Page last updated at 13:24 GMT, Tuesday, 17 June 2008 14:24 UK

Student walks out over standards

Southampton University
Stuart Hill walked out of his course at Southampton University

A student was so concerned about the low standards of English of fellow students on a postgraduate course that he walked out, writing off thousands of pounds that he had borrowed.

Stuart Hill found himself to be the only native English-speaking student out of 27 people on an MSc course in economics and finance at the University of Southampton.

Among these were some students with such poor English, he says, that it was impossible to run a course at postgraduate standard.

After complaining to the university authorities and not feeling satisfied with the response, in January 2006, he decided to quit.

The university, rejecting these claims, says that it "does not compromise its standards for fee income".

Mr Hill, who had gained a first class degree from Hull, says that the postgraduate course had been "dumbed down" to accommodate the low level of English.

'Bitterly disappointing'

There were students who "could not even converse in basic English, let alone work at a masters degree level," he says.

When he raised this problem with the university, he said that staff were reluctant to speak openly - and that the authorities closed ranks.

"Everyone knows what's going on. There were 'old school' academics who were not happy."

He says he was particularly disappointed by the reaction of the university when he raised his concerns.

"Nobody wanted to listen, nobody cared. It was bitterly disappointing."

Mr Hall had borrowed £15,000 to take the course - and the university returned £3,000 to him.

He believes that the university was too ready to take overseas students' fees. And he says that he might have re-considered his application to this course if he had known that so many other students did not have English as a first language.

Rejecting claims

The university issued a statement denying the claims made by Mr Hill, saying that overseas students had to achieve an adequate level of English before being accepted and that allegations about low standards had been investigated and found to be unsubstantiated.

"The requirement for the course in question was IELTS 6.5, which is comparable with other Russell Group Universities. We do not accept that the standard is set too low," says a statement from Southampton University.

“With reference to Mr Hill's comments about low standards and poor English, there was a very full investigation of this matter by a Special Committee of the University Council who considered not only the cohort complained about but the previous three cohorts and concluded that the programme was entirely fit for level and purpose and that appropriate judgements were made concerning admissions to the programme."

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