Annulement of university degrees due to administrative flaws and omissions of the University violated the privacy of students

JUDGMENT

Convertito and others v. Romania 03.03.2020 (no. 30547/14)

see here 

SUMMARY

The case concerned the annulment, owing to administrative flaws, of State degrees in dentistry
obtained by the applicants in Romania.

The Court noted that the decisions to enrol the students in the first year of higher education had
been issued and signed by the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy, before the acceptance
letters had been obtained. On the basis of those decisions the applicants had been authorised to
complete a full six-year course in dentistry. The university senate also confirmed the legality of the
applicants’ administrative situation and validated their participation in the final exams.

The Court thus found that there was a discrepancy between the views of the university
administration and the Ministry of Education about the belated issuance of the acceptance letters.

The resulting uncertainty and inconsistency could certainly not be held against the applicants.

PRINCIPAL FACTS

The applicants, Mr Armando Convertito, Mr Giovanni Muscia, Mr Franco Manfredi, Mr Pasquale De
Stasio and Mr Luigi Felice Francesco Di Mariano, are Italian nationals who were born in 1975, 1983,
1974, 1973 and 1961 respectively and live in San Marco Evangelista, Caltagirone, San Cono, Naples
and Aci Bonaccorsi.

In October 2003 the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy of Oradea University accepted
applications from the first four applicants to enrol as first-year students in dentistry. In October 2004
he accepted the application of the fifth applicant. Following these registration decisions the
applicants commenced their studies.

In September 2005 the Ministry of Education issued letters of acceptance for the last four applicants,
valid from the academic year 2005/2006. In November 2009 it issued a letter to the first applicant. In
early 2009 there was an exchange between the President of the university and representatives of
the Ministry of Education concerning the letters of acceptance of 39 foreign students, including the
five applicants. The first applicant had still not received his letter of acceptance and the letters
issued to the others did not concern the year of their enrolment at university, but the following year.
The President sought the advice of the Ministry of Education on the advisability of all these students
taking the final examinations. In September 2009, then January and September 2010, the university
senate decided to allow the five applicants to sit for the final examinations.

The first four applicants passed their examinations in the February 2010 session and were awarded
their State degrees in dentistry in March 2010. The fifth applicant, sitting in the September 2010
session, received his degree in November 2010. The applicants subsequently initiated the
procedures to obtain recognition of these degrees by the Italian authorities in order to practise as
dentists in Italy.

In 2011, in the context of an audit conducted by the Ministry of Education, at the request of the
Italian authorities, to verify the authenticity of the degrees, a report concluded that there were
irregularities concerning the belated issuance of acceptance letters to a number of students,
including those received by the five applicants. In September 2011 the Ministry of Education asked
the President of Oradea University to annul the degrees owing to the late issuance of those letters.
In the same month, the senate and the President of the university annulled the degrees on the basis
of the findings of the audit. The applicants filed a complaint.

On 25 April 2013 the Bihor district court quashed the administrative decisions nullifying the degrees
and delivered its judgment on the merits, finding that there had been no fraud on the part of the
applicants. The parties appealed against this judgment. On 16 October 2013 the Oradea Court of
Appeal dismissed the applicants’ appeal and allowed the university’s appeal. It found that the
applicants had not complied with the regulations on university enrolment, on the grounds that the
acceptance letters (except for that of the fifth applicant) allowed registration only for a single
academic year. The failure to provide certificates of language proficiency at the time of enrolment
and the absence of the university President’s signature on the registration decisions confirmed, in
the Court of Appeal’s view, that the degrees had been obtained fraudulently.

THE DECISION OF THE COURT…

Article 8

The Court observed that the only ground for the decisions to annul the applicants’ degrees had been
the belated issuance of their acceptance letters. The decisions had been taken in accordance with
the law, based on a failure by the applicants to comply with two orders of the Ministry of Education
laying down conditions for the enrolment of foreign students in Romanian universities. The measure
had thus had a legal basis.

The Court noted that it was the responsibility of university presidents to request acceptance letters
from the Ministry. The purpose of those letters was to certify the recognition and equivalence of the
qualifications obtained abroad by the foreign candidates on their enrolment in the university. The
applicants had fulfilled the conditions laid down by the legislation for the recognition of their
previous qualifications and there was no evidence to suggest that they were responsible for the
delay in the issuance of the documents in question.

The Court noted that the decisions to enrol the students had been issued and signed by the
representative of the university, namely the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy, before
the acceptance letters and language proficiency certificates had been obtained. On the basis of
those decisions the applicants had been authorised to complete a full six-year course in dentistry.
The authorities had subsequently allowed them to sit the final examinations. The university senate
had also confirmed the legality of the applicants’ administrative situation and had validated their
participation in those examinations.

The Court thus found that there was a certain discrepancy between the views of the university
administration and the Ministry of Education about the belated issuance of the acceptance letters.
The resulting uncertainty and inconsistency could certainly not be held against the applicants.
By annulling the applicants’ university degrees, the authorities had abruptly disrupted their
professional situation, whereas there was no negative appraisal to suggest that they were not
properly qualified for their work.

The Court thus found that there had been a violation of Article 8 of the Convention.

Just satisfaction (Article 41)

The Court held that Romania was to pay each applicant 10,000 euros (EUR) in respect of
non-pecuniary damage and EUR 3,000 in respect of costs and expenses.

 


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