Low grievance uptake averts need to extend Scots scheme

October 17, 2003

Scotland's pioneering student complaints system, launched for a trial period last year, has not overwhelmed the independent reviewer appointed to consider appeals. There were fears Colin MacAulay QC would be swamped by complaints from students who felt they had been treated unfairly by their institutions.

Universities Scotland, which set up the scheme, pledged to consider whether the volume of work merited a panel of reviewers. There will shortly be an interim review, but David Caldwell, director of Universities Scotland, said: "My understanding is that the number of cases is relatively small.

There's no need to appoint additional reviewers."

He speculated that the scheme had encouraged institutions to sharpen their internal grievance procedures. "No institution wishes to be taken to independent review very frequently and, if they are, they don't want to lose and for their procedures to be demonstrated to be deficient," he said.

Every Scottish institution, with the exception of Glasgow University and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, signed up to the voluntary scheme, funded by the institutions. The reviewer is chosen by the Faculty of Advocates.

Students can lodge an appeal, once they have exhausted an institution's internal procedures, on any issue except academic judgement. Governing bodies are expected to follow the independent reviewer's advice and to meet reasonable costs where complaints are upheld. Students who lose will be liable for their own costs.

* Ulster University has issued a comprehensive student charter, setting out what its 23,000 students can expect of the university and what it expects of them. Staff will be "courteous, prompt, professional and efficient", with similar behaviour expected of students. Both sides are expected to help create an atmosphere conducive to learning, free from harassment and discrimination.

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