Adjudicator finds health-allied lecturers top grievance list, says Phil Baty
Academics in nursing and subjects allied to health face more complaints from their students than colleagues in any other discipline, figures from the student ombudsman suggest.
But those in maths, architecture and veterinary science seem to be blessed with some of the most contented students, according to the figures revealed exclusively to The Times Higher by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator.
The data show that, in 2005, 78 students in subjects allied to medicine, primarily nursing students, turned to the OIA with formal complaints.
Creative arts courses were the second highest, drawing 55 complaints, followed by business studies with 48.
Law, with 44 complaints, was perhaps unsuprisingly high on a list of subjects where students were seeking to assert their rights, and came fourth.
Maths, architecture and veterinary medicine received the fewest complaints, with just four, two and one grievances respectively.
The figures are absolute numbers that take no account of the size of subject areas, but they provide a snapshot of problem areas, as the OIA forms the final stage of complaints before students may resort to the courts.
Ruth Deech, head of the OIA, said it was hard to draw firm conclusions. But she said that in nursing and subjects allied to medicine most grievances related to hospital placements, "often where students who have passed written subjects in the university fail the practical placement".
The Royal College of Nursing said: "While it's difficult to draw any firm conclusion from the figures, we are concerned that they may reflect the fact that some students do not have positive experiences on clinical placements.
"A lack of mentors, who guide nursing students throughout their placements, is one problem. Another is that some students find themselves on wards that are short-staffed and underresourced. The pressure on staff means that they often can't dedicate the time they would like to students."
Revealing the figures ahead of the publication of the OIA's 2005 annual report, Baroness Deech said that "one would expect a fairly high number of complaints from potential lawyers".
She added that the single complaint from veterinary science was thought to reflect the low number of students.
Baroness Deech said that her office had had 942 inquiries, with 531 complaints being processed since its inception in July 2003. Of 195 decisions the OIA issued, in a third of cases the complaints were found to be justified. Compensation recommended by the OIA ranged from £50 to £9,000.
Reflecting growing predictions that in an era of tuition fees, students were becoming more aware of their rights as consumers, a third of complaints received by the OIA related to "contractual" issues - to the provision of what was promised in handbooks and prospectuses.
Most complaints (42.1 per cent) concerned matters of academic judgment, which the OIA, like the courts, is not able to examine. Disciplinary matters accounted for 6.9 per cent of complaints, discrimination and human rights 7.5 per cent and welfare 1.6 per cent.
NUMBER OF STUDENT COMPLAINTS RECEIVED BY THE OIA, PER SUBJECT:
- Subjects allied to medicine 78
- Creative arts 55
- Business studies 48
- Law 44
- Medicine & dentistry 28
- Education 17
- Computer science 15
- Languages 14
- Social studies 13
- Engineering & technology 12
- Biological sciences 12
- Masscommunications 11
- History, philosophy 10
- Physical sciences 9
- Combined 5
- Maths 4
- Architecture 2
- Veterinary science 1