AN OVERWHELMING majority of universities are facing soaring student complaints, according to a new survey.
The results, to be published next week, found the three most common areas of contention were supervision, academic assessment and teaching quality.
Three-quarters of the 56 institutions responding to the National Postgraduate Committee's questionnaire on undergraduate and postgraduate said complaints were rising - yet almost half admitted they did not have a formal student complaints procedure in place.
"This is still unsatisfactory and goes against the recent Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals guidance, which says it is extremely important for every university to have a suitable internal complaints machinery that is widely known and easily invoked," said report author Don Staniford, an NPC project officer.
Mr Staniford added that in many cases it appeared there was a deliberate policy of making it difficult "to use the complaints procedure". When asked how they publicised procedures, most universities said they were distributed at enrolment with documents that, Mr Staniford said, were usually "long since discarded".
There were some exceptions, however. Loughborough, Wolverhampton and Lincolnshire and Humberside universities posted their procedures on the Internet.
Responses to the questionnaire came from academic registrars (47 per cent) and student unions.
Registrars tended to attribute increasing complaints to "a greater awareness of rights and more litigiousness" (Aberdeen); "charterism and consumerism" (Oxford); or "increased financial commitment by students towards their studies" (Queen Mary and Westfield, London).
Student unions, on the other hand, often blamed "lack of adequate teaching facilities in relation to tuition fees and deferred earnings" (Kent); or "university resource cuts and the research assessment exercise increasing student dissatisfaction" (Lancaster).
Mr Staniford said teaching and supervision issues dominated complaints. Only 25 per cent of grievances were related to universities' commercial activities.
Mr Staniford stressed that a high number of complaints may not be an indication of poor performance. Paradoxically, a complete lack of complaints could indicate severe shortcomings.