Legal Updates - Education Law – Breach of Contract 2013

Education Law – Breach of Contract – University Appeal – King’s College London – Education Lawyers – Court of Appeal Decision

 
In the recent case of Chilab v King's College London [2013], the court of appeal decided that
if a university failed a part time MSc student who had achieved less than the required pass mark in two elements of the student’s assessments, the university was not in breach of its regulations. In accordance with the regulations, the student was required to pass each element of the assessment to be awarded an MSc.
 
Background
The postgraduate student, Mr Chilab, appealed against the rejection of his claim against King’s College London that he had been entitled to the award of an MSc.
 
Mr Chilab obtained medical degree in Baghdad, Iraq in 1981. He enrolled for a two-year part-time master’s degree in nuclear medicine in 1999. In June 2001, Mr Chilab sat two written examinations, he submitted coursework and dissertation. He also had a general oral examination. There was an  oral examination with his dissertation.
 
The pass mark for each element was 50 percent. He failed as he attained 47 percent for his dissertation and 42 percent for his general oral examination. He appealed and was offered the opportunity to re-submit his dissertation and retake his orally examination, as a first attempt and not a re-take.
 
He refused to retake on the grounds that he ought to have awarded his master’s degree based on his overall mark. He commenced proceedings against King’s College London on the basis that the university had failed to correctly identify, interpret and apply the relevant regulations. The judge on the first instance found that King’s 1999/2000 programme regulations were applicable to this case. It was held that there was no breach of regulations by King’s.
 
Mr Chilab asserted that the applicable marking scheme was neither the 1999/2000 nor 2000/01 programme regulations but a document related to a new programme of study (PIF(C)). He was entitled t be awarded his MSC under this programme. Further and/or in the alternative, the applicable regulations were either the 2000/01 programme regulations or the postgraduate academic regulations 1999/2000 as enrolment was annual.
His appeal was dismissed. He appealed to the court of appeal. It was held by the court of appeal:-
  • The examination and assessment of degree candidates was achieved by the use of regulations. The main regulations in the instant case were King's general academic regulations. For the academic year 1999/2000, the general academic regulations provided that the conditions governing eligibility for an award were given in the general regulations for examinations and in individual programme regulations.

 

  • The individual programme regulations specified which courses the students had to pass before eligibility for their degrees.

 

  •  In addition, for postgraduate students there were also separate academic regulations, which had to be considered in conjunction with (i) the individual programme regulations; (ii) the general regulations for examinations; and (iii) the general academic regulations.
o   The general regulations for examinations stated that students had to have successfully completed all parts of the examinations prescribed to be awarded their degrees.
o   The postgraduate regulations referred to a core marking scheme for any master’s degree, effective from 2000/01. The marking schemes and regulations for individual master’s degree programmes were published as an appendix to the programme regulations.
o   The 1999/2000 programme regulations stated that the pass mark for each element was 50 percent, and that each student had to achieve a pass in each module undertaken.
  • The judge in the first instance was fully justified in rejecting document PIF(C) as the applicable marking scheme. It was clear that PIF(C) was not applicable, although it might have been used as a basis to draft individual programme regulations. It was an internal form, not part of the regulations.

 

  • With regard to whether King’s had breached the regulations, the judge concluded that the decision requiring Mr Chilab to retake the general oral examination was consistent with the programme regulations. Mr Chilab 's argument that an overall pass was sufficient was rejected. The relevant terms of the regulations provided for a pass mark of 50 percent in each element, and stated that a student who failed any element would be permitted one further attempt. Neither of those provisions made sense if a student was not required to pass each element.

 

  • The core marking scheme was stated to apply from the start of the 2000/01 academic year. It did not therefore apply to full-time students on the 1999/2000 course, and it was difficult to see how it could apply to part-time students enrolled in 1999/2000, even though they would be taking their examinations in 2000/01. Even if the scheme did apply to such part-time students, it did not affect the proper interpretation of the programme regulations. The fact that it conflicted with them suggested that it was either not intended to apply or that it laid down minimum, not maximum, standards, leaving King’s free to impose higher standards for particular courses.
 
We are expert education lawyers. If you require advice and assistance in education law, please telephone 0207 488 9947 or email us at enquiries@rtcooperssolicitors.com. For more information on our education law services, please visit: http://www.rtcoopers.com/
 
© RT COOPERS, 2013. This Briefing Note does not provide a comprehensive or complete statement of the law relating to the issues discussed nor does it constitute legal advice. It is intended only to highlight general issues. Specialist legal advice should always be sought in relation to particular circumstances.

 

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