Postgraduate researchers feel increasingly isolated and disillusioned by a lack of proper procedures to deal with their complaints, according to a student leader, writes Cherry Canovan.
James Groves, general secretary of the National Postgraduate Committee, told The THES : "Complaints are on the increase. A significant proportion of students will come out of their period of postgraduate study and not have a particularly rosy impression of the institution."
Speaking before the NPC's annual conference this week, Dr Groves said research students submitted most complaints. He said: "Postgraduates are more likely to come into contact with staff on a one-to-one basis. They are more likely to come up against problems such as lack of service.
"They are also paying rather more in fees, and there is a certain sense that if you are paying £3,000 fees and are not happy with what you are getting, you are going to kick up a fuss."
He called for legislation to force universities to introduce an independent review process for complaints, instead of the visitor system. Universities UK has produced proposals for reform, which are out for consultation.
Dr Groves also said informal ways of dealing with problems could be greatly improved. "Most complaints from research students are about poor supervision and a general lack of support," he said. "If you don't get on with your supervisor, you can feel there is nowhere else to turn. You are often in a tight-knit community where it is difficult to complain about one member of staff to another because they are colleagues. There is a feeling that confidentiality won't be respected."
Complaints procedures were to be debated today at the conference at the University of Warwick. The meeting, which ends on Sunday, will also cover postgraduate funding and the increasing problem of attracting home PhD students.