation for environmental sciences. He has persistently confused his individual complaint and his wider concerns about postgraduate study, it adds. "The academic complaints procedure deals with individual cases and, where appropriate, provides remedies for individuals. It has done so in this case.

"The wider issues have been considered by the normal academic regulatory bodies and modifications have been introduced and will continue to be introduced."

The university denies that it was slow to deal with Mr Staniford's complaint. It dealt promptly (within 20 days) with his original complaint, it says, but lengthy negotiations over the precise details of the remedy offered prolonged the process. "His original complaint has been the subject of exhaustive consideration. The only part... to be upheld was that there had been some deficiencies in the supervisory arrangements and in the procedures for monitoring and reporting progress."

Finally, the university says it generously offered to enable Mr Staniford to complete his PhD, with a grant for fieldwork expenses plus a maintenance grant for 12 months, and a waiver of fees. (He had already been funded by a UEA scholarship for three years.) Mr Staniford rejected it. The university, when it made its final offer, says it sent a 10-page letter including an apology.

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