Nolan shines complaint torch

May 17, 1996

University and college staff and students would have new channels for complaints under recommendations expected to be made this week by Lord Nolan's Committee on Standards in Public Life.

Further and higher education funding councils, institutions, and representative bodies should consult on setting up a system allowing disputes to be taken to an external independent review panel, the committee's second report is understood to suggest.

And they should consider setting up an independent appeals body for students, whose right to register complaints should be written into all higher education charters.

The committee, which has been gathering evidence on the governance of local public spending bodies, is expected to call for codes of practice on openness and accountability to be adopted and published by all universities and colleges.

Lord Nolan's vision of a more open regime for further and higher education is believed to include the endorsement of whistle-blowing by staff in appropriate circumstances to an outside body which would guarantee anonymity.

Institutions would be encouraged to limit the use of gagging clauses and produce common standards of good practice on withholding information on the grounds of commercial confidentiality.

Where gagging clauses are included in service and severance contracts, it should be made clear to staff that they still have the right to raise legitimate concerns about malpractice with appropriate outside bodies, such as the visitor.

If the committee's recommendations are taken up, staff would also have a new external independent review panel to listen to their complaints. The panel might also consider disputes between executive managers of institutions and governing bodies.

The committee is also understood to be concerned about the appointment of vice chancellors and principals to the board of the Higher Education Funding Council for England. It is expected to call on Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Education and Employment, to re-examine this and decide whether it is likely to lead to conflicts of interest.

The report is likely to suggest that governors of institutions should continue not to be paid. But it is expected to call on the Government to review governors' personal liability for losses incurred by their institutions.

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