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Universities urged to deal with student complaints within 90 days

Universities should deal with student complaints within three months, according to new guidance by the higher education independent adjudicator.

The good practice framework sets down for the first time the core principles and processes to make complaints and academic appeals fairer for students.

Early resolutions, where staff meet the student face-to-face to try to tackle an issue, should be the first step, the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) recommends.

If unsuccessful, formal procedures, with clear timescales, should be followed. The complaint should be dealt with by people who have not been involved previously, and the student should be provided with a written outcome at the end. Mediation should also be considered, the document says.

The framework follows a rise in the number of student complaints in recent years, although OIA’s most recent figures covering 2013 showed a slight drop compared with 2012. The amount of financial compensation that universities were instructed to pay out increased by two thirds to £313,750 over the same period, and a further £59,359 was paid in settlements on cases that were concluded before full review.

Rob Behrens, the Independent Adjudicator and Chief Executive at the OIA, said: “For those students who do run into difficulties the framework ensures that there are effective means of redress. It is important that there are proper arrangements in place that allow students to bring issues to the right people, who can look at what has happened and why and work to find the right resolution.”

The guidance, drawn up by a steering group led by OIA and including registrars, the National Union of Students and the Quality Assurance Agency, is not mandatory.