FAQS - Frequently Asked Questions


Frequently Asked Questions:


What is an ombudsperson?

The first ombudsman was appointed by the Parliament of Sweden in 1809. The word 'ombudsman' meant 'citizen's defender'. It was the job of the ombudsman to protect individual citizens against the excesses of bureaucracy, and this root meaning continues today in public sector ombudsman offices.

A college or university ombudsperson

  • investigates complaints of unfair treatment in an impartial and objective manner
  • is concerned with the rights of every person to be treated fairly
  • has the power to recommend solutions when complaints are well-founded
  • when complaints are unfounded, explains why
  • acts as a source of information and advice on rules and procedures
  • helps to identify systemic problems and weaknesses in institutional policy and practice

Why should an educational institution have an ombuds office?

  • it conveys the institutions commitment to being fair.
  • it promotes a constructive approach to conflict resolution.
  • it helps avoid long and costly litigation
  • it helps formal processes run more smoothly
  • it provides a user-friendly source of information about policies, rights and avenues of redress
  • it helps identify policy weaknesses and gaps in the system

How many college and university offices are there in Canada?

There are currently 41 members of ACCUO, representing 25 universities and 8 colleges.


What qualifications do you need to be an ombudsperson?

Members of ACCUO come from a variety of backgrounds - law, social work, academic disciplines, student services and other areas, too. At this point in time, there is no standard qualification to be an ombudsperson. However, certain skills are essential: ombudspersons are good listeners, have excellent analytical skills, and a keen sense of fairness.


What is the most common problem that ombudpersons handle?

The mix of cases varies somewhat from institution to institution. These differences reflect differences in the mandates at different institutions - some ombudspersons deal with landlord/tenant problems, or sexual harassment, or with staff and faculty problems as well as student issues. A survey of members conducted in spring 1996 revealed that complaints about teaching or course management and cases involving academic appeals were the most common for most practitioners in Canadian educational institutions.


How is an ombudsperson different from a lawyer?

  • An ombudsperson is an impartial party, not an advocate.
  • Typically an ombudsperson works with institutional policies and procedures, rather than the law.
  • There is no fee for using the services of an ombudsperson in a college or university.
  • While some ombudspersons may have legal training, this is not a requirement of the job, and even the ombudsperson with legal training refrains from acting as a lawyer and giving legal advice when acting as an ombudsperson.

Is an ombudsperson the same as a mediator?

No. Some ombudspersons have qualified as mediators through training programs, and mediation may be an approach to problem solving adopted by the individual practitioner in some cases. But while a mediator typically remains neutral throughout the mediation process in order to facilitate agreement between the parties, an ombudsperson is impartial at the outset but may come to a conclusion on the merits of a case following an investigation.