Student appeals decision imminent

August 29, 1997

LEGAL wrangles over student complaints have forced vice chancellors to delay their response to the Nolan report.

The Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals wants to offer all universities a number of options for dealing with student appeals. One of the most popular of these would be arbitration, which would avoid the time and expense of taking a case to judicial review. But it would also entail a contract between the student and institution.

Lawyers are still trying to decide whether such a contract is legal.

The 1996 Arbitration Act warned that binding arbitration clauses for consumers, which would include students, should be introduced with care.

Gary Attle, a solicitor in the higher education team at Mills and Reeve, said disgruntled students could decide to challenge the enforceability of the arbitration clause, as well as trying to take the original dispute to the courts. This would mean more involvement by the courts rather than less.

However, he said there was likely to be a distinction between arbitration contracts drawn up on the first day a student arrived at university and those written after the complaint had been raised.

The latter were likely to be more binding because the student could be considered more street-wise by that time.

A spokesman for the National Union of Students said: "Arbitration is a good thing but there is no way students should have to forgo their right to legal proceedings if that is the option they want to take."

A recent meeting between lawyers and the CVCP was inconclusive, but a decision is expected to be taken within the next few weeks.

The CVCP is hoping to produce its final response by October.

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