Universities have been told to pay students more than £250,000 in compensation after the number of complaints over grades and courses soared, a report showed yesterday.

One in three complaints from students were found to be justified or were settled by universities, the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education said.

In 2005 the OIA received over 350 eligible complaints, double the number for 2004, and recommended universities pay out a total of £260,000 in compensation.

The OIA, which has been operating for about two years to rule on complaints from students about their courses, said many students now had a better idea of what to do if they were unhappy.

Undergraduates have become increasingly keen to make sure they get value for the tuition fees they pay for courses.

From this autumn, fee levels for English students will more than double at the vast majority of universities, to £3,000 a year.

Aston University received 34 complaints during the 2003-2004 academic year and 28 during 2004-2005 and paid out "minor amounts" on one occasion each year.

John Walter, academic registrar at Aston University, said: "The university feels that the expectations of home undergraduates students are likely to rise in view of the fact that they will be paying £3,000 tuition fees per annum from 2006/7. The university intends to invest a considerable proportion of the increased tuition fees in improving facilities and services, which should enhance the student experience and help to mini-mise complaints."

A spokesman for Warwick University, which has not paid out any compensation so far, said they expected students to expect value for money.

"Across the sector we are expecting students to be more like consumers than they have been," he said.

"Universities like Warwick continue to be among the best providers of higher education and in order to do this we continue to react to developments in market and watch them closely."

The OIA said many universities handled student complaints "competently".

But there were some that did not appear to understand their legal obligations and others which failed to deal with complaints from students "fairly".

The largest number of complaints the adjudicator received were over academic appeals, assessments and grades, for example where a university has failed to provide lectures and a student complains that their marks are poor as a result.

The OIA also warned that students who employed lawyers in a dispute with a university were less likely to find their case resolved quickly.

Earlier this year Oxford University announced plans to get students to sign contracts promising they would work hard.

The move was prompted by concerns that undergraduates paying increased tuition fees would be more likely to sue if they got poor results.

But the contract idea was criticised by Midland universities who said they would be difficult to enforce.

Four years ago the University of Wolverhampton paid £30,000 in an out-of-court settlement to a student who claimed breach of contract. He claimed lecture halls were overcrowded and assignments contained grammatical errors.