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BBC Trust – Review of Appeals

November 6th, 2014 · No Comments

Also see:
BBC Complaint on Student Complaints!
BBC Served with Freedom of Information request
BBC Refuses FOI Request!
BBC Trust Rejects Appeals

BBC Trust – Request for Review Concerning:

BBC Breakfast – 3 June 2014 and BBC News Online article: University complaints by students top 20,000

The BBC Trust as the last stage in the complaints framework should be totally independent and impartial, moreover part of any formal process within the concept of natural justice is the disclosure of material relied upon as evidence. However, a copy of the Breakfast broadcast is not available on iplayer and regarding the BBC’s FOI questionnaire concerning student complaints, the Director of the ECU stated that it would not be appropriate to show me a copy and the reply to a request under the Freedom of Information Act was as follows:

“The information you have requested is excluded from the Act because it is held for the purposes of ‘journalism, art or literature.’ The BBC is therefore not obliged to provide this information to you and will not be doing so on this occasion.”

This has put me at a serious disadvantage regarding a fair hearing within the complaints framework particularly when dismissal is based upon evidence that has been withheld. Not only am I being hindered to fully answer the selective extracts, it has caused confusion at the expense of the facts resulting in dismissal of my appeals based upon misinformation and hence the substance of my complaints. I am also hindered by a limit of 1,000 words to challenge a document over 4,000 words long.

Main Points for Review

The ECU’s Complaints Director stated:

“..the programme did not set out to offer a comprehensive review of all complaints made about universities.”

It started out covering the issues that I have raised concerning gross misconduct and maladministration regarding student complaints as well as the failure of the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) to address serious matters, as I previously stated:

“In late April 2014 I was approached by BBC Current Affairs concerning university complaints, she wanted to focus on the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education known as the OIA. As my own unresolved situation dates back to the old Visitor system I sent her an email with information regarding the Consumer Rights Act concerning students as vulnerable consumers which included extracts from the student survey and put her in touch with people who had similar negative experiences. One student posted on Facebook that they had been informed that they were now concentrating on a different emphasis.”

There has been no explanation for this change of emphasis, just denial that it existed.

He also stated:

“The scope of the discussion was limited to considering why more complaints were being lodged and so I think the content has to be judged on that basis.”

The basic answer to this question within the remit of the OIA is simply the way in which students as consumers are treated, conspicuous by its absence from the story is evidence of the conduct of universities which would not be acceptable in other aspects of modern consumerism.

Regarding the BBC’s FOI request the ECU’s Complaints Director stated:

“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.)”

This is not a full list of the issues covered by the remit of the OIA, he also stated:

“I accept there were other aspects of the university complaints process which could have been covered but I do not agree that the item had a duty to cover every aspect of the subject, as you appear to suggest.”

I never suggested this, just those issues that are of serious public interest and concern.

The advisor noted and highlighted the BBC News online article which stated:

“Responses from 120 universities across the UK revealed that total academic appeals and complaints were 10% higher in 2012-13 than in 2010-11.”

Is this ‘total’ within the remit of the OIA or the selective BBC questionnaire? If a senior editorial complaints advisor can be misled and form a false opinion by this statement so can the public.

Academic appeals although outside the remit of the OIA [i]  and irrelevant to the issue of consumerism were included in the story; it gives the impression that students are claiming poor value for money in buying exam results. No distinction was made between the numbers of academic appeals and complaints or as a percentage of students which would put a different emphasis on the story, take Anglia Ruskin University for example:

Professor Lesley Dobree, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic), said that only 9 of the 992 recorded complaints were actual complaints – the others were protests about examination and assignment marking.”  [ii]

Again it was not made clear that the BBC’s FOI request was filtered with selective issues and does not reflect the total number of complaints made to universities or the OIA, nor was it made clear that the OIA cannot deal with academic appeals. Moreover, the 10% increase in 2012-13 from 2010-11 was in the context of selective and misleading reporting.

The BBC’s website stated:

“The independent adjudicator for higher education, Rob Behrens, deals with university complaints which cannot be resolved internally.

He said he had also seen a rise in the smaller number of complaints which come to his office each year. [What does this mean?] In 2012, he received 2,000 complaints.

“In the last five years, we’ve seen a continual year-on-year increase in the numbers of complaints, often to the tune of between 20% and 25%. Very recently that has tailed off, which is encouraging,” says Mr Behrens.”

Again it was not made clear that he was referring to the OIA’s remit and not the BBC’s filtered questionnaire or students feel that complaining is a waste of time, a perception of OIA bias, serious issues being ignored, are too traumatised to do anything, or fear retribution with large debts lasting a life time and nothing to show for it. [iii] Wider issues of fit for purpose regulation and complaints regulator were also ignored.

The advisor refuses to accept the fact that the BBC has confused the remit of the OIA with its questionnaire, ignored research and trivialised student complaints in general at the expense of its remit to educate and inform the public on matters of substance and concern. Contributors were chosen in this context making sure that no mention would be made of the appalling conduct of universities towards students as consumers especially those who complain. Therefore, I request that both appeals are reviewed and investigated in the public interest.

[i] Can the OIA look at my complaint?
[ii] Anglia Ruskin University
[iii] Student Satisfaction with the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education

Tags: BBC Trust Review of Appeals