Recommendation not implemented: student complains that the University of Malta unfairly treated him in the examination and grading of his dissertation

In terms of Article 22(4) of the Ombudsman Act, the Ombudsman, Mr. Anthony C. Mifsud, and the Commissioner for Education, Chief Justice Emeritus Vincent A. De Gaetano, have sent to the House of Representatives the Final Opinion on a complaint lodged by a mature student registered with the Islands and Small States Institute of the University of Malta. He complained that he was unfairly treated in the course of the examination and grading of his dissertation.

Summary of the Case

The complainant alleged that he was unfairly treated in the examination and grading of his dissertation; moreover, the University authorities displayed a patronising attitude towards him. He also complained about what he calls “wilful neglect” on the part of the University (through the Institute), particularly in the composition of the board which eventually examined his dissertation and which, by assigning to that dissertation a very low mark when compared to the marks he had previously obtained for the other components of the course, resulted in an overall low-grade mark for his Master’s degree.

As the Commissioner for Education has often reiterated in his Opinions and Letters of Closure, it is not his function to re-examine the grades or marks awarded to students but only to ensure that in the process leading up to that grading or marking there was no element of maladministration as defined in Article 22(1) and (2) of the Ombudsman Act (Cap. 385) read in conjunction with Article 13(1).

In the Commissioner’s considered opinion, the complainant’s dissertation was doomed from the very moment that the Senate approved the Board of Examiners on the recommendation of the Institute. The complainant’s dissertation had a heavy ethnomusicological and performative arts component, but only one of the three examiners appointed to examine his dissertation had any expertise in these components.

The Commissioner for Education concluded that the board’s composition appointed to examine the complainant’s dissertation was wrong in principle and unfair, resulting in an ab initio prejudice to the ensuing examination and grading process and final result.

The Commissioner recommended that the Board of Examiners be reconstituted afresh  with persons with appropriate expertise who would then re-evaluate the dissertation in question in its entirety.

Outcome

The University of Malta informed the Commissioner for Education that it would not give effect to his recommendation.

The Ombudsman and the Commissioner brought the case to the Prime Minister’s attention. Since no action has been taken, the Ombudsman and the Commissioner sent the report to the House of Representatives for its attention.

Documents:

04.03.2022 – Final Opinion

01.04.2022 – Reply from the University of Malta

06.04.2022 – Response to the letter from the University of Malta

06.04.2022 – Letter to the Prime Minister

06.04.2022 – Letter to the Speaker of the House of Representatives

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