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Suing college should be ‘last resort’

Concerns about the quality of teaching in universities should only go to court “as a last resort”, according to an MLA.

The DUP’s Jonathan Bell was speaking after a Queen’s University graduate took the Belfast institution to the High Court over his degree classification.

Andrew Croskery, from Co Down, claims his human rights had been breached because he didn’t get the result he believes he deserved. Mr Croskery — who graduated in June with a lower second class honours degree in electrical engineering — claims the university abused his rights by not letting him appeal the result.

He has claimed if he received better supervision he would have been awarded a 2.1.

Mr Bell, who is the deputy chairman of the Committee for Employment and Learning, said, however, that structures are already in place within academic institutions to deal with complaints.

The Strangford MLA said: “My personal opinion is while you might often feel like you didn’t get the results you deserved, I think there has to be some form of academic rigour and independence within a process.

“I think courts should be used as a last resort in measures like this.”

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The University and College Union has warned that the case could create a “dangerous legal precedent”.

Mr Bell added that the introduction of tuition fees has created a “different mindset” among students.

“People are saying we are paying for a service and therefore we have to get that service,” he said.

“If there are genuine grievances about the quality of teaching that students have, I think it is important that they would flag those up early. That is the purpose of student representative councils and academic councils.”

During the case Mr Croskery’s barrister claimed he had been denied a right to appeal against his classification because he had already graduated from Queen's this summer.

Nicolas Hanna QC, for Queen's, argued that the judicial review application should be dismissed as the court was not the proper forum for the challenge.

He said: “The jurisdictional issue is so clear that it is unarguable and therefore, I submit, leave should be refused.”

The judge, Mr Justice Treacy, adjourned the case to allow further arguments on the point about whether the court should have jurisdiction. His decision is expected next month.

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