06 Mar 2018

Revoking University Degrees for Online Behaviour

by Verlie Oosthuizen, Partner, Durban,
Practice Area(s): Employment | Social Media / Cyber Crimes |

We have all been warned that our current online behaviour may have a detrimental effect on our future, however there is now a possibility that it can have a disastrous effect on our past achievements. There are stories of students being denied places at universities or being expelled due to their online behaviour, but a case has arisen in the United Kingdom where Cambridge is considering revoking the degree of a convicted (and heinous) online sex criminal who received his PhD from the prestigious University and lectured at the University of Birmingham.

It is not surprising that Cambridge would want to consider the move given the media coverage in this case which mentioned that he was a graduate of the University in almost every opening line of every article. He was also described as one of the most depraved criminals in British history.  He picked his victims through the Dark Web and his crime spree, conducted on the internet, has resulted in a jail sentence of 37 years.

Cambridge University has been reported as considering the “unprecedented move” of stripping him of his physics degree due to the immense distress he has caused, however it is unclear whether there is provision in their governing documents for this move. In South Africa this would only be allowed if a tertiary institution made specific provision for it in its governance procedures.

It will be interesting to see whether this case creates a precedent for Universities to consider this option and whether it would be fair to revoke a degree completed years previously for current misconduct.