Ombudsman may name and shame

October 30, 2008

The student complaints body for England and Wales is to examine whether it should follow the example of its Scottish counterpart and publish its adjudications, naming the university involved.

Rob Behrens, who became head of the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) in May, said he did not have a strong view on the idea, but it was one of a number of possibilities that would be considered as part of a wide-ranging review of the organisation announced this week.

Some 3,000 students, complainants and university staff will be asked for their opinions on the OIA's first four years, including the speed and consistency of its decision-making, whether its remit should be broadened to include students at further education colleges, how well it disseminates its work, and its governance.

Mr Behrens said the OIA had a "solid record of achievement," including 2,000 eligible complaints resolved, £500,000 worth of compensation allocated to students, and total compliance with its decisions.

"But we have to move on, in the context that complaints are becoming an even more serious issue in terms of the growth in the numbers. There is no sign of that slowing down," he said.

The Scottish Public Services Ombudsman publishes a number of investigation reports each year in which the institution is named but the student remains anonymous.

Mr Behrens said: "We have to, whatever we do, safeguard the privacy of all individuals who come to us. I also respect the way in which universities comply with our decisions. The question then is whether publishing the decision in some form will enable us to be more effective as a disseminator of learning to the sector."

On whether further education college students should be able to take complaints to the OIA, he said: "We don't have imperialist ambitions to expand the remit of the office, but if there is an anomaly then we should be looking at it."

He said he was aware that some complainants and universities thought the OIA took too long to resolve cases. However, he pointed out that some institutions had asked for more time to respond to OIA requests, and that complainants often arrived at the OIA "after a long haul in terms of the university process", when they were anxious to resolve matters quickly.

The consultation, published at, will run until 29 January, and a quantitative study by King's College London will begin in December.

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