Dame Ruth Deech was this week appointed the first independent adjudicator for higher education. She will act as the ombudsman for student complaints nationwide, replacing the antiquated visitor system.
Dame Ruth, who will step down after 12 years as principal of St Anne's College, Oxford, and two years as pro vice-chancellor of the university, is a lawyer with a reputation for fairness. She specialises in family law and has published on the reform of the divorce laws.
Within the university, she set up day nurseries for staff and students, and established an equal-opportunities framework. She led student-recruitment and outreach activities for non-traditional applicants.
Dame Ruth, who was honoured during the 2002 Queen's Golden Jubilee, was born in London in 1943 and educated at Christ's Hospital and Oxford University.
She has held many public appointments, including chairman of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. She is a governor of the BBC, an honorary bencher of the Inner Temple, a Rhodes trustee, governor of University College School and an honorary fellow of the Society of Advanced Legal Studies. She is a high-profile figure in the British Jewish community.
Her priority on becoming the adjudicator is to modernise the system of appeals in the context of human-rights legislation.
The need for an Office of the Independent Adjudicator was identified by the Nolan committee and went on to become a recommendation in the 1997 Dearing report. But it took until July 2003 for the office to become a legal entity and legislation will be required before its decisions become legally binding. In the meantime, universities and colleges have been asked to join a voluntary scheme.
Norman Gowar, former principal of Royal Holloway, University of London, will chair the board and Michael Reddy, a commercial lawyer and former deputy banking ombudsman, will be deputy adjudicator.