Students get three attempts at exam

University faces new investigation over 'relaxed' academic standards
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The Independent Online
A university is under investigation following claims that it allowed students to retake an exam three times to ensure that they passed.

The education minister for Scotland, Brian Wilson, ordered an inquiry following suggestions that Glasgow Caledonian University "relaxed" entrance and exam standards in an attempt to attract and retain as many students as possible to boost income.

The university is at the centre of a separate investigation, launched in March and expected to continue until October, over allegations of nepotism and misuse of funds. The claims of misconduct range from "jobs for the boys" for the two sons of the former principal Professor Stan Mason, to the use of university cars for personal purposes.

Professor Mason said in May that all the claims being dealt with in that inquiry were unsubstantiated. He said: "I would guess that people in the university probably think I am an enthusiastic, energetic hardworking guy - but I don't tolerate fools. If I have underperformers, I am not going to keep skeletons in the cupboard. I am going to have a go at them and get rid of them."

It was these underperformers who were making the allegations against him, he said.

Mr Wilson called for the latest inquiry after concerns were raised about the university by the Lanarkshire MP, Dr John Reid, who had been contacted by a former member of the university's teaching staff worried about falling academic standards.

He claimed that more than one-third of students studying on a BSc radiology course were allowed to proceed to their second year after being granted a rare, and possibly unprecedented, third opportunity to pass an exam they had already failed twice.

It is also suggested that academic standards fell to such a level that one student tried to appeal against failing an exam on the grounds that he was absent from class when the lecturer told the other candidates which questions were going to be on the paper. The independent inquiry will be carried out by a lay member of the university's governing body advised by external senior academics.

Professor Mason, who was the highest paid principal in Scotland on an annual salary of pounds 123,148, stepped down from his duties in May and asked the university court to consider his early retirement following the investigation into mismanagement.

That inquiry, being carried out by the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council, is examining claims that Professor Mason, a former miner, sank thousands of pounds into an uneconomic Bulk Solids Handling Unit, run by the university's enterprise arm, which employed his sons, Andrew and David. Lecturers signed a motion of no confidence in Professor Mason and other senior staff last spring.

Marian Healy, further and higher education officer for the Educational Institute of Scotland, the country's main education union which represents more than 400 academic staff at the university, said the first inquiry had been "a very demoralising experience for everybody".

University senior staff challenged the latest allegations about academic standards. The vice-principal, Professor John Phillips, described the claims as ludicrous and suggested they had been timed to damage recruitment for next year. He said there had already been an internal inquiry into claims over students being permitted three attempts at passing an exam.

"The professional bodies concerned with the particular programme have confirmed that the university took the right decision and that we acted in the best interests of the students concerned and that we followed due and proper procedures," he said, adding that the university would co-operate fully with the inquiry.