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The Soaring Rate of Complaints

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) has recently published its Annual Report for 2012 which sheds light on the level of complaints made against universities.  

The Report shows that in 2012 the OIA received 24% more complaints than in 2011.  The 2,012 complaints in 2012 also represent almost a 400% increase on 2005 level of complaints as well as being the biggest increase in complaints since the introduction of top-up fees back in 2006.

The OIA estimate that the complaints it deals with represent about 1 in 6 of the complaints made to universities, bringing the total estimated level of complaints to 12,072 in 2012.  Suggestions have been made that the increase in complaints may be linked to the rise in fees paid by students to a maximum of £9,000 per year.

New research by the OIA has shown that 69% of the complaints received in 2012 were related to academic status which includes academic appeals, progression and grades suggesting that now students pay an additional fee they are more keen to receive top grades.  This view is supported by the subject areas which have received the most complaints with business and administrative studies, subjects allied to medicine and law being clear front runners as areas which receive high levels of complaint.

Reassuringly for universities 59% of all complaints received by the OIA were not justified in 2012 with only 8% being partly justified and 4% being justified.  An additional 6% were settled, another 6% withdrawn and 17% not eligible.  The bigger picture is therefore that although students are complaining more many of these complaints are not justified and the universities are exonerated from wrong doing. 

Whilst this would seem somewhat of a positive note, in 2012 the OIA commenced its first annual publication of letters to universities giving details of the level of complaint and the outcomes of those complaints.  In addition these letters have also benchmarked universities and compared their complaints record to sector averages.  It is also envisaged that in 2013 these letters will be developed to include qualitative information in relation to universities’ patterns of complaint handling.   University will therefore want to reduce complaints as much as possible to prevent the OIA published data from damaging their reputations.

Finally the OIA have highlighted several emerging issues and common trends amongst complaints received.  They have highlighted a common issue of partnering arrangements being discontinued as a high risk area in terms of complaints.  The OIA have suggested that many universities are making inadequate arrangements for students moving forwards when partnerships break down.  In addition the OIA have suggested that there is still room for improvement in the way that universities handle disabled students and staff as well as encouraging universities to work more closely with student unions and to develop more comprehensive social media policies.

It will be interesting to see if in 2013 complaints continue to rise and if the same subject areas and common complaints feature.

About the author

Natalie Ruane profile photo

Natalie Ruane

Natalie is a Partner and leads the Employment Law & HR team and specialises in education.

Published: Thursday 5th September 2013
Categorised: Education

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