Oxford rethinks 'overloaded' complaints body

April 2, 1999

Oxford University is reforming its ruleson the harassment of staff and students in the wake of figures that show it is failingto deal properly with complaints, writes Phil Baty.

Figures from the advisory panel for harassment for 1997-98 show a significant decrease in the number of cases dealt with by harassment advisers. The total number of reported cases fell from 51 in 1996-97 to 36 last year. It is unclear if this shows a genuine decrease in cases, or that fewer people are using formal channels.

Of the 36 reported cases, the outcome was known for only 28, and only 15 cases were felt by advisers to have been satisfactorily dealt with.

"The single most serious problem," said Joanna Innes, who chaired the review panel, "is the decrease in the number of advisers and the overloading of their time."

Reforms to be approved next term include increasing the membership of the panel and revising its code of practice.

But one proposal has been seen by some as a potential disincentive for complainants. Official advisers would be barred from acting "as advocates" on behalf of complainants.

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