Dyslexic student causes online stir with University complaint

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Photo by Meher Gupta

A recently-graduated Lancaster student caused an online stir in Week One after he published an account of the University’s handling of his assessment, for which he required specific provisions to account for his dyslexia.

Mitch Vidler graduated in June 2011 with a 2:1 in Management and Entrepreneurship. Upon graduation he lodged a formal complaint with the University regarding inconsistencies in the transcription of his examination scripts and examiners’ difficulties in reading his handwriting. This complaint “was found largely in his favour,” according to a University statement.

Vidler challenged the University’s response to his complaint, writing to Complaints Co-ordinator John Dickinson that “although [the University] admitted fault in all key areas I still found many factual inaccuracies within [the Universisty’s response] which firstly are very important to the severity of the case and secondly make me seriously worried about the clear lack of attention to detail displayed by your department.”

He also rejected the £150 compensation offered to him, arguing that “I have incurred significant costs which far outweigh the proposed level of compensation offered.”

In his online account, which has been ‘shared’ some 96 times via Facebook, Vidler wrote that “the long and the short of it is, I have spent £15 000 on fees for my education alone at Lancaster University and they have admitted they have made too many mistakes to call my education fair. What is the point of learning if you can’t be assessed fairly?”

In their handling of the complaint, the University have stressed that the £150 was never intended as reimbursement of Vidler’s tuition fees but as compensation.

Vidler’s complaint was founded upon the fact that an instance of maladministration lead to his examinations not being transcribed in his first year, as they should have been. The University admitted this mistake, claiming it was the result of ambiguity in the document outlining Vidler’s requirements.

A subsequent example of maladministration and also inappropriate comments made in an email between departmental staff were also admitted. The University have advised Vidler of his right to take his case to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator.

Minutes from a Stage 2 Complaint Appeal regarding Vidler’s case in October 2011 show that Professor Christine Milligan, Complaints Panellist, “emphasised that  [she] had provided him with that which he sought, i.e. an apology and an explanation as why the events had occurred as they had.”

The University’s press statement outlined that “the University acknowledged there had been some ambiguity in its communications, which led to failures to transcribe his examinations, but was satisfied that reasonable steps had been taken once the mistakes had been identified.

“Specifically, transcriptions [of Vidler’s exams] had been made available, each department had been contacted to ensure that Mr Vidler had not been disadvantaged through the lack of transcription and the Examination Board had been explicitly informed of the mistakes and asked to take them into account when considering final classification of the degree.

“This had been duly done and the University was of the opinion that Mr Vidler had been awarded the correct classification of degree.”

Responding to the issue, LUSU Vice President (Equality, Welfare and Diversity) Matt Saint said: “It seems that due to one original mistake with the information on Mitch’s records, a series of subsequent problems have occurred. The University has obviously not dealt with this case well, which they themselves have admitted, and have advised Mitch of his right to take this case, if he wishes to continue with his appeal, to the office of the independent adjudicator.

“Over the coming months the University will be conducting a review of its student support services and LUSU officers and staff will be closely monitoring proposed new procedures in this area to make sure they don’t have the potential to allow mistakes like this to happen.”

Saint also stressed the availability of support from LUSU’s Education and Support team.

The University’s statement explained that “Lancaster University welcomes applications from disabled students and is committed to supporting every student with their learning needs.”

“We regret that [Vidler] was not satisfied with some elements of his experience at Lancaster and where the University considered improvements could be made it has acted,” it said.

“The Disability Service completed a process review in late 2011 and has adjusted its procedures accordingly,” the statement continues.

In an email to SCAN, second-year mature student Brenda Rockall was positive about her experience as a dyslexic student at Lancaster, saying that she emailed Head of Student Based Services Tom Finnigan to “say how I had had such a different experience to Mitch’s and I wanted to tell people.”

Rockall, whose exam provision included extra time and a reader, said that her treatment had been “more than adequate.”

However, Vidler’s account has prompted further examples from other students with similar experiences. One student commented on his webpage that her brother had been offered “completely inappropriate” alternative assessment despite having Asperger’s syndrome, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

As a result, SCAN intends to further investigate the administration of provisions for disabled students in the coming weeks.

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