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BBC Served with FOI Request

October 25th, 2014 · No Comments

Also see:
BBC Complaint on Student Complaints!
BBC Refuses FOI Request!
BBC Trust Rejects Appeals
BBC Trust – Review of Appeals

BBC served with Freedom of Information request over report on student complaints.

The BBC was served with a FOI request on the 24th October 2014 for full details of the research regarding claims on its website at which was conducted by File on Four including a copy of the FOI request sent to universities which was previously withheld.

‘The BBC sent Freedom of Information requests to 142 universities across the UK, asking how many complaints and appeals they had received since 2010. A total of 120 responded.’

It is disturbing that 22 universities failed to comply with the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and that the BBC failed to pursue this fact as it highlights the disregard for the law and abuse of due process that many students face in making a complaint.

Instead the BBC made the dramatic headline claim ‘University complaints by students top 20,000’ both on the above website and its Breakfast programme on the 3rd of June 2014.

However, only in its final decision to dismiss a complaint did the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU) admit that the questionnaire to universities across the UK was filtered to only include administrative issues while matters like gross misconduct, bullying and retribution that come under the remit of the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) were excluded.

To quote the director of the ECU

‘…the programme did not set out to offer a comprehensive review of all complaints made about universities. The discussion was prompted by figures obtained by the BBC which showed that the number of complaints and appeals made by university students about academic issues (such as changes to courses, changes to lecturers, standards of teaching etc.) has risen significantly since the introduction of tuition fees in 2012.’

I have attempted without success to explain that the term ‘academic issues’ gives the impression that it covers all complaints and is therefore misleading therefore I asked:

‘Please confirm that the questionnaire sent to universities only included the type of complaint to which you refer or is it the case that a general total of complaints were submitted in order to obtain the figures quoted? This was not clarified in the report.’

In reply the director of the ECU stated:

‘Finally, you have asked for details of the questions which were submitted to universities. It would be inappropriate for me to provide full details of the research conducted by File on Four, the programme which instigated the original Freedom of Information request to the universities, but I can confirm that the request specified the type of complaint which had been made.’

The public should not be forced to serve the BBC with a Freedom of Information request for information that they have obtained by the same means, it gives the impression they have something to hide.

Moreover, the programme did set out to offer a comprehensive review of all complaints but after hearing some horrendous student experiences the BBC changed its emphasis without any explanation to sanitise the story.

Was this done to preserve the reputation of the elite universities or was the story nobbled to avoid controversy. One student whose evidence was ignored by the BBC made the comment on Facebook that the BBC concentrated on post 1992 universities which are a softer target.

There is the old saying that there are ‘lies, damn lies and statistics’ which are used to support weak arguments or give false impressions. The underling sociology of pursuing any complaint whether it is of a consumer or criminal nature is exactly the same, if the process is accessible and friendly then you will get more complaints. More Bobbies on the beat will lead to more crime being reported but they tend to be of a petty nature while the amount of serious offences decreases. Whereas in cases where people are going to be deterred or threatened then overall reporting will decrease but the number of serious offences will increase and offenders are more likely to get away with it, the same is true of student complaints.

While I am not defending the universities listed on the BBC’s sanitised complaints league table, what should be a matter of public concern is that the real villains have got away with it and in my opinion with the help of the BBC. The question is why and what public purpose or interest is served by concealing what really goes on and encouraging universities to be dishonest in failing to comply with the law for fear of be pilloried on the BBC’s website and news programmes.


Complaint to BBC Trust


Tags: BBC served with FOI request