Students who disagree with management decisions or who have a complaint about the behavior of employees at TU/e, can turn to TU/e’s digital complaints desk or directly to the student counselor team. Over the past six years, the numbers of complaints (relate to behavior), appeals (when you disagree with a decision made by an exam committee) and objections (relate to management decisions) that were filed with the Central Complaints Committee for students have increased significantly, we read in the 2020 annual report. The number of complaints, appeals and objections added together, show an increase of 29 to 85.
More and more outspoken students
There’s nothing especially remarkable about that number, says student counselor and complaints desk coordinator Patricia Veling. “Our student population has doubled during the past seven years, and to me it’s only logical that the number of objections, appeals and complaints grows as well. That’s a plausible explanation for this increase. Back when we had only twenty complaints a year, we were still a much smaller university. If we add the increased assertiveness and outspokenness of students, then we really don’t have that many complaints, I believe. We should be content with that. But we take each complaint seriously, that is why we have the complaints desk.”
Following the annual report, Groep-één asked in the U-council for more openness about the filed complaints. Currently, there is only an overview in figures that signals trends and developments. Until a few years ago, you could read long descriptions per complaint, but Management ESA abandoned this in part because of the General Data Protection Regulation law. What also plays a role is the fact that charts and figures are easier to read than long pieces of text. “You could compare our current way of monitoring to the use of a thermometer to measure per department whether there are any complaints,” Veling says. There are two sides to the signaling function, she believes: you can see whether the number of complaints increases or decreases over time, and the width shows whether a certain department stands out in terms of complaints. “The whole point is that the overview doesn’t provide detailed data, the complaints committee tries to guarantee the anonymity of the submitters.”
In her role as complaints desk coordinator, Veling – or a fellow student counsellor – transfers the received complaints and objections for processing, and she also handles the response. “I have a neutral role, what happens next with the contents of the complaints occurs outside my field of vision.”
Student councils asked for more openness to give direction to future policy. “But an annual report looks back instead, and doesn’t indicate a future policy,” Veling says.
Objections are filed mostly by internationals who were not admitted, or by students who were rejected because of decentralized selection. Most of the complaints related to TU/e facilities, such as exam organization, the number of study places on the campus, software licenses, access to the library, overloaded servers and technical problems with online exams.
In 2020, a total number of 23 objections, 43 appeals and 19 complaints were handled. Seven complaints were declared founded. These complaints related to exam organization, overloaded servers due to online teaching during the corona crisis, TU/e facilities such as the campus card, and access to the library. In total, five complaints related to ESA departments and another five to IMS.
Nine out of a total of 19 complaints were declared unfounded. These complaints related to study places on the campus, behavior of a teacher, participation in the Honors Academy and technical problems during online exams. ‘Remarkably, the Complaints facility received very few reports about technical problems with online exams,’ Veling writes in her report. ‘This can be explained by the fact that technical problems or unforeseen events during online exams could be reported within 24 hours to the exam committee responsible for the course. The exam committee would view the images of the exam and make a decision about the irregularities. This often led to a solution between the student and the exam committee and/or teacher with enough leniency, as a result of which it was no longer necessary to file a complaint.’
Of the three complaints that were declared neither founded nor unfounded, one was settled and one is still being processed. The third complaint was withdrawn by its submitter.