Vice-chancellors' proposals for dealing with student appeals and complaints have been condemned by the National Union of Students, writes Tony Tysome.
NUS leaders are objecting to the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals' decision to support an arbitration clause in student/institution contracts to deal with complaints, rather than setting up a national higher education ombudsman.
In the union's official magazine Network, the NUS says the CVCP's position, laid out in its response to the Nolan review of student appeals and complaints, "ignores students' rights and the inevitable conflict between those rights and the higher education institutions' interests".
The CVCP said in its response paper that it saw "no particular case for a uniform system" and that "universities must be free to opt for whatever arrangements they judge to be most appropriate".
The NUS says such a stance "creates a bias in favour of the higher education institutions, which goes against the need for independence as identified in the second report of the Nolan committee".
The union opposes arbitration contracts as a means of dealing with disputes because students might have to cover part of the cost of an appeal, because of clauses in the Arbitration Act 1996.
The NUS has called for a national ombudsman. A spokes-man said it was not unreasonable to expect the government to foot the bill for such a body, since students were now contributing towards the cost of their higher education.
"It would seem fair that the government should help cover the cost of providing a decent level of customer care, given that students are now paying fees," he said.