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11th March 2016

University of Westminster denies student exam deferral due to lack of “proof” of father’s death

After the University of Westminster rejected Saima Haq’s request for mitigating circumstances after the death of her father, The Mancunion looks into similar cases at the University of Manchester

A University of Westminster biochemistry student was denied an exam deferral after not being able to prove her father’s death. Saima Haq took to twitter to vent her frustrations: “I explained in my statement that there is absolutely no way for me to provide any original documents at this time, since they are being processed in the country of his death, but I have given photocopies of all the evidence that my uncle has been emailing me.” Her tweet has since been retweeted over 7,000 times, receiving widespread support and gaining the attention of the press.

In an interview with the Standard, Haq stated: “In a country like Tanzania, it is not a simple process to obtained typed up documents translated into English.” She added that “the medical report I gave was handwritten, which the uni [sic] have said does not have a clear medical opinion, even though it has been stamped by the hospital.”

Haq’s course uses “personal tutors”, whom she claims has been ignoring her emails in the two weeks since her father’s death. Describing the whole institution she said she has been “amazed at how unprofessional and unsupportive” they have been throughout the process.

The University of Westminster responded, tweeting Miss Haq saying they were “very sorry to hear about your loss” and promised to look into her case. A university spokesperson has since emailed the Independent expressing their sadness for Miss Haq’s loss. They added, “However, we have clear and robust procedures for students submitting exam deferral requests, which must be substantiated by original, independent documentary evidence.”

In a later tweet, Saima Haq said she had received support from others in similar situations and claimed that a fellow student had been kicked out of her university due to spending a month in hospital because “in their view she should have handed in her mitigating circumstances claim before going in.”

Similar stories were not hard to find at the University of Manchester. Lexi Bickel, a second year student, found out from her mother that her grandmother had terminal cancer halfway through the first semester of this year. Having told her tutor, who she describes as “very supportive”, Miss Bickel found the process of being given approval for mitigating circumstances “complicated.”

“They required proof that any of this actually happened—they suggested a letter from a medical professional […] my mum had to independently contact my grandmother’s consultant and was charged a fee to be given an official letter”. In January, Lexi received news of her Grandmother’s passing. She told The Mancunion: “We had to call the mitigating circumstances committee in case it affected their decision, something that we shouldn’t have had to worry about over such an emotional time.”

I still came back to university a few days later to complete my exams, which I found very difficult to do. I didn’t receive any extra support over this time, not even a check-up email, which I thought was poor—it would have taken 5 minutes to do and made me feel a lot less isolated.”

She also described the process as “stressful and felt horribly clinical and detached.”

“I know of several other people who have had similar problems or have even had their circumstances denied because the proof wasn’t sufficient—I understand that there needs to be some kind of evidence provided, but the current system seems heartless and confusing.”

Lexi is certainly not alone, a second year biology student explained the struggles they went through applying for mitigation: “I have depression and anxiety issues, and have had them before I came to university. In first year I just managed to complete all of the work, but in second year I’ve struggled.”

I have recently been trying to apply for interruption, so that I restart second year this September, but the faculty is telling me that because I have registered attendance from December 2015 that I can only come back and resit my January exams [which I didn’t take], and start again in university in early 2017.”

The student also revealed that their “mitigating circumstances were denied without any follow up emails asking for further proof; I am in the process of registering for Depression Anxiety Stress Scales (DASS)”.

They added: “It’s been about 3 weeks since my first meeting with DASS and I’m still not officially registered, due to a combination of incompetence at the GP and my illness taking away productive days”.

They claim that they were not informed of the importance of registering with the disability support until after they applied for mitigation. “The University of Manchester’s mitigation [or] special circumstance protocol is archaic and potentially very damaging to students like myself. They do not seem to consider case-by-case factors and do not seem to be well prepared in helping people with mental illness, and left me to do everything by myself even when I told them that I would prefer help [and] guidance”

A University of Manchester spokesperson responding to these claims said: “The University is unable to comment on individual cases, however the mitigating circumstances process is designed to be as thoughtful and sympathetic as possible to the students who apply. The University makes a simplified guide to this process available to all students online and also signposts access to counselling and disability services where needed. Like other universities we do require evidence that requests are genuine, though we seek to be as understanding as possible when asking for it.”

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