Data published in the student complaints watchdog's annual report show that it received 1,341 complaints in 2010, a 33 per cent increase on the year before.
Of those that have now been closed, 20 per cent were found to be justified (6 per cent) or partly justified (14 per cent). In 2009 just 14 per cent were upheld in full or in part.
However, Sir Steve Smith, president of Universities UK, pointed out that the actual numbers involved remained small, with just 169 complaints found to be justified or partly justified.
The report also names two institutions – the universities of Southampton and Westminster – which failed to comply with OIA rulings. Both institutions subsequently complied once their vice-chancellors were asked to intervene.
Complaints are only referred to the watchdog once universities’ internal complaints procedures have been fully completed.
Rob Behrens, the independent adjudicator, said: “Once again we saw a record number of complaints from students. This rise presents us with important challenges.
“We are creating greater awareness of issues amongst universities, so that more complaints are resolved internally rather than being escalated to the OIA.
“And where the complaints are escalated to the OIA, we are developing our complaints handling processes to put the emphasis on early resolution.”
He added that it was “regrettable” that there had been two instances of non-compliance with OIA rulings.
Sir Steve said: “The increase in the number of complaints will create headlines, but it's vital to take that in context.
“We are working from a very low base. Only 169 complaints during the year were found to be either justified or partly justified. That is 169 complaints from a student body in England and Wales of 2.2 million students.
“It is clear that students are becoming increasingly aware of the OIA's role as an adjudication service. There’s also no doubt that, with fees going up, students will be becoming more and more demanding. This is to be welcomed.”