Whistleblowers: Visitor admits failings

March 7, 2003

The number of students complaining about their universities to the Privy Council has rocketed sixfold in the past five years, but the council has admitted it can provide only "amateur justice".

Alex Galloway, clerk to the Privy Council, this week confirmed to The THES that the Privy Council received about 40 complaints a year in its capacity as the quasi-judicial visitor to 17 universities, compared with half a dozen five years ago.

Mr Galloway said that about six complaints a year were upheld, but "we have often included in adjudication criticisms of university systems and suggested improvements".

He said the increased number of complaints was a result of increased awareness, with the Privy Council becoming "more open about [its] existence" and issuing guidance.

Although Mr Galloway said he had done much to improve the service to students since he became clerk in 1998 - such as publishing the reasons for judgments for the first time - he admitted that the visitor system still provided only "amateur justice, at least as operated in this office". Other visitors made greater use of professional legal input, but the Privy Council does not have the resources and had a lot of other government business that took up its time.

Mr Galloway said the Privy Council supported government plans to set up a student complaints ombudsman.

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