Recommendations not fully accepted: unfair treatment during a scholarship interview

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 Theology graduate who alleged that she was treated unfairly during a scholarship interview.

Summary of the Case

The complainant applied for an Endeavour Scholarship to undertake a one-year course (2020-2021) at the Catholic University of Leuven and was unconditionally accepted by that university. The interview was conducted online, and the complainant obtained a “fail” mark in this interview.

The complainant appealed before the Scholarships Appeals Board. She complained, in essence, that she was not given a fair hearing for reasons both connected with the appreciation of her work experience and proposed studies and for reasons connected with the conduct of the interview. The Scholarships Appeals Board claimed that it had “no competence to substitute its judgment for that of the Endeavour Scholarships Scheme Board regarding the criteria on which the applicant is assessed.”

Following a thorough investigation, the Commissioner upheld the complaint only to the extent that words were said and comments passed by a member of the interviewing board, which justifiably upset the complainant. The Commissioner recommended that the Ministry of Education devise a short Code of Conduct or a set of Guidelines for members of interviewing boards for scholarships and similar awards, focussing in particular on the conduct of the interviews. The Commissioner also recommended that each interview, whether conducted online or in person, should be recorded with the consent of the person interviewed. Such a record should be kept for a pre-determined time deemed sufficient for filing internal review proceedings.

Outcome

The Ministry for Education, by letter dated 10 December 2021, while accepting the first of two recommendations made by this Office, has indicated that it will not be implementing the second recommendation.

No reasons have been given for refusing to implement this second recommendation. The Ombudsman and the Commissioner brought the case to the Prime Minister’s attention on 27 December 2021. Since no action has been taken, the Ombudsman and the Commissioner sent the report to the House of Representatives for its attention.

Documents:

03.11.21 – Final Opinion

10.12.21 – Reply from the Permanent Secretary

27.12.21 – Letter to the Prime Minister

21.01.22 – Letter to Mr Speaker

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