Ex-NUS student fails to get master's degree through court order

Ms Jeanne-Marie Ten was to have completed her degree by mid-2005, but her unhappiness with her supervisor and the developments that followed led to her candidature being terminated in September 2006.
Ms Jeanne-Marie Ten was to have completed her degree by mid-2005, but her unhappiness with her supervisor and the developments that followed led to her candidature being terminated in September 2006.PHOTO: ST FILE

University justified in denying her degree as she did not fulfil all requirements, judge rules

A former student's bid to get her master's degree via a court order failed after a judge found the National University of Singapore was justified in refusing her the degree.

Justice Woo Bih Li held that although Ms Jeanne-Marie Ten had cleared the academic hurdles for the degree, she would also have had to meet the university's administrative requirements if these were reasonable.

"The denial of any degree to a candidate who has otherwise met the academic requirements is the denial of a substantive right. It is a step not to be taken lightly," Justice Woo said in his 94-page judgment grounds issued earlier this month.

Ms Ten, 47, a candidate for the degree of Masters of Arts (Architecture) by research at the NUS School of Design and Environment from 2002, had sought for NUS to award her the degree and for damages.

She was to have completed her degree by mid-2005 but her unhappiness with her supervisor and the developments that followed led to her candidature being terminated in September 2006. She had been notified about six months earlier that her thesis had been cleared and what remained was for her to submit Form RO.85 duly completed and signed, a copy of her finalised thesis and to upload her thesis electronically by Aug 31, 2006.

However, she submitted only a copy of the thesis but failed to upload it electronically or sign and submit Form RO.85 for reasons that emerged in court proceedings.

Justice Woo noted that the form contained various warranties which NUS was entitled to obtain from candidates. These required, among other things, the candidate to vouch that the thesis did not contain copyright material and that the candidate had complied with NUS guidelines on research integrity.

Ms Ten's lawyer Christopher Daniel had argued that the clause requiring her to indemnify NUS should a third party sue NUS for infringing intellectual property, even if unsuccessful, was too wide to be reasonable. NUS' lawyer Chia Voon Jiet disputed her claims.

Justice Woo held that while she was entitled to reject the clause, she would not have submitted the form as her "true reason" for refusing to do so was "her misplaced fear that her work would be used by Dr Wong (her thesis supervisor Wong Yunn Chii) without proper acknowledgement".

Expressing some sympathy for Ms Ten, the judge said he hoped the parties will compromise "somehow" for her to get the degree.

An NUS spokesman said yesterday NUS had sought to confer the degree on Ms Ten but was unable to do so as she did not fulfil the necessary requirements.

"NUS remains willing to award the degree to Ms Ten as long as she complies with the applicable requirements as set out in the court judgment."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 31, 2018, with the headline 'Ex-NUS student fails to get master's degree through court order'. Print Edition | Subscribe