PUBLIC investigators have raised concerns about staff at Queen Margaret University (QMU) after identifying “shortcomings” in their treatment of a student with Asperger’s syndrome.
The Scottish Public Services Ombudsman launched a probe after receiving a complaint from the father of BSc podiatry student Enys Coggles, 23, who said the humiliating and “discriminatory” manner in which instructors treated his son drove him to a nervous breakdown.
Michael Coggles, 71, said his son’s future had been “ruined” by the experience at QMU and that there were serious failings in the university’s procedures for informing lecturers about disabled students’ needs.
He said: “Enys wants to make sure that what has happened to him does not happen again to any student at that university.”
Mr Coggles said his son, who has mild Asperger’s and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, joined QMU in 2008 and had “credible” passes in both the 2009 and 2010 exam diets. He obtained his BSc and professional registration in 2011.
But relations with university staff began to deteriorate in the 2010-11 session, when Mr Coggles claimed his son was subjected to degrading and humiliating treatment by a clinical instructor.
Mr Coggles, from Kent, claimed his son was “picked on” and ridiculed as an “idiot” in front of patients.
He said the situation continued to worsen and that an “inquisition-type” meeting with study leaders in January last year tipped him over the edge.
“Later that evening he broke down crying that he had been betrayed by them and had wasted three years of his life,” said Mr Coggles. “It was clear to us that Enys was on the verge of a nervous breakdown as a direct result of the meeting.”
Mr Coggles said his son was later certificated sick with nervous exhaustion.
In its report, the Ombudsman agreed that the university should have informed Mr Coggles of the meeting and allowed him to bring “a supporter or advocate” as they were aware “he was prone to anxiety which could overwhelm him”.
Investigators also urged QMU chiefs to arrange staff training to raise awareness of “hidden disabilities” such as Asperger’s and review how internal documents detailing students’ support needs are handled.
The Coggles’ account of events is disputed by university leaders.
In a letter to Mr Coggles, university bosses said there had been no reports of “inappropriate language or behaviour” from staff during his son’s clinical sessions.
They also insisted that he was “supported from his admission to the university and reasonable adjustments were made to ensure his individual learning plan could be addressed”.