Universities are being urged to resolve student complaints within three months as part of a new charter on their procedures.
The proposals, drawn up by the National Union of Students, also call for universities that seek legal advice about a complaint to make the same support available to the student.
The charter, published this week, calls for universities to do more to make students aware of complaints procedures, and to make greater use of mediation.
It backs an idea proposed last month by the student complaints body, the Office of the Independent Adjudicator, that would see universities report the number of complaints they receive and the outcome of cases.
On the issue of legal advice, the document says universities should ensure an "equality of arms". "If an institution believes a case is complex enough to seek legal advice they should make the same support available to the student," it says.
The charter also points to recent OIA research that showed that, among students who had taken their complaint to the adjudicator, 60 per cent said their university took more than four months to resolve their complaint and 20 cent said the process took more than a year.
"A student's life is often put on hold whilst a complaint or appeal is dealt with and so they should be resolved as quickly as possible," says the document.
The OIA research also showed that 79 per cent of those who complained to the OIA did not believe they been given a fair hearing. The organisation only examines cases once a student has exhausted their university's complaints procedures.
"Institutions need to work hard to ensure the perception of fairness," says the NUS proposal.
It argues that complaints and appeals should always be dealt with by an independent third party.
The NUS suggests using the US model of campus ombudsmen, where a neutral member of staff, such as a retired professor or academic lawyer, aims to resolve problems.
Panels examining complaints should include members from other universities and a student, it says, while students should always be able to present their case in person.