In the clear with clarity

January 30, 2014

I was disappointed to read that the rise in the complexity and number of complaints and academic appeals relating to students’ marks is being reported as a result of the rise in tuition fees (“Marked difference: gripes about assessment grow as fee levels rise”, 23 January).

It may be true that the fees rise has had an impact, but other factors that could explain this trend include: the ability of students to question teachers’ marking practices during secondary school; better advertising of appeals and complaints policies within universities; and third parties becoming more aware of the potential marketplace of desperate students.

The article appeared to show panic over this rise, but the solution is simple. Universities can address the issue by having clear marking procedures; ensuring that these procedures are carried out; making students aware of the process for raising issues about marking; and dealing with appeals and complaints using this process. If these steps are followed, there is little risk to an institution, and the Office of the Independent Adjudicator will not justify student complaints made to it.

The final stage of the solution is for universities to encourage their students’ unions to invest in an advice centre with expert staff who can represent students at university hearings. The advisers are familiar with specific institutional procedures and are therefore much more useful to the student and, in turn, the university. This forgoes the need for students to pay for expensive representation or to ask friends and family, while also reassuring the university that the student is being correctly and realistically advised on the procedure and the outcome. Realistic advice equals realistic student expectations.

Sarah Ingram
Cardiff University

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