Complaints adjudication moves towards transparency

The student complaints body is pressing ahead with plans to publish more details about the cases it handles, despite universities’ concerns that their reputations could be damaged.

December 13, 2010

At present, the Office of the Independent Adjudicator publishes regular summaries of the cases it handles, but the identity of both the complainant and the university are withheld.

In future, when it publishes summaries of decisions, the OIA wants to name the university involved.

It argues that this would bring it into line with other ombudsman schemes and increase transparency.

The complainant would remain anonymous.

A report published in February showed that 55 universities opposed the proposal, whereas a survey of complainants found them to be overwhelmingly in favour.

Universities feared it could result in “reputational damage”, a more “legalistic” approach to complaints, and the accidental identification of complainants and university staff.

However, in a second consultation document published today, the OIA says that universities are now less opposed to the idea that they should be named in relation to cases.

It says “discussions with a number of vice-chancellors suggest that opinion is developing in a way that recognises the value of greater transparency in relation to the student experience”.

The OIA document sets out a number of options. The organisation has to decide whether to publish summaries of all its decisions or whether to publish details of only a limited number of cases.

It is also consulting on whether it should take on complaints from students studying for foundation degrees in further education colleges, and on plans to appoint an additional student representative to the OIA’s board.

Rob Behrens, the independent adjudicator, said: “We want to hear views on these three issues before we make final decisions.

“All three issues are important for the development of the OIA as we strive to make our decision-making even more transparent, user-friendly and in line with good practice in other sectors.”

The OIA, which covers England and Wales, takes a complaint from a student only after he or she has exhausted their university’s internal complaints procedures.

Student complaints are growing year-on-year and are expected to soar when fees rise to a maximum of £9,000 a year in 2012.

The OIA consultation document can be found at and the deadline for responses is 14 February 2011.

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