Students in dark about complaining

September 11, 1998

Universities are rushing to put in place formal procedures for student complaints to conform with new guidelines, but many are not publicising them properly, the National Postgraduate Committee has warned.

Almost three-quarters of the 80 universities that responded to the NPC's students complaints survey reported that they now had formal procedures. This compares to just 44 per cent in 1996.

One month ago, when The THES first reported on the survey, 58 per cent said they had procedures.

The Dearing inquiry into higher education called for revised guidelines and the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals issued guidelines on student complaints procedures that say the procedures must be well-publicised.

But the NPC said that many universities' procedures were so badly publicised that they were useless to students. Report author Don Staniford said that "in many cases it seemed that a deliberate policy of making it difficult to access, and therefore use, the complaints procedure was in operation. This is arguably worse than not having procedures".

Students at Sheffield Hallam reported that they were not aware of their university's procedures. At Newcastle and Stirling, information was "hidden away in a prospectus", the NPC said, and at one institution which was not named, the student union had only one copy of a leaflet which had not been reprinted for years.

At Cranfield and Exeter, students complained that the information was "badly publicised".

"In many ways a procedure exists in principle but not at all in practice," said Mr Staniford.

The survey found that 72 per cent of institutions had reported a rise in complaints.

Institutions attributed this to growing student awareness of their rights as consumers, while the student unions attributed the rise to declining standards in higher education. Most complaints from postgraduates were about supervision, teaching and assessment.

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