Accentuate negatives to identify 'sinners'

October 13, 2011

One is struck by the methodology of league tables, both national and international, being based entirely on positives ("US muscle reigns, but there's a world of difference in value", 6 October). What about the negatives?

Applicants should surely be interested in knowing how universities treat their students and staff, and whether they respond appropriately to complaints and enquiries. Why would you want to pay even £6,000 a year to study at an institution that cannot get its act together?

Within the UK, research undertaken under Freedom of Information legislation has identified only a small number of institutions that have not had to defend employment claims before the higher tribunals and courts. A simple enquiry on the court databases will show a significant number that have not only lost such claims, sometimes spectacularly, but have also been criticised by the courts, generally for managerial incompetence but sometimes for blatant disregard of the law.

Similarly, quite a number of universities have lost appeals under FoI laws, mainly on the grounds of incompetence and laziness, but in some cases where they have fought (expensively) to withhold public access to information in the new commercial world in which their senior managers operate.

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator has started to "name and shame" universities that have failed to respond properly to its decisions, and occasionally students win in the courts. It would be fairly straightforward to compile a table of "sinners" that could then be reflected in an agreed way to reduce guilty parties' overall scores in league tables.

The seriously underperforming institutions know who they are: they feature regularly in the pages of Times Higher Education. Shall we take up the challenge of exposing them and their incompetent managers and consigning them to the bottom of the rankings where they belong?

Dennis Farrington, Rye, East Sussex

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