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30th April 2012

Final year dissertation students faced absent supervisors

History department dismisses claims

Students claim they did not have access to regular supervision from lecturers


History students who expressed concerns about absent dissertation supervisors have criticised the handling of their complaints by staff at the School of Arts, Histories and Cultures.

The complaints have emerged following the submission of final year theses, which one student, who wishes to remain nameless, said he managed “in spite of” his supervisor.

This student, originally under the supervision of Dr. Ana Carden-Coyne, was passed between Undergraduate Programme Director Max Jones and Dr. Hughes throughout the year, whilst Ana Carden-Coyne took sick leave and then maternity leave.

Dr. Carden-Coyne had told him on their first meeting that she had “no knowledge or interest in my subject,” even though his choice “had been ratified by Max [Jones]”.

He says he was “completely left in limbo” for semester two when he found out “through word of mouth” that she was pregnant. She never informed this student directly that she would be taking leave.

The student says it was a “few weeks” before he found out in semester two that he was reassigned to Dr. Anne Marie Hughes. It was a process which “felt like starting again six weeks before deadline” with another tutor who had “no knowledge or interest In my subject”. He insists that without the dedication of Dr. Max Jones: “I doubt I’d have finished.”

Angela Ballone, a lecturer drafted in from Liverpool to teach the First Hundred Years of Spanish America course following the sick leave of Glyn Redworth, has been accused by another student of being particularly difficult to contact.

She was only available to fill the minimum requirement of five meetings during the second semester. One of those times was on the dissertation hand-in date, the 24th April. This was amended. Students were required to choose between two other dates, the 17th and 20th Feb, meaning that they could see Prof. Ballone only four times in the final months before submission of their work.

One student, who had a work shift during one of those meetings, asked for an alternative date, even going so far as to offer to travel to Liverpool to discuss their thesis. Professor Ballone said she was “not happy” to do that.

Responding to The Mancunion about these claims Max Jones insisted that: “Students were all given the opportunity to have at least five supervisory meetings with Dr. Ballone across the year. Dr. Ballone thus fully met the department’s requirements for BA Dissertation supervision.” This claim was backed up by comments from the Head of Department, Dr Paul Fouracre.

The student was re-assured by Dr. Jones that office hours, in his experience, “do not provide the most satisfactory environment for dissertation supervision” and was encouraged to speak to Dr. Ballone over the phone and to see Dr. Jones in person if he needed to.

There is no suggestion that Dr. Ballone did not meet teaching requirements. In fact the quality of teaching has been praised by students in her module. But the fact that she was asked by Manchester staff to reach only the minimum level of student contact is cause for concern.

Commenting on their experience, the student said it “feels like the university was not giving me support”.

It is important to note that both Dr. Jones and Dr. Fouracre worked hard personally and with the wider department to uphold the standard of teaching in circumstances made difficult through illness and absence.

Dr. Fouracre personally moderated every piece of work submitted to Dr. Ballone. Dr. Jones also personally tutored students under Dr. Ballone and Dr. Carden-Coyne.

In a recent table published by The Guardian measuring student satisfaction, the History department at the University of Manchester was ranked at number 45, below Teesside University.

The History department has sought to make a series of improvements to student satisfaction over the past few years, with eight new members of staff to join in September as part of these changes. But it is clear that staffing problems have caused serious issues in the final year experience of some students.


Gareth Lewis

Gareth Lewis

Former news editor (2011-2012).

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