Former Ulster University student loses court battle over ‘changes’ to final year project

A former Ulster University engineering student has lost a High Court battle over alleged changes to his final year project.

Tuesday, 15th June 2021, 4:25 pm
Laganside court complex in Belfast city centre.

Raymond Nhembo claimed the alterations unfairly resulted in him failing the assignment and missing out on a master’s degree.

But a judge refused to grant leave to seek a judicial review of decisions made by the university’s authorities.

Mr Justice Scoffield ruled that his complaints could be dealt with better in any separate claim for damages. He said: “These are generally matters of academic judgment in which the court has little, if any, role and no expertise.”

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Mr Nhembo was enrolled on an MEng Mechatronics Engineering programme. His final year of study in 2015/16 was said to involve completing a project on designing an analogue circuit to measure impedance and frequency response in plasma and fluidic circuits.

However, he claimed that he was later instructed to undertake a different, unsuitable, project and then assessed on a further variation. Other students’ assignments remained unchanged in comparison, it was contended. The court heard Mr Nhembo failed the project, which meant he was awarded a bachelor’s degree, rather than a master’s.

He alleged that the professor supervising the final year assignment was responsible for him failing.

Representing himself, Mr Nhembo claimed the process leading to the assessment of his project was unfair.

Judicial review proceedings were launched following an appeal to the University Visitor, with a separate civil action also explored. Mr Justice Scoffield held that that was a better forum for dealing with his grievances, because oral testimony can be given and witnesses questioned.

“I do not consider this to be an appropriate case for the court to grant leave to apply for judicial review, with a view to setting out detailed rules or guidance for the conduct of university authorities where they are setting, overseeing or marking academic assessments,” he said.

“In my view, the controversy in the present case arises not because of any serious doubt about what fairness generally requires in such cases but because of disputes of fact as to how and why any changes were made to the applicant’s project.”