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Student complaints against universities rise by staggering 25%


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South BankThe number of student complaints against universities rose by a staggering 25% in 2012, a report by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education has found – the seventh year in a row the total number has increased.

The findings show that universities across England and Wales received a record 2,012 complaints last year, with the highest number of issues to do with matters that affected students’ final grades.

Business-related courses prompted the largest amount of problems amongst university-goers, while subjects to do with medicine came a close second.

The majority of grievances (69%), meanwhile, related to academic status, prompting the adjudicator to conclude that the tripling of tuition fees to £9,000 had made a huge impact on students’ experiences.

"This is another record year, representing a 25% increase on complaints received in 2011,” the adjudicator's report read.

"The upward trend shows no sign of slowing down and the expectation is that complaint numbers will continue to rise as the impact of increased fees is felt."

However, OIA chief executive Rob Behrens highlighted that the majority of complaints were unrelated to the increase in fees as they had come from third year students still paying under the old system.

"We haven't seen the full impact of the fee increase yet, because most complaints are from third year students and the fees do not apply to them yet,” Behrens said.

"What I think has happened is the debate about the fees has been in the public domain. The government is encouraging students to behave like consumers and I think that has had an impact.

"Changes of the order we have seen in the last couple of years mean complaints will continue to rise and probably will accelerate."

"These are important matters that can have a significant bearing on a student's future. Students whose courses lead directly or comprise a step towards a professional qualification remain the most likely to complain.”

The university-related complaints in question involved anything from issues over a student's academic status to discrimination, disciplinary matters and misconduct.

Of the complaints dealt with by the OIA, though, more than half (59%) were found to be "not justified", with only 8% partly justified and 4% fully justified.

But no officially-recognised “justification” process was identified by the report, with just 6% of complaints settled and the others deemed ineligible, suspended or withdrawn.

In cases where the grievance was fully or partly justified, the OIA made recommendations on steps the university should take, or the compensation that it should pay – which totalled £189,892.

The report also named London South Bank University specifically for failing to comply with its recommendations, the third time the adjudicator has done so.

"We go through quite a rigorous process of alerting universities to what they have to do to avoid being named for non-compliance," Behrens said.

"London South Bank University was not able to convince us that they had done sufficient to avoid being named."

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