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VP (Welfare and Community) Tom Fox has said that there were “concerns” about the University’s proposals for a fitness to study policy. The policy aims to propose a set of actions for members of staff to deal with students who – often for mental health reasons – represent a potential harm to themselves or others. The fitness to study policy is considered a necessary document for all those concerned. However, the first draft of the policy – seen by SCAN – has come under criticism for being too disciplinary in tone and not taking enough account of the student’s wellbeing. Other concerns were raised about the training of many of the academic and college advisors involved in the policy.
SCAN has been told the programme reads like a disciplinary procedure, with the student having to attend a series of meetings not unlike those found in the deanery system. Particularly glaring aspects of the document include Article 6.5, which states that: “There may be occasions where it is not possible or not appropriate for the student to attend the meeting themselves (e.g. if they are currently in hospital). In this case the student should be given the opportunity to send a representative in their place.” This goes against the European Convention on Human Rights, which states that everyone has the right to be present at a hearing. Elsewhere, the draft states that students would be refused an appeal if a medical professional said they were unfit to continue their studies.
Fox voiced his concerns: “I think from the meeting that we had there were concerns: the biggest concern was that the way it was worded was very disciplinary,” Fox said. “[The University] need to make sure they have that duty of care. If you need to change the way a policy reads, you really need to go back and make a lot of work on it. I would hope – as it is being written by Student Based Services – they would include the required support for students in the final draft of the document.”
Fox also said that he had concerns about other aspects of the document. “My biggest worry is that in the early stages of the policy the students get sent to an academic advisor or a college advisor, and that advisor isn’t trained and therefore doesn’t know what the best solution is.
“I was hoping this policy would go a bit further to compensate for that and to train those advisors. It hasn’t done so as much as I’d like it to; I hope when they rewrite the policy that is something which is better addressed.”
After criticism was levied at the current proposals, the University said it would rewrite the policy and send it to members of the Committee for appraisal. However there is unease among observers that the revised document will still be disciplinary in nature.
Fox did, however, express his satisfaction that a fitness to study policy was being put in place. “It is always good to have [such measures] in writing, for the plain fact that members of staff can be accountable, and if they do something differently then we have a basis to ask why.” Commentators also expressed the hard work Student Based Services put in, telling SCAN that the department deals with a lot of serious cases while only having limited resources. In Lent term, Fox and President Joel Pullan secured two extra counsellors from the University, which was considered a triumph for the Union.