Ombudsman scheme to focus solely on students

April 12, 2001

University staff will be excluded from the higher education ombudsman scheme being developed by vice-chancellors and principals, The THES can confirm.

A students-only complaints and appeals scheme is to be proposed in a consultation document to be published shortly by Universities UK. A UUK board meeting late last week agreed that attempts to include staff complaints in the scheme would be "too complicated" and would slow progress.

The decision will anger lecturers' leaders who supported a scheme for staff and students.

UUK policy adviser David Anderson Evans, who is leading the development group, said that the UUK board had been divided over the inclusion of staff complaints in the remit of the new ombudsman.

He said: "Some believe that staff matters, when they have been exhaustively dealt with through internal procedures, are more properly a subject for the courts and the tribunals.

"There is such urgency from ministers for us to set up a modern and open student complaints system that we agreed that discussions over the inclusion of staff should not stand in the way of progress on a system for students."

Dr Anderson Evans is drafting a consultation paper, for publication after Easter, that will seek institutions' views on several issues. They will have until June to reply.

He said: "There are still many questions. We will be asking what the ombudsman's remit should be. Should its ruling be mandatory or should it have an advisory role, leaving an institutions' governing body to decide on the final resolution?"

As The THES reported last week, the visitor system for dealing with staff and student complaints in old universities could survive. Visitors may be asked to delegate to the ombudsman.

Lecturers' union Natfhe, which had backed an ombudsman scheme, said it would be disappointed if staff were excluded. Natfhe said that staff complaints were not restricted to areas that could be addressed through existing employment laws and that issues such as whistleblowing and academic freedom could be best handled by an ombudsman.

Dr Anderson Evans said that he hoped UUK would return to the issue of staff later.

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