Our guide to appeals

Student Guide to Academic Appeals

If you’re considering making an academic appeal, the Students' Association can give you independent and student-centred advice. Contact Iain, our Student Advocate (Education), on inc@st-andrews.ac.uk, on 01334 46 2700, or through Reception, to have a confidential chat about your options. You’re not committing to anything by talking to us about a potential appeal – it’s always up to you whether to go ahead.

 

Frequently asked questions:

 

What is an academic appeal?

An academic appeal is when you ask the University to review an academic judgement. That might be a grade you’ve been given, whether for a single piece of work or for a whole module: it might even affect your final degree class. It can also include decisions about your academic progress - whether to allow you to go on to the next stage of your degree, or even to terminate your studies on academic grounds. Academic appeals are governed by the Policy on Student Academic Appeals that you can find on the University website.

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Feedback

The first thing you should always do if you’re unhappy with or worried about a mark for a piece of work is contact someone in the School to talk about it. They’ll explain how the mark was arrived at. This is called getting feedback.

Feedback can be very important in understanding not only your strengths and weaknesses as a student, but also whether or not you have any basis on which to make an appeal. Seeking feedback can also provide an opportunity for teaching staff to address your concerns in informal ways, which tend to be quicker and easier for students than making a formal appeal. The University encourages students to do this whenever possible.

We advise that you always get feedback from your School before making an academic appeal.

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How do I know if I can appeal?

You can’t appeal an academic decision just because you’re unhappy or disagree with it. You have to show that you have grounds for appeal. There are two permissible grounds for appeal: you must show that at least one, if not both, apply in your case.

 

1) Extenuating personal circumstances

You can appeal on this ground if you think your marks were affected by a personal problem. This might be illness, a family crisis, stress, or anything else that affected your academic performance.

However, this has to be something that the University didn’t know about and haven’t taken into account already. So, if you get a deadline extension on an essay because you’re ill, for example, you can’t use that illness as the basis for a subsequent appeal either.

Not only that, but if you do have personal circumstances that the University didn’t know about, you have to explain why you didn’t tell someone in the University about them earlier. For example, if you’re ill on the day of an exam or class test, you’re normally expected to tell a member of staff at the time. If you didn’t do this and can’t give a good reason why, the University won’t allow the appeal.

Tip: It’s very important for you to tell the University about any problems you’re having as soon as they happen. The University have a range of ways they can take this into account academically, and help in other ways too. You can talk to someone in Student Services in confidence if you’re not comfortable telling teaching staff. Don’t try to cope alone – tell someone!

The problem also has to be something that really affects you academically. The University may be very sympathetic to personal problems you’re having, but if you can’t explain why it harmed your ability to attend classes or study well, they won’t allow the appeal.

A good example of ‘extenuating personal circumstances’ would be where a student is diagnosed with depression after a period in which they took exams or wrote essays. Many of the symptoms of depression (for example, sleeping problems) might affect their academic performance or ability to hand work in on time, and they obviously couldn’t have told the University about the diagnosis until it was made.

 

2) Improper conduct of an assessment or examination, or irregular application of academic regulations.

This is the technical definition of the second ground, but it isn’t as complicated as it might sound! You might think of this as covering ‘university error’. Basically, this ground comes down to whether there’s been a mistake by academic staff in the University when it comes to setting, marking, or running an exam, class test, essay or other marked work; or when taking an academic decision on your progression or continuation of studies.

Of course, it can be hard for a student to understand if this ground might apply. Most students don’t have a thorough understanding of all of the University’s academic regulations! And of course, you won’t necessarily know much about how the work was marked, unless you’ve asked for feedback (see earlier).

We advise that, if you’re considering an appeal on this ground, you contact the Student Advocate (Education) for advice on whether it might apply.

Some examples of when this ground might apply are:

  • It’s been agreed that you should get exam papers in alternative formats, but this didn’t happen in the way that was agreed.
  • Your essay mark is low because of a late penalty that’s been wrongly applied to it.
  • A grade for a group assignment has been calculated incorrectly.
  • A class test didn’t start on time and you didn’t get time at the end to make up for this.

Crucially, you need to show that the problem is something that actually affected your result, and isn’t just a technicality or trivial mistake. If a test starts late but you get extra time to make up for that, for example, the error probably wouldn’t affect your result because you’d have the same amount of time overall.

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What doesn't count as an academic appeal?

Basically, anything that doesn’t fit under one or both of the above grounds, can’t be the basis for an appeal. In particular, you can’t appeal because you just missed a progression threshold or degree class boundary – no matter how close you were. However marginal the difference, the line is the line.

You also can’t appeal because you, or anyone else, disagrees with the academic judgement of the examiner.

There are some things that can be dealt with in other ways, though:

  • If you believe your marks are low because of bias or prejudice against you by a member of University staff, you can make a complaint about this.
  • You can also make a complaint if you think a low mark is due to flaws in teaching or supervision – but while you might receive an apology, this likely won’t change the actual grade for the work. If you have concerns about the quality of your teaching at any point during your studies, you should raise these before completing any assessment through the University’s complaints procedures.

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When should I appeal?

Usually you have to appeal very soon after being told about an academic judgement. The normal time limit is five working days, i.e. a week (assuming there are no public holidays). The University might agree to extend that time limit if you have a good enough reason – for example, if you’ve been ill, or if you’ve been awaiting feedback on your grades, or if you’ve been trying to sort the problem out informally.

In some cases you might be given a specific deadline for appeal when you’re told about the decision. This will normally never be less than the time limit above, though it might be longer.

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Who do I appeal to?

Normally you would appeal first to your Head of School. If you’re not sure who that is, you can find their contact details on the University website.

Tip: Remember that the head of school and head of department are not always the same! Some Schools are made up of more than one department.

There are some judgements (such as termination of studies, or appeals made after your final Honours classification is known) that you can’t appeal to the Head of School: and, of course, if the decision you want to appeal was made by the Head of School, you’ll need to appeal it to someone else! Often, in these cases, you’ll be told who you can appeal to when you’re told about the decision: if not, contact the Students’ Association for advice.

Whoever you appeal to, this first appeal is called a ‘Stage 1 appeal’.

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What information do I need to put in my appeal?

The University provides a form for students to use when making appeals. It’s called the ‘Stage 1 Appeal form’ and you can find it on the University website.

You can ask the Student Advocate (Education) to look over the form and give you some advice or comments before you send it, if you like.

Some things to remember when completing the form:

  • Remember to check at least one of the boxes identifying the grounds for the appeal. A surprising number of students forget!
  • The form asks for a ‘concise summary of your concerns’. This does need to be short, but if your case is particularly complicated or you want to write more, you can include a fuller account of the case as ‘accompanying evidence’.
  • This summary must include all the key information and dates – for example, if you’re appealing on the grounds of extenuating circumstances, it must include an explanation of why the University weren’t told about these at the time.
  • The form asks you about ‘what remedy you are seeking’ – it’s worth doing a bit of checking to see what can and can’t be done here. Contact us if you need advice about this.
  • You can send as much or as little accompanying evidence as you like, but our advice is that it’s usually best to include as much as you can get.

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What happens next?

The Head of School, or whoever else is dealing with the appeal, should write (or email) back to you within ten working days to say what they’re going to do. Usually they’ll either uphold the appeal, possibly with some conditions attached, or reject it. Sometimes they might refer it to someone else for a decision. Whatever they decide to do, they should explain their decision.

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What if I'm unhappy with the Stage 1 decision?

If you’re unhappy with the initial decision, you have the right to appeal that decision to the Senate. This is called a ‘Stage 2 appeal’. This is the final stage of the University’s appeals process.

We strongly advise that if you are thinking of making a Stage 2 appeal, you consult the Student Advocate (Education) first.

A Stage 2 appeal should be sent to the Senate Office (the Senate is the governing academic body of the University). The people who will deal with the Stage 2 appeal are all members of Senate, drawn from outside your School, and can have no previous involvement with the case. They will include appropriately trained student representatives as well as academic staff.

You normally need to express your intention to make a Stage 2 appeal within ten working days (two weeks) of being told the result of your Stage 1 appeal. There’s a form available for you to do this on the University website.

Unlike the Stage 1 form, though, you have a further 10 working days to add to the information on this form if you need it. This might include medical certificates or other evidence that can confirm the circumstances described in your appeal.

Tip: Although you can add information to the Stage 2 form, it’s best to include everything you can in the initial submission. Only use the extra time for things you really can’t get before the deadline.

Tip: If any of your supporting evidence is in a language other than English, you have to supply a certified translation. This might take some time to arrange, so you might need to send this kind of evidence after the initial form.

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What happens in a Stage 2 appeal?

As with a Stage 1 appeal, you need to show that you have grounds for appeal. This is very important, as your appeal will not be heard if the University don’t think there are good grounds. The grounds are the same at this stage as at Stage 1.

On the basis of your Stage 2 form, and any accompanying evidence you’ve sent with it, one member of staff and one student representative will assess the appeal. That means they will do one of the following:

  • Reject the appeal. This ends the University’s consideration of the case, but see the section on the SPSO, below.
  • Refer the appeal back to the Head of School (or whoever else dealt with it at Stage 1) with a recommendation for action. This normally happens where the Senate assessors believe the appeal can be sorted out simply – perhaps because new information has been brought forward that would have changed the outcome of the Stage 1 appeal.
  • Allow the appeal to be heard by the Senate Appeal Panel.

If the University decides to hear the appeal, they will write to you to arrange a date for a hearing at which the case will be decided. Before the hearing is held, you’ll be given a chance to add to the written evidence you’ve submitted with your Stage 2 form. The Senate Office will also write to the School and ask them to submit any written evidence they would like to have considered. You’ll be sent a copy of all of the written evidence before the hearing, so you can read it.

Tip: The School can choose what to put in their submission. Don’t assume they will always include all the information they have on the case. Make sure your own submission contains all the information you need. If necessary you may be able to get information under data protection legislation.

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What happens at the hearing?

At the hearing, the case is heard by a panel of three or four people, including one student representative, who will take a final decision on the case. The School will send someone to explain why they think the decision at Stage 1 was correct. You can also attend and explain why you think it was wrong. The panel will listen to the arguments, ask questions of either side, and consider the written evidence submitted by both sides, before coming to a conclusion. They will write to you after the meeting to tell you what they decide. As at Stage 1, they may decide to uphold the appeal (with or without conditions) or reject it.

Tip: You can usually ask questions of the School representative too, so consider whether there’s anything about the case you don’t yet know and want to find out.

You can be accompanied to the hearing if you want, or if you’re unable to attend you can send someone in your place. However, the person accompanying or representing you has to either be a student at the University, or a member of staff at the University or Students’ Association. Our Student Advocate (Education) attends many of these meetings and is usually the best person to fill this role, but it’s up to you to decide who (if anyone) you want to do this.

The hearing is the final stage of consideration by the University, so it’s important that you prepare for it properly and take advice.

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The Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO)

When you get the result of the Senate hearing, you might still be unhappy about how the University has handled your case. If you are, you can write to the office of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) to ask for an external review of how the University has handled the appeal. You will be given details of how to do this in the outcome letter.

The SPSO will look at how the University dealt with your case, and if they think it wasn’t handled correctly or properly, will recommend ways in which the University should improve its procedures. The SPSO is not a route of appeal against University decisions, but the Ombudsman can consider whether the University has dealt fairly with your case in line with its procedures.

Tip: The SPSO won’t usually consider a request to review the case unless you’ve fully exhausted the internal appeals process first.

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Contact details

Student Advocate (Education):

Iain Cupples
01334 462700
inc@st-andrews.ac.uk

Senate Office:

01334 462005
senate@st-andrews.ac.uk

Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO):

0800 377 7330
http://www.spso.org.uk/