Big rise in students seeking redress

August 17, 2007

Ombudsman upholds per cent of complaints as ranks of the dissatisfied swell, reports Rebecca Attwood.

Complaints by students against their universities have increased sharply, newly released figures show, and more than a quarter are justified.

The number of eligible complaints handled by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) rose by 44 per cent last year - reaching 465 compared with 322 in 2005.

The rise can be partly explained by increased awareness of the OIA and a time lag in processing complaints at the end of 2005.

But according to Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, the shift towards a market in higher education is bringing about a consumer culture in universities.

"If students are unhappy with the service being provided, they are much more likely to seek redress," she said.

The National Union of Students said it was "deeply concerning" that universities were "obviously not dealing with complaints adequately themselves".

"Students are clearly more vociferous than they used to be," said NUS vice president Wes Streeting.

The number of student applications to the OIA, which takes cases only after students have exhausted all internal university procedures, rose by 11 per cent, from 531 in 2005 to 588 in 2006.

A total of 381 cases were officially closed last year and more than a quarter of these, per cent, were found to be justified to some extent.

Compensation paid to students by universities ranged from £100 to as high as £4,500, awarded to a graduate who was given only 5 per cent of the tuition that had been promised.

Students studying subjects allied to medicine, business and administrative studies and law were the most likely to complain, while the fewest complaints came from veterinary and agriculture students.

Baroness Deech, the OIA's head, said that complaints had been rising steadily and it was too early to see what effect, if any, the new higher fees system introduced in September last year would have.

Universities UK said satisfaction levels were generally high among the UK's 2 million students.

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