Using the Scheme


This section provides a brief overview of our work for students, students' unions and higher education providers.

It is not intended to be a full guide to the Scheme. For more information please read our Rules and our Guidance on the Rules. Please note that our Rules take precedence over other documents and the content on the website.

The OIA provides an independent Scheme which reviews student complaints against providers. This also includes academic appeals.

The Scheme covers all Member Higher Education Providers in England and Wales.

The Scheme is free for students to use.

The OIA deals with complaints from individual students and groups of students. Where we find complaints to be Justified or Partly Justified we may make Recommendations to the provider.

The Casework Quality Group (CQG) monitors the consistency and quality of the OIA's review and decisions. The Group meets regularly and is made up of the Managers of the Assessment and Resolution Team and Adjudication Team and the Independent Adjudicator.

The CQG's purpose is to ensure that the OIA produces consistent and reasonable decisions, which provide a fair, balanced and proportionate response to the complaint. The key aims of the CQG are to ensure that the OIA's processes operate fairly and consistently, that there is a consistency in OIA decisions, and that there are mechanisms for capturing key information for external and internal communication.

We also publish good practice guidance for the higher education sector.

We treat users of the Scheme fairly and with respect.

Who can complain?

Students can complain to the OIA if they are or were registered at a higher education provider on our list.

In some cases two or more different providers may be involved in a student’s complaint. You can find more information on our collaborative provision page.

What can a student complain about?

We can review a wide range of complaints by students about any act or omission of a provider on our list.

Examples of complaints we can look at include:

  • Academic appeals
  • Extenuating circumstances
  • Teaching and facilities
  • Student accommodation
  • Research supervision
  • Welfare
  • Discrimination - race, sex, disability, age, sexual orientation or religious belief
  • Bullying and harassment
  • Placements
  • Maladministration
  • Procedural irregularities
  • Unfair practices
  • Disciplinary matters, including plagiarism
  • Fitness to practise issues.

What can't the OIA look at?

Examples of complaints we cannot look at include:

  • Admissions
  • Academic judgment
  • Student employment
  • Matters which have already been considered by a court or tribunal and where the proceedings have been concluded
  • Matters which are being considered by a court or tribunal where the proceedings have not been
  • Matters which we consider have not materially affected the complainant as a student
  • Matters which were previously considered by another ADR entity
  • We will not normally look at complaints where the main issues complained about took place more than three years before the complaint is received by the OIA

If you are unsure whether we can look at your complaint, please contact us.

Our Approach

We prefer a provider to have the opportunity to put matters right itself. This is why we normally expect students to complete the internal complaints or appeals procedures of the provider before coming to the OIA. However if the student remains dissatisfied with the provider’s final response they can bring their complaint to the OIA.

The OIA is a review body. This means we will consider how the provider dealt with your complaint/appeal and its final decision. The focus of our review will be what happened before the Completion of Procedures Letter was issued. Our Scheme is separate from the providers; it is not a further appeal to your higher education provider. Our role is principally to consider whether the provider has correctly applied its regulations and followed its procedures and whether the outcome was reasonable in all the circumstances.

Our procedures are informal. The Scheme is open and transparent, so both the student and the provider see all relevant information. However, we are committed to treating personal data in accordance with our Data Protection Policy.

Where possible we will communicate with both parties by e-mail.

We are not like a court and we do not normally need to hold hearings.

Making a complaint to the OIA

Normally a student must first complete the internal complaints or appeals procedures of the provider. The provider should then promptly issue a Completion of Procedures Letter to the student.

If the student is not satisfied with the provider’s final decision, they should send a completed Complaint Form to the OIA. This must be received by the OIA within the deadline:

  • We must receive your Complaint Form within 12 months of the date of the Completion of Procedures Letter; otherwise we will consider the complaint to be out of time. For example, if the Completion of Procedures Letter is dated 7 January, we should receive the Complaint Form by 7 January the following year.

In exceptional circumstances, we may look at a complaint where the internal complaints or appeals procedures have not been completed.

For further information see 'How to make to a complaint'.

What happens next?

Complaints Process

We will acknowledge receipt of the Complaint Form.

When we receive your form we first check to see if your complaint is something we can deal with and has been received within the timescales set out in our Rules.

The complaint is allocated to a case-handler who will contact both parties. The case handler will confirm whether the complaint is eligible or not. If the complaint is not eligible we will inform both parties, and explain why. If the complaint is eligible under our Rules, we will then look at the merits of the case.

We will normally send a copy of the Complaint Form and the information provided by the student to the provider.

The case-handler might

  • Try to settle or mediate the complaint
  • Ask the provider for its comments on the complaint
  • Ask the provider or the student for more information
  • Issue a Complaint Outcome in respect of the complaint
  • Contact the student to discuss their complaint and whether their desired outcome is achievable
  • Send the student information to comment on.

Comments made and documents submitted by either the provider or the student during our review will be sent to the other party. Exceptionally we may accept information confidentially, for example where the student or the provider request this with good reason, or we may return information to the party who submitted it.

We will continue to look for early resolution and settlement opportunities in all cases.

Once the OIA has all the relevant information, the case-handler will write to you and the provider to say that the file is complete. We will normally complete our review within 90 days of receiving the complete complaint file. If we consider that the complaint is highly complex then this may take longer.

It is not always possible to provide a quick fix solution and some eligible complaints may take six months or longer to conclude if the information needed takes a long time to collect or the case is highly complex.

Each case is considered individually and the way we deal with the complaint is at the discretion of the case-handler.

When the case-handler is satisfied that he or she has all the information necessary, they will issue a Complaint Outcome.

The Complaint Outcome may be Justified, Partly Justified or Not Justified.

If we find the complaint to be Justified or Partly Justified, we may make Recommendations to the provider. In these cases, both parties will then have the opportunity to comment on the practicality of the Recommendations set out in the Complaint Outcome before it is finalised.

If we find the complaint to be Justified or Partly Justified or Not Justified, we may also make Suggestions, Observations or comments on good practice.

For examples of previous decisions we have made please see our recent decisions.

Examples of recommendations

We may recommend:

  • that the provider looks at a matter again because it did not follow its procedures
  • that the complaint should be looked at by another body (for example, the Information Commissioner’s Office)
  • that the provider should offer to pay the student compensation (for example, for inconvenience and delay)
  • that the provider should do something that we consider to be fair in the circumstances (for example, to consider what adjustments it should make for a disability)
  • that the provider changes the way it handles appeals and / or complaints
  • that the provider should review or change its procedures or regulations
  • that the provider should apologise for mistakes it has made or for acting unfairly.

We normally try to put the student back in the position they would have been in, had the act or omission by the provider not occurred. However this may not always be possible or appropriate and in such cases we may award compensation, or some other remedy.

We would not normally require the provider to change a mark or a degree classification. This is because we cannot interfere with the provider’s academic judgment. We may refer the matter back to the provider to be looked at again.

We would not normally require an individual to offer an apology or for the provider to discipline an individual. This is because we are looking at what the provider has done wrong rather than what an individual has done. We can recommend that the provider refers staff for training or that the provider should apologise.

It is outside our remit to monitor or regulate providers. We cannot punish or fine them.

What happens after the Final Complaint Outcome is issued?

We close the case. We expect providers to comply with our Recommendations on Justified and Partly Justified cases fully and within the timescale we give. This may include making an offer to a student.

OIA recommendations are not binding on students, who can reject any offer made by the provider, and pursue any other available remedy. If the student accepts the provider’s offer, then he or she will not be able to take the complaint further. We cannot give advice to students on any further action they might be able to take because we must remain independent. The students' union may be able to offer further assistance.

We follow up compliance with our Recommendations where these have been made. Non-compliance is considered to be a serious matter and is reported to the Board and published in our Annual Report.

We encourage providers to take note of our Suggestions, Observations and good practice points. However, if a provider does not follow these, that does not mean that it has failed to comply with our Decision.

There is no right of appeal to the OIA against its Complaint Outcomes. Our decisions are subject to Judicial Review.

What happens when my complaint is closed?

The OIA closes the complaint when we issue the Complaint Outcome or, if we have made Recommendations, when those Recommendations are finalised. The complaint will also be closed if the complaint is settled or withdrawn before the end of the review process. A student may withdraw his or her complaint at any time.

Do I have to accept the OIA’s decision?

Students do not have to accept our decisions or any Recommendations we make. We may reopen our review if we decide that there is good reason to do so. We will only do this if new evidence is submitted to us which could not have been obtained at an earlier stage, or we find that there is an error in the Complaint Outcome which would make a difference to our decision.

Providers normally comply with our Recommendations by making an offer “in full and final settlement of the complaint”. This means that, if you accept the offer, you would not be able to take Court proceedings against the provider about the same issues.

If you do not accept the OIA’s decision or Recommendations, the fact that the OIA has reviewed your complaint does not prevent you from seeking redress through Court proceedings. We cannot advise you as to any alternative action you may be able to take.

Complaints about our service

Whatever the outcome of your case, we hope that you will be satisfied with the level of service we provide. However, if you have any concerns, please refer to our 'Complaints about our service' page for further information.