Universities with most unresolved student complaints revealed

Study by the Complete University Guide shows that the effectiveness of institutions in resolving complaints varies widely

April 25, 2016
Stressed university student
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Almost half of universities and colleges in England and Wales had more than 10 unresolved student complaints per 1,000 students between 2012 and 2014, according to a new analysis.  

A study by the Complete University Guide of “Completion of Procedure Letters”, which are issued by universities to students when internal complaints procedures have been exhausted, found that 63 out of 136 institutions had more than 10 unresolved complaints per 1,000 students over the three-year period.

However, six institutions had fewer that one unresolved complaint per 1,000 students during this period, while five specialist institutions – the Conservatoire for Dance and Drama, ifs University College, Ravensbourne, the Royal College of Art and Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance – had no unresolved complaints.

The figures, which are recorded and published annually by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator, demonstrate how effective universities are at resolving complaints before they are escalated to the OIA.

The Complete University Guide said that the figures showed that the effectiveness of universities in resolving student complaints varied widely.

Bernard Kingston, principal author of the guide, said: “It is a sad fact of life that disputes sometimes arise between students and the universities they have chosen to attend.

“Students need to know that their complaints are handled effectively and sympathetically. The data we have compiled show clearly the relative success of institutions in resolving disputes before they escalate to the OIA or peter out.”

He added that the Complete University Guide was “making no judgement about the outcome of the complaints and only a small proportion of the complaints referred to the OIA are upheld wholly or partially”.

“But we are confident that this table, using a methodology that smooths out annual fluctuations and is adjusted for the size of the universities listed, is a reliable guide to the relative likelihood of complaints being resolved,” he said.

The analysis was released as the Complete University Guide published its annual university league table, which ranked the universities of Cambridge and Oxford and the London School of Economics as the UK’s top three institutions.

The biggest riser was Manchester Metropolitan University, which climbed 16 places to 57th, while the Arts University Bournemouth fell the most, dropping 19 places to 76th.

The ranking, which includes 127 institutions, is based on 10 measures: student satisfaction, research quality, research intensity, entry standards, student:staff ratio, spending on academic services, spending on student facilities, good honours degrees achieved, graduate prospects and completion.

Institutions with the fewest unresolved student complaints

Rank 2012-14 Rank 2011-13 Institution Average number of students (2012-14) Completion of Procedure Letters per 1,000 students
1 6 Conservatoire for Dance and Drama 1,232 0.0
1 1 ifs University College 1,628 0.0
1 8 Ravensbourne 1,623 0.0
1 1 Royal College of Art 1,163 0.0
1 1 Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance 1,078 0.0
6 3 University College Birmingham 11,327 0.3
7 4 University of Buckingham 1,583 1.3
7 11 Canterbury Christ Church University 18,423 1.3
9 9 University of Kent 19,628 1.5
10 5 University Campus Suffolk 5,578 1.6

Institutions with the most unresolved student complaints

Rank 2012-14 Rank 2011-13 Institution Average number of students (2012-14) Completion of Procedure Letters per 1,000 students
136 136 London Metropolitan University 23,552 84.5
135 132 Cardiff Metropolitan University  13,305 64.7
134 134 University of Liverpool 21,108 57.2
133 133 London South Bank University 24,812 56.3
132 131 University of Leicester 17,035 52.3
131 135 Newcastle University 20,748 50.8
130 116 Glyndwr University 8,832 46.7
129 129 Cardiff University 30,218 45.2
128 119 Aston University 10,808 44.7
127 120 University of Surrey 15,578 43.3

N.B. The number of letters has been rounded to one decimal place



Note: This story was updated on 25 April to correct errors in the original data from CUG

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Reader's comments (1)

What one might make of this is hard to say. It certainly cannot be unequivocally claimed that there is in all cases a close and deterministic relationship between high levels of escalation to OIA and poor internal processes, as this pattern might be driven by the provision of clear and easy-to-navigate signposts to the OIA. Given that only 15% of complaints reaching the OIA are justified or partly justified, 85% of this is noise - it might be more informative to rank institutions by the number of complaints that the OIA found against them.