Students walk out of lectures and classes to join a protest against the rise in tuition fees on November 24, 2010 in Bristol, United Kingdom. / Getty Images


Complaints against universities in England and Wales have risen to record levels, resulting in payments of almost £190,000 to students, according to a report from an official watchdog.

There were 2,012 complaints made in 2012, according to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education, representing a rise of 25 per cent on the year before, when 1,605 complaints were received.

However, more than half of the complaints (59 per cent) received by the OIA were found to be ‘not justified’.

Rob Behrens, the independent adjudicator, believes that the increase in complaints should be linked to last year’s hike in tuition fees.

He said: “Higher tuition fees will lead to more complaints. The increase will undoubtedly provide major challenges for universities, students’ unions and the OIA.

"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.”

The vast majority of complaints (69 per cent) were academic in nature, with students making academic appeals, and complaints about assessment, examination boards, grades and ‘mitigating circumstances’. This reflects, according to the report, ‘the importance to students of achieving a first class or upper second class degree’.

Other complaints concerned service issues, academic misconduct and a handful of discrimination and human rights issues. Business students were the most likely to complain.

Mostly, the report did not name the universities subjected to complaint, but London South Bank University was singled out for criticism for not complying with the OIA’s recommendations.

Professor Eric Thomas, president of vice-chancellors' group Universities UK, said: "The percentage of complaints found to be justified, or partly justified, has fallen again this year and it must be remembered that these total about 300 complaints, from a student population of over two million students.

"While there has been a net increase in the number of complaints, we must not lose sight of the fact that the vast majority of students are satisfied and satisfaction rates across universities remain high. Indeed, the level of satisfaction achieved at universities would be the envy of many other organisations.

Liam Burns, president of the (NUS), said: "No-one should be surprised that students are more demanding when they are forced to treat education as something they buy rather than as a process of study, debate and understanding.

"We welcome the OIA's recognition that students' unions play an important role in the appeals process and we thank them for expressing dissatisfaction with institutions who fail to engage properly with their unions.

"Universities should work with their students to develop the best education outcomes for students before students feel they need to take their complaints to an independent body."