Objections from universities will further delay the publication of the Quality Assurance Agency's code of practice on student complaints and appeals, which is already six months late. Student leaders are furious.
Ministers had been determined that all universities should have "fair and robust" procedures for handling student complaints in place by July 1999, but vice-chancellors have been warning that progress has been inhibited by the absence of the QAA's code. The code will not now be available until March at the earliest.
Peter Williams, director of institutional review at the QAA, last week told the QAA's complaints working group that he chairs that the agency had received 80 submissions to its consultation. He said that while there was "broad acceptance" for the general principles, "a number of significant issues have been raised".
A draft of the code sets 20 "precepts" against which institutions will be judged. Students should be able to raise issues of concern "without fear of disadvantage", under "simple, transparent procedures". Those investigating complaints should "as required by law", act impartially, and provision should be made for "independent, external review" of complaints.
Mr Williams told the working group: "There are several matters associated with the introduction of the Human Rights Act which we want to clarify, as well as some aspects of the proposals for independent, external review which require further thought." A final meeting of the group this month has been postponed and the final draft will not be ready for the January meeting of the QAA board.
Don Staniford, a member of the group and author of the National Postgraduate Committee's report, Complaints in Practice, said: "The QAA is moving the goalposts once again. That the code is nearly a year behind schedule is unacceptable. Students' rights have been given another kick in the teeth by the QAA."
Mr Williams said: "We will do our best to produce a final text as quickly as we can."