Student complaints to adjudicator about their university soar by a third

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The Independent Online

Complaints by students about the way they have been treated by their university have soared by 37 per cent in the past two years.

Figures released today show just over 1,000 students complained this year, according to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education, which is responsible for dealing with the complaints. Most of the complaints concern universities' reaction to appeals against grades or accusations of plagiarism.

Rob Behrens, chief executive of the OIA, predicted a further rise in complaints as public spending is cut and student fees increase.

"The labour market is very difficult for students right now," he said. "They want to get the best they possibly can from their university experience, which means they will complain if they don't get what they think they deserve. Students see themselves more and more as customers and they are more assertive than they have ever been."

The year-on-year rise in complaints coincides with the introduction of top-up fees of £3,225 a year in 2006.

In one case, an international student who had been at a Chinese university for two years submitted a final year project which, after being run through a computer program, showed matches to submissions made at other universities. A panel determined it as plagiarism and failed the submission. The OIA ruled the finding was unsafe as the panel had only taken evidence from its chair and recommended she should be allowed to resubmit the project.

Aaron Porter, president of the National Union of Students, said: "It comes as no surprise that there have been more complaints than ever before and as students are being saddled with ever larger debts these figures show that they expect a better experience from their universities."

Of 1,007 complaints made, the OIA ruled that 811 were eligible for review. Of these 75 per cent were dismissed, 5 per cent were upheld and 13 per cent were declared partly justified.

Of the 811, 64 per cent were over "academic status", meaning they were related to appeals, assessments and grades. A further 11 per cent were about misconduct, including plagiarism and cheating.

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