Plans to establish a fast-track alternative to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education have been backed by a dispute resolution body.
The independent Improving Dispute Resolution Advisory Service for Further and Higher Education has welcomed moves by the Centre for Justice to offer an adjudication service to universities faced with student complaints.
The Centre for Justice, a not-for-profit organisation run by a panel of lawyers, says it will be able to rule on cases within a month and remove the need for lengthy OIA investigations or costly legal battles.
Anthony Hurndall, director of the centre, said that in an era of annual undergraduate tuition fees of up to £9,000, students would be more likely to see themselves as having “a contractual relationship with universities, rather than viewing their education as a privilege”.
Calling current adjudication procedures “obsolete”, Mr Hurndall said the overly defensive approach taken by universities was damaging for both parties.
“Litigation is so destructive. In that adversarial set-up, people are not looking for solutions, but to blame each other. Problems often drag on for years, causing health problems, so even if the dispute is resolved, the student is not (always) fit to return to their studies,” he said.
The centre charges between £125 and £300 an hour, and Mr Hurndall claimed it would deliver a solution at 5 to 10 per cent of the cost of a full-blown OIA process or court case.
Gillian Evans, professor of history at University of Cambridge and a board member of IDRAS, welcomed the centre’s intervention.
“I’ve seen cases drag on for 10 years,” she said. “Everyone gets very dispirited - I’ve seen grown men cry. Universities get very defensive, but we need to encourage them to respond to complaints not as attacks, but as something they can learn from.”
She added that the government was encouraging students to give feedback and complain, saying it was “positively egging them on”.
“We are going to see more complaints, but universities are not geared up properly for them,” she said.