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Ombudsman referral raises termination procedure issues

Andrew Bell reports.

A Chinese student who was unable to receive email notification of termination of their degree while living with restricted internet on mainland China has referred the case to the Ombudsman after they were restricted from filing an appeal.

While proceedings were ultimately discontinued when the University eventually agreed to hear the appeal, the case highlights the fallibility of email correspondence, and the potential need for duplicate hard-copy correspondence.

Thomas McLoughlin, the SRC lawyer who worked on the case, has no complaint about the University’s actions after the appeal process was instigated. “That appeals process went smoothly, and the university was energetic and empathetic, and allowed the student to re-enrol,” he said. “The pressure of a referral to the ombudsman and is likely to have made a difference.”

A spokesperson for the University told Honi, “There has been no instance where the Ombudsman or any other external authority have questioned the use of email for the purposes of student communications or directed an alternative approach.”

“As a lawyer with experience in business and commercial transactions, there is a convention that parties do not rely on email correspondence alone to verify receipt. There is invariably a backup confirmation process, and quite often there is a hard copy duplicate of the email correspondence,” McLoughlin told Honi.

“The University has adopted a clear policy of using email to each student’s university email account as the basis of official communication,” the University spokesperson said. “All the evidence we have is that this is a much more satisfactory means of communication than alternative measures such as physical mail – where we have issues with timeliness and the accuracy of addresses.”