'Eight years of my life have been practically wasted'

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The Independent Online

Neil McDougall's complaint against Bath University illustrates the flaws in the current system of student complaints. His grievance has taken eight years to work its way through the Visitor's machinery - a record in the world of student complaints - and it still hasn't been resolved. McDougall signed up to do a two-year MPhil in architectural research at Bath in 1988 but never got the degree. He had been working for the Bath mental health authority, resigning after they refused to accept his ideas on the inadequate design of facilities for mentally ill patients.

Neil McDougall's complaint against Bath University illustrates the flaws in the current system of student complaints. His grievance has taken eight years to work its way through the Visitor's machinery - a record in the world of student complaints - and it still hasn't been resolved. McDougall signed up to do a two-year MPhil in architectural research at Bath in 1988 but never got the degree. He had been working for the Bath mental health authority, resigning after they refused to accept his ideas on the inadequate design of facilities for mentally ill patients.

His research at the university was going to be on the design of facilities for acute mental patients. But McDougall never got that far. Questions were raised about his academic progress and his tutor withdrew. McDougall complained about poor supervision, inadequate exam procedures and maladministration and his complaint went to the Queen in her capacity as Bath's Visitor. The case was referred to the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay; after the general election it was taken up by the new Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine.

McDougall is unhappy with the way the Lord Chancellor has dealt with his complaint; so unhappy that he complained about it. And the Lord Chancellor's department accepted earlier this year that it had been too slow, that it had ignored his requests and lost his file for a period.

"These delays were the result of intense pressure on limited resources available to deal with Visitorial matters," says Ray Sams, head of the civil law development division at the department. "Nevertheless, the department acknowledges that those delays led to uncertainty and anxiety by yourself and I repeat the department's sincere apologies to you for those delays."

McDougall is determined to soldier on and to seek redress. "What I want is for the system to change so that students don't suffer like I did," he says "I never got a PhD. I am still a long way away from where I would like to be. I want to make sure that people don't have to follow me down that lonely and ultimately futile path. Eight years of my life have been practically wasted by a system which doesn't work."

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