The NUS has recently reported that only 14% of students think that their university deals with complaints fairly. The investigation included a focus group and a survey sent to 45 students’ unions, to which 23 replies were received. Three-quarters of students said many of their peers feared that making a complaint would jeopardise their relationship with an academic or their studies, as those who deal with complaints are university staff and may “naturally side with the institution”.
The NUS wants a single national procedure that all universities follow, as it claims part of the problem is the lack of uniformity in dealing with such matters. Another possible solution is the appointment of campus ombudsmen – in the US these are often retired professors or lawyers who resolve problems informally and independently of a university. However, critics say that they would just add another layer of bureaucracy to the already muddled system.
The Office for the Independent Adjudicator (the student complaints body in England and Wales) states that two-thirds of cases reviewed are found to be unjustified. In less than 10% of cases they review the student complaint is found to be justified – that is, where there is evidence of a failure by universities to keep to their own rules, breaches of natural justice and insensitive handling.
Any improvement in practice is further hindered by the fact that gagging orders are in place in 95% of cases in which a student has won against their university.
Louis George Hemsley