Magazine article Times Higher Education

Complaints Go Undeclared as Letters Remain Unsent: News

Magazine article Times Higher Education

Complaints Go Undeclared as Letters Remain Unsent: News

Article excerpt

Universities accused of 'not playing fair' and 'gaming' OIA regulations. Jack Grove reports.

Universities are declaring only a fraction of the student complaints made against them, figures show, prompting accusations that they are deliberately minimising the figures.

"Once a student has finished the university's internal complaints or appeals procedures, the university must promptly send a Completion of Procedures Letter to the student," state official rules from the Office of the Independent Adjudicator.

The number of each institution's "completion of procedures" (COP) letters is then published annually, with the OIA encouraging universities to compare their figures against other institutions of similar size.

However, statistics released in response to Freedom of Information requests and seen by Times Higher Education show that some universities are sending COP letters only to a handful of the students whose appeals were unsuccessful.

Anglia Ruskin University issued only four of the letters in 2011-12 despite facing 835 appeals relating to academic status, of which 156 were rejected by the institution. Just a single complaint against Anglia Ruskin was listed with the OIA that year.

King's College London rejected 182 of 271 academic appeals in 2011-12 but sent only 44 COP letters, while Durham University rejected 101 of 195 appeals but issued just 14 letters.

The universities said that the low numbers of letters reflected the fact that the students whose appeals were rejected did not take their complaints to the next level, such as a dean of students or a complaints committee, and therefore did not exhaust internal institutional procedures.

Anglia Ruskin added that it had now amended its procedures after guidance from the OIA, but King's College and Durham believed that their practice was in line with the ombudsman's advice.

However, David Palfreyman, director of the Oxford Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies, said that requiring students to pursue lengthy complaints procedures was in effect "gaming" the system because most of them would then give up on their appeals - and thus not appear on the complaints tally.

Universities with low numbers of COP letters, which alert students to the existence of the OIA, were also less likely to incur the case-related fees that will be introduced next year for institutions with high numbers of complaints, added Mr Palfreyman, co-author of The Law of Higher Education.

"Such gaming of the system is, of course, entirely to be expected," he said. …

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