Uncertainty over the future of the visitorial system for the resolution of disputes in old universities has led the Quality Assurance Agency to concede that its long-awaited code of practice on complaints and appeals can only be an "interim" measure.
Calls for the abolition of the visitor system have intensified following the breakdown of negotiations over the QAA's code of practice on the external and independent review of student complaints and appeals.
As The THES revealed last week, the QAA has been forced back to the drawing board with its plans for independent review, following criticisms that the plans would be unworkable alongside university visitors, already considered sufficiently independent arbitrators.
The QAA's original plans to ensure independent and external scrutiny of complaints, called for by the Dearing report in 1997, would have precluded a university visitor from acting as an independent arbitrator.
But the QAA's director of programme review has now accepted that: "It is not for the QAA to prejudge the future role of the visitor... For example, the code could not disqualify the visitorial system or recommend its abolition."
The code has now been redrafted to allow a more limited system of independent review to run in addition to the visitorial one.
In a record of a meeting this month of the QAA's working group on complaints, QAA director of institutional review Peter Williams said that the future of the visitor system must be decided before a code of practice on complaints can be properly implemented.
"The text (of the code) could be viewed as an interim solution until such time as the position was clarified further," he is reported as saying.
The National Union of Students and the National Postgraduate Committee, both on the QAA's working groups, have called for the sister system to be abolished.