The natives are restless

July 12, 1996

The customers - hateful as the term may be to many - are getting stroppy. What with citizens' charters, an increase in students' financial commitment as grants dwindle, and a growth in litigiousness, students are becoming more critical of what they get and more willing to seek redress.

A wrong certificate, a misdescribed course, a course cancelled half-way through, an examination thought to be unfairly administered - all provide possible grounds for complaint, particularly if the results are disappointing.

Pressure on appeals and grievance procedures is growing fast, as is the number of complaints coming into The THES office. As financial pressures on students increase further and qualifications become ever more essential in the jobs market, the number of cases can only expand even more. Matters are made worse when the procedures for coping with complaints - where they exist - are slow, anachronistic, secretive or apparently excessively cosy.

If institutions are to maintain rigorous academic standards - as they must - they cannot afford, in today's climate, not to have clear, open and quick arrangements for hearing students' grievances. Without them it is all too easy for the prospect of long drawn-out wrangling, taking up many hours of staff time and producing a lot of bad publicity, to tempt busy people into taking the line of least resistance and compromising on standards.

It is very much in higher education's interest to act quickly on the recommendation of the second Nolan report on standards in public life, that independent grievance procedures be established. The committee was right to question whether the ancient medieval institution of Visitor, where it exists, is an appropriate mechanism for dealing with complaints at the beginning of the 21st century.

It is also important that higher education itself develop robust procedures for dealing with situations like that at Wigan and Leigh, where over-enthusiastic local entrepreneurs in India put out incorrect information claiming to award Southampton Institute degrees. Students must be able to have confidence that what they sign up for is what it claims to be.

The Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals has set up a working party on appeals systems and has been assessing the size of the problem. A set of robust recommendations acted on decisively by institutions would go far to prevent higher education getting mired in expensive and unsatisfactory litigation which can only undermine public confidence.

Please login or register to read this article

Register to continue

Get a month's unlimited access to THE content online. Just register and complete your career summary.

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments