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New Guidance on Student Discipline

on Wednesday, 05 December 2018.

In October 2018, the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) published guidance on the creation of student disciplinary procedures and handling individual cases.

The new guidance complements existing sections of the OIA's Good Practice Framework which cover complaints and appeals, delivering learning opportunities with others and supporting disabled students.

The scope of the new guidance, which will inform the OIA's approach to disciplinary matters at HE providers in England and Wales from the start of the 2019/20 academic year, is broad covering both academic and non-academic misconduct.

On the academic side, specific reference is made to transgressions such as plagiarism, contract cheating, falsifying data, collusion and breaching research or ethics policies. On the non-academic side, anti-social behaviour, sexual misconduct, violence and harassment are among the offences mentioned. It is recognised that certain behaviours might breach criminal law as well as the provider's procedures, such that there could be internal or external consequences for students or a combination of both. The OIA characterises itself in relation to these procedures as a provider of independent external review.

In identifying what a good disciplinary procedure looks like, irrespective of the nature of the case, the OIA has set out eight guiding principles.

  1. Accessibility - visibility, responsiveness.
  2. Clarity - expected standards of behaviour, possible sanctions and treatment of mitigation, record keeping.
  3. Proportionality - information resolution where possible, reasonable and fair treatment, recognition of distinction between internal breaches and criminal offences.
  4. Timeliness - conclude as quickly as possible and within 90 days, inclusion of time limits and provision of reasonable notice.
  5. Fairness - consistency, transparency (including allegations made), opportunity to respond, balance of probability, burden of proof on the provider, clearly reasoned decisions.
  6. Independence - decisions taken by individuals with no prior involvement, ensure no reasonable perception of bias.
  7. Confidentiality - appropriate level of confidentiality whilst allowing an effective investigation.
  8. Improving the Student Experience - promotion of positive behaviours, including compliance with the Equality Act 2010 and challenging negative attitudes, stereotypes and unacceptable behaviour.

In addition to coverage of procedural considerations that would be expected, such as adherence to the principles of natural justice, the guidance contains useful sections on legal concepts including the burden and standard of proof, strict liability and intent and dealing with possible criminal offences. There are also 11 case studies designed to address practical matters including the impact of mental health difficulties, the interface between student misconduct and fitness to practise procedures and the treatment of mitigation.

Whilst the new guidance does not introduce anything fundamentally new it is a welcome synthesis of practical, context specific advice. It also addresses many of the latest challenges within the HE sector such as treatment of plagiarism and possible criminal offences in an accessible way.

For more information, please contact Kris Robbetts in our Regulatory Compliance team on 0117 314 5427.