Soas to pay for­mer stu­dent £20K over ‘no su­per­vi­sion’ PhD

THE (Times Higher Education) - - CONTENTS - John.mor­gan@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­

Soas, Uni­ver­sity of Lon­don has agreed to pay a for­mer PhD stu­dent £20,000 in re­funded tu­ition fees and com­pen­sa­tion, af­ter he chal­lenged su­per­vi­sion fail­ures us­ing con­sumer rights leg­is­la­tion.

Vishal Vora forced the uni­ver­sity to back down af­ter the English sec­tor om­buds­man, the Of­fice of the In­de­pen­dent Ad­ju­di­ca­tor, said that his claim to a fees re­fund was not jus­ti­fied.

Af­ter he started a county court claim, Soas told him that it did not in­tend to de­fend the mat­ter.

“Essen­tially what I pur­chased [through tu­ition fees] was a li­brary ticket and noth­ing else,” Dr Vora (pic­tured in­set) told Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion.

He suc­cess­fully com­pleted his PhD in

Soas’ School of Law in Septem­ber 2016 and is now a re­search fel­low at Ger­many’s Max Planck In­sti­tute for So­cial An­thro­pol­ogy, as well as a re­search as­so­ciate at Soas.

Ear­lier this year, Soas of­fered £5,000 com­pen­sa­tion and apol­o­gised to an­other PhD stu­dent af­ter fail­ing to pro­vide the su­per­vi­sion needed to en­able him to com­plete his de­gree.

Dr Vora – who is still press­ing Soas to of­fer him an apol­ogy – said that he wanted other re­search de­gree stu­dents and grad­u­ates to be aware of their rights if they re­ceived in­ad­e­quate su­per­vi­sion.

“I just don’t think that peo­ple go about tak­ing the in­sti­tu­tion to task, be­cause there’s a big power dy­namic, first of all,” he con­tin­ued. And many stu­dents who do man­age to grad­u­ate, he added, feel that “no one was re­ally avail­able [to su­per­vise me], but at the end of the day I did get my PhD or mas­ter’s…so now is there any point in pur­su­ing any­thing?”

Dr Vora be­gan at Soas in 2010 on an MPhil, then pro­gressed to a PhD. His county court claim says that he had “four nom­i­nal su­per­vi­sors dur­ing the first four years of re­search”. To­wards the end of his re­search, “his nom­i­nal su­per­vi­sor… was on sab­bat­i­cal and did not read the claimant’s doc­toral the­sis prior to its sub­mis­sion”.

Dr Vora first com­plained to the uni­ver­sity in March 2017. Af­ter mount­ing two in­ves­ti­ga­tions, Soas of­fered him £5,000 in com­pen­sa­tion, but re­jected his claim for a re­fund on his tu­ition fees.

Dr Vora said that he felt en­ti­tled to a re­fund on his fees af­ter not re­ceiv­ing ad­e­quate su­per­vi­sion and sub­mit­ting his the­sis “blind”, with no mem­ber of staff hav­ing read it. “I had no one,” he con­tin­ued. “That’s re­ally not on.”

The claim says that there was “no sup­port for [Dr Vora] dur­ing the en­tire pe­riod of his en­rol­ment”.

Within the £20,000 to­tal pay­ment Soas has agreed to make, £12,460 cov­ers re­funded tu­ition fees and £5,000 is com­pen­sa­tion, with the re­main­der cov­er­ing Dr Vora’s costs in mak­ing his com­plaints.

In an in­ter­nal email sent last month and seen by THE, Al­fredo Saad Filho, the new head of Soas’ doc­toral school, ac­knowl­edges that there is “con­sid­er­able room for im­proveme n t ” at the in­sti­tu­tion, mainly linked to “fi­nan­cial/fund­ing lim­i­ta­tions and fail­ure of su­per­vi­sion”. Pro­fes­sor Saad Filho adds that he is “de­ter­mined” to im­prove con­di­tions for post­grad­u­ates.

Asked about Dr Vora’s case, a Soas spokes­woman said that the in­sti­tu­tion did “not gen­er­ally com­ment on cases in re­la­tion to in­di­vid­ual stu­dents” but that, “as a gen­eral mat­ter, any agree­ments or sums paid would not amount to ac­cep­tance of li­a­bil­ity on Soas’ be­half”.

She added that Soas’ PhD pro­vi­sion “is sub­ject to qual­ity as­sur­ance pro­cesses which en­sure that the school pro­vides strong and ef­fec­tive aca­demic sup­port to our stu­dents”.

Where stu­dents “have con­cerns about the su­per­vi­sion of their PhD, we would seek to re­solve this speed­ily and ef­fec­tively”, and there were “proper com­plaints mech­a­nisms in place” be­yond that, the spokes­woman said.

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