Background and role

The Ombudsperson Institutions are present in most countries of the world, with the overall task of promoting and defending Human Rights. They are created by the legislative bodies of national, provincial or local governments, and act in relation to the administrations addressing possible violations of human rights, by omission or through concrete actions. Their mandates include to receive, analyse and respond to complaints and demands from citizens; do research to understand the specific situations and their possible causes, to present suggestions and recommendations to the government, among others.

In a growing number of countries University Ombudspersons have been established (“Spain, Germany, France, Switzerland, Portugal, Austria, UK, The Netherlands, Italy, Belgium, Sweden, etc., and in most countries of the American continent such as Canada, United States, Mexico, Panama, Colombia, Brazil and Argentina among others”)1. These specific Ombudsinstitutions act in a similar way, listening to the problems presented by the University communities (students, lecturers, administrative staff, partners) and they can request further information, prepare reports, make suggestions and recommendations to the authorities and others.

The Ombudsperson also plays a mediation role, trying to prevent or help to transform conflicts, by engaging with the different parts involved, enabling processes of dialogue, training the concerned parties in peaceful methods, and promoting a culture of cooperation.

In the case of WEGO-ITN, although it is not placed in one particular university as tends to be the case for University Ombudspersons, WEGO-ITN can be understood as largely a university based research community that interacts internally. WEGO-ITN is made up of beneficiaries, partners and PhDs. The beneficiaries are the university institutions where the PhDs are based and receive their degrees, partners are where PhDs undertake their secondment and research locations.

Members of WEGO-ITN are encouraged to foster collaborative rather than competitive ways of working. WEGO-ITN encounters situations that could be well addressed by a WEGO-ITN Ombudsperson. Peoples’ attitude and behaviour within the network can sometimes lead to conflict that might impact in the work and conviviality within the network. The Coordinator and WEGO-ITN Ethics Advisory Board (EAB) has therefore proposed to appoint a WEGO-ITN Ombudsperson.

Some of the issues identified by the EAB where the Ombudsperson could play a role are:

  • Facilitate a participatory process to develop a protocol for the WEGO-ITN setting out the basic principles on non-discrimination, gender equality, confidentiality, dealing with bullying, sexual harassment and other situations.
  • To clarify to all members of the WEGO-ITN the common values and principles, and to provide possible ways to address arising difficulties.
  • To support the work of the WEGO-ITN by addressing the issues that emerge among beneficiaries, partners and PhDs providing advice in relation to complications and conflicts that might occur with mentor(s), supervision,  personal conflict, etc. This could happen at the network level and at the university level.
  • To respond to approaches by the members of the network to assist in dealing with conflicts when the need arises.
  • Undertake or facilitate processes of training in this area (in particular on community mediation).
  • Report to the EAB.

1. Argimiro Rojo Salgado (University Ombudsperson at the University of Vigo, Galicia, Spain): “Reflections and Proposals on Creating a Worldwide Network of University Ombudsmen. What to do with ENOHE [European Network of Ombudsmen in Higher Education]?”, 10th Annual ENOHE Conference (Oxford, UK, 11 – 13 April 2013), pp. 3-4,