An annual report released by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for universities in England and Wales has revealed that complaints from students against universities increased by 20% in 2011. It was the sixth year in a row that saw the number of complaints rise.
Of the 1605 complaints received during the year, only 16% were ruled to be either fully or partially justified. This nonetheless represents a significant number of grievances, considering that students must first exhaust the avenues available for making complaints within their own university before taking a case to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator.
The report has given rise to widespread speculation that the number of complaints being made against universities is likely to rise dramatically following the increase of tuition fees to £9000 per year at most English universities from the beginning of the 2012 academic year.
Commentators predict that when fees soar to three times their current rate, students will expect to be compensated accordingly with increased standards of teaching and academic resources. However, with stringent government cuts leaving many universities almost entirely dependent on fees alone in order to maintain their normal level of funding, it is unlikely that many institutions will be in a position to provide any extra resources or better teaching for students, as their actual financial situation will not change in spite of the increased financial burden on students.
Many have reacted angrily to the fact that this effectively means the government has forced students to shoulder a burden of debt three times greater than that of their predecessors without reaping any tangible benefits or academic improvement for doing so. This dissatisfaction was reflected in the significant drop in university applications from English students for 2012 reported by UCAS, the university admissions service.
Some even fear that with budgets tightening and higher education staff facing redundancies, class sizes may actually increase and contact time decrease for next year’s cohort of undergraduates, potentially resulting in a higher fee for a less valuable academic experience.
Whether or not this will transpire remains to be seen, but it seems extremely likely that the Office of the Independent Adjudicator, which has the authority to rule on issues related to university facilities and services, maladministration and accommodation, will be receiving a great many more complaints under the new tuition fees system.