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Bournemouth University slammed over remarking of exams

20 August 2008 | last updated: 14 December 2015

UCU today hailed a tribunal victory for a former Bournemouth University professor as a warning to managers in all UK universities and colleges to respect the correct procedures.

The union said the case, based on the remarking of exam papers, represented an important victory for everyone who values high standards and probity in education.

On Thursday (14 August) a tribunal in Southampton unanimously found in favour of Dr Paul Buckland, an eminent professor of environmental archaeology, in his case against Bournemouth University for unfair dismissal. The tribunal said the remarking of exam papers originally marked by Dr Buckland, and confirmed by the board of examiners, was an 'insult to his integrity'.

In 2006, 18 students failed an examination set and graded by Dr Buckland. Sixteen candidates took a resit at the end of August and 14 of them failed that examination. On both occasions the exams were marked by Dr Buckland and then by a second internal examiner. The marks were confirmed by a board of examiners at the beginning of September.

However, the scripts were remarked following the intervention of Dr Miles Russell, programme leader for the archaeology BSc, and the marks approved by Dr Brian Astin, chair of the board of examiners and the dean of the school of conservation. Dr Astin did not involve Dr Buckland in the remarking process. The new set of results saw a number of students move from a fail to a borderline position where they could pass if their marks were high enough in other areas.

Essentially, students failed by Dr Buckland, and originally accepted as having failed by Dr Astin and the examination board, subsequently passed after Dr Astin accepted the remarked papers. Professor Buckland complained about Dr Astin's actions and the university conducted an investigation headed by Professor John Vinney.

Whilst the outcome of that investigation in-part vindicated Dr Buckland's complaints he resigned complaining that the investigatory report concluded that 'in this particular case any fault lay with the examiners and that a head of school has a right to arbitrarily overrule the correct marking process'.

Finding in favour of Dr Buckland, the tribunal said they found it 'extraordinary not only that [Dr Buckland's] papers were remarked... but that the remarked papers should be accepted and confirmed by Dr Astin on behalf of the board of examiners'. It also criticised the interference in the marking process and said that Dr Russell 'simply had no business intermeddling in the marking of the papers...whatever his motives may have been'.

Dr Astin has since been promoted to pro vice-chancellor (education) and Professor Vinney pro vice-chancellor (resources).

Bournemouth UCU chair Kevin Moloney, said: 'This is an important decision because it confirms the supremacy of academic judgement in the battle to maintain standards. The move towards a market in higher education through things like university fees has led to consumerist attitudes to degrees. We hope here that the decision leads to a review and reform of procedures here and throughout the country.'

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'This is an important victory for everyone who values high standards and probity in our universities. Dr Buckland's defence of academic standards and examination procedures must be congratulated. However, we are deeply concerned about the events that led to this tribunal. With the review into university fees due next summer, we urge the government to step back from any further marketisation of higher education.'

Bournemouth UCU contacts:
Dr Paul Freedman t: 01202 967349
Dr Kevin Moloney t: 01202 965354