Thursday, 10 April 2008

A Revelation

Two Things

a) This article doesn't surprise me, especially the bit at the bottom: "Medical students formed the largest group of complainants "

More importantly
b) How, after almost 5 years did I not know about The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education ("OIA")? An independent complaints board. Something else to add to the list of things to do after finals!


Lily said...

More proof that all we seem to do as medical students is moan. Someone pointed that fact out to me last year, and I couldn't even try and defend myself. At least now there's someone new to moan to!

missbliss said...

It doesn't surprise me becaause people expect to be good at everything without doing any work. I suppose they'll be complaining that they weren't told exactly what was going to be on the exam paper beforehand?

If I had to complain about anything about uni exams, it would have been that I only got my results the day before graduation because the lecturers went on a marking strike. But I suppose that extra fortnight of agony (and the thought of graduating without a classification) meant the examiners did get a small payrise, which they deserve.

PhD scientist said...

I'm sorry to be sarky, but in my experience over more than a decade (inc as Exams Officer for B.Sc. degrees) most of the complaints I've seen boiled down to "I didn't get a mark that was in keeping with my estimation of my own great ability"

... and the adjudicator doesn't have the power to change marks - only to comment on the fairness (or not) of Universities' procedures.

Seriously, most of the complaints I saw in the Science degrees were an utter joke, and should never even have got as far as even a full in-University investigation. I'm talking stuff like "they didn't ask the questions on the bits of the syllabus I had revised which was unfair". Really. The trouble with many complaints was that there was no downside to complaining, so it was hard not to take the view that a lot of people did it as a kind of insurance policy. And the only "cost" to the complainer was their time, or (much, much more often than you would think) their parents' time.

The Univs can't "counter-sue" for the cost of the time we /they spend looking into the complaints, notably the hours and hours that get wasted going through the records and documentation. So every time a Univ writes

"We have looked into the complaint, and there is nothing to it, for reasons X, Y and Z. However, if you are still unhappy, you can go to the next stage, which is..."

...the complainant will just go the next stage. I was even involved with one case that dragged on for years and went all the way to the Independent Adjudicator, even though it should have been strangled at birth... But the family were convinced their little treasure had been done down, all evidence (and there was a ton of it) to the contrary notwithstanding . Taking a case to the adjudicator, BTW, is even more expensive as it means the Univ instructing a high-priced lawyer. Anyway, if you wonder why the Univ library PCs are so shabby, or why the staff have no time, or why they are sometimes cynical about the students complaints...

The medical student complaints will, I predict, all be from people who were slung off the courses for multiple exam failures.. which marks, or verdicts, they will be contesting by saying they were "unfair" for various reasons.

Given the old joke about "What do you call the person who graduated last in his class at medical school?" (Ans: "Doctor") I have rather little sympathy for people who get booted for failing exams twice or even three times. I have never heard one of these folk admit that they failed because they weren't up to it. Never their fault etc etc.

Sorry to sound unsympathetic, but I think there is a whole culture of "it wasn't my fault, it was unfair!" going around these days, including in med schools. For every case where there might have been something a bit off (like your much-discussed O&G OSCE, perhaps) I predict there will be ten where the real basis is the complaining student's inability to admit that they might not have been good enough.

Phew. Rant over.

the little medic said...

PHD Scientist - It doesn't surprise me that most of the complaitns are about exams/grades. Its a good job my main complaint has absolutely nothing to do with exams or grades. As unfair as I think my O+G osce was, I wouldn't take it any further than I already have. I've got closure on that topic, and I even if I wanted to take it further, like you say, the independent body would have no say anyway.

I do think the main complaint I have, (albeit a little late now) is worthy of taking to this independent body. Had I known about it, I'd have done it 2 years ago. Perhaps its too late now, but I think its important, not only for me but potentially hundreds of other students who have been and will be screwed over in the same way. The last time I brought this up all I asked for was an apology and all I got was a direct threat.

PhD scientist said...

Complaints about "the way things are done" stuff, and that potentially affect a lot of people, will get much further (usually) taken to year reps for raising at Staff-Student Liason Committes. In these days of course being inspected by TQA, the GMC, and so on, Univs take these Cttes quite seriously, so stuff coming from there gets looked into very carefully.

I am surprised if you didn't get at least a considered response, though, LM, if you raised something formally.

dr_dyb said...

PhD Scientist, most Uni';s vet who is allowed to see the GMC team, emails are sent to selected groups of students and they are asked to meet with the GMC team.

Mature students are normally missed out because they have experience of either a) other Uni courses or b) workplaces and thus realise how badly organised, inefficient and un-customer focussed most medical schools are!

PhD scientist said...

Dr Dyb:

I am sure they are careful about who sees the GMC people; but the visit itself is not the whole assessment, and the "on the day" stuff isn't as critical as people make it out - Univ visits and validations aren't like school OFSTED inspections, although many people think they are. There is lots of important rummaging through paper trails behind the scenes, when the inspectors ask "can we see all the documents relating to your Staff-student Ctte" or "How is your curriculum under ongoing review? Can we see the evidence?"

That was what I really meant about the in-house Cttes and why you get further going through them. The Univs know that stuff aired there will potentially get seen by outsiders, so they want to be seen to be looking at it seriously and "closing the loop" (in admin jargon).

As a general comment from inside the system, Univs are mostly about as customer-friendly as they have enough money to be... given that handling the "customers" is time, and time is money. Although I have to say that Faculties of Medicine are relatively rich in terms of funding for teaching - certainly rich way beyond the dreams of science faculties - and thus might be expected to be capable of doing a better job than the blog-o-gossip suggests they do. But you do have to consider the time/cost element.

To give you a concrete example: in my Univ science faculty some years ago we found that more than 25% of ALL final year BSc students submitted some evidence "in mitigation". More than 25%! You can probably imagine all the time that had to go into wading through their submissions and supporting documents, then having a grand Ctte to decide on outcomes. At a fairly conservative estimate, the cost of just convening the committee to handle this would be several thousand pounds. The total cost of the whole process would be well into the tens of thousands. Another example, a single low-medium level admin person manning a desk to deal with student enquiries probably costs £ 50 K a year, when you factor in the overheads. An under-registrar to pursue "quality of student experience" or whatever costs nearer £ 100 K. In medicine, we complain about all the money spent on people to man desks and shuffle paper rather than on front-line services... but the main response to floods of complaints will inevitably be to employ a "complaints officer".

Coming back to students, in medical school, students who are excluded almost invariably appeal, triggering a long (and therefore expensive) process, and a few each year wish to appeal beyond the in-house process, including calling in M'Learned Friends. Again, you can imagine the cost.

For these sort of reasons - give 'em a mechanism and you get swamped, time is money and money is short - Univs tend to be relatively unsympathetic to one-off grumbles from individuals. Rightly or wrongly, there is a feeling that the system is groaning under the weight of often petty complaints. Though the analogy may not have anything to it, hospital doctors often make the same comment about the patients. So the standard response is to say "Do we have a Staff-Student Liason Ctte? And a Curriculum Board w student reps? Has anyone said anything about this there? No? Well if the complainant hasn't taken this there then they're just whingeing."

A well-argued complaint from a whole bunch of people together about something the department or Faculty is doing, expressed in a carefully-worded letter to the Dean and copied to the student yr rep to raise at the staff-student ctte, is a bit different. I have never known one of these not get looked into seriously and at least generate a considered official response.