Quality watchdogs have produced a new draft of their controversial and long-awaited proposals for a code of practice on complaints and appeals, writes Tony Tysome.
The redrafting was ordered by Quality Assurance Agency chief executive John Randall and director of institutional review Peter Williams, after rejecting a working group's earlier version, which, they felt, "for all its merits, may not be as effective and
practical as it will need to be".
QAA chiefs did not feel confident that the original draft would stand the test of being presented in court or command external respect.
A note from Mr Williams to the working group members stated: "We are not confident that the code, as drafted by the group, will fully command the public respect that will be needed if it is to be offered as an authoritative statement of the sector's expectations."
Officials have gone through the draft with a fine-tooth comb to deal with their reservations, "which are concerned more with particular forms of words than with underlying principles".
The new version states that all institutions should have effective procedures in place for resolving student complaints and academic appeals, and students should be able to raise matters of proper concern "without fear of disadvantage" and in confidence.
Institutions should tackle complaints and appeals "in a timely manner", using "simple and transparent procedures", and "informal resolution should be an option at all stages of the procedure".
The latest draft has dropped proposals that students should be required to submit documentary evidence to illustrate the grounds of their complaint.
Where internal institutional procedures have been exhausted and the student remains dissatisfied, the student should have access to an independent person not involved in the original decision who can review the way the case has been handled, the paper says.
At this stage of the process, the "independent person" could be a member of the governing body. But where the complaint was "particularly serious", the independent person would have to be drawn from outside the institution.
The proposed code makes no mention of the controversial visitorial system, even though the QAA's original plans would have precluded a university visitor from acting as an independent arbitrator.
The draft code says institutions should ensure that where a complaint or appeal is upheld, they take appropriate action, including meeting "reasonable and proportionate" costs incurred by a successful complainant.