Which providers have to join the OIA Scheme?
The Higher Education Act 2004 required the appointment of an independent body to run a student complaints scheme in England and Wales and the OIA was designated to operate this scheme in 2005. From the outset, all universities in England and Wales were required to subscribe to the Scheme.
The Consumer Rights Act 2015 has since amended the Higher Education Act 2004 to make it a requirement for providers which have one or more courses designated to receive student support funding, and those providers with degree awarding powers, to become a member of the OIA Scheme. Once such providers are members, all of their higher education students have the right to bring a complaint to the OIA and not just those studying on courses designated for student support funding.
Other types of provider may join the OIA Scheme voluntarily if they wish. Providers wishing to do so should contact firstname.lastname@example.org in the first instance.
Which courses does the OIA Scheme cover?
Students studying at a provider which is a 'qualifying institution' under sub-sections (a), (b), (c) or (d) of section 11 of the Higher Education Act 2004 (broadly, this means members of the OIA Scheme which are universities), may complain to the OIA regardless of which course they are studying on.
Students studying at a provider which is a 'qualifying institution' under sub-sections (e) or (f) of section 11 of the Higher Education Act 2004 (broadly, this means non-universities which were brought into the OIA Scheme by the Consumer Rights Act 2015) may only complain to the OIA if they are studying on a higher education course. This is reflected in the OIA's Rules (see Rule 16.2). Please read the OIA's list of what constitutes a 'higher education' course for these purposes.
Do providers have to pay anything to join the OIA Scheme?
The OIA is an independent body which is entirely funded by its members through subscriptions related to the number of students and a smaller case-related element.
The subscription levels are determined by the OIA Board.
For further details of our subscription arrangements including the case-related element, please read our Subscription to the OIA page.
How does a student complain to the OIA about a provider?
Before a student can complain to the OIA, they must normally have first completed their provider’s internal complaints or appeals procedures. Once they have done so, the provider should issue a Completion of Procedures Letter. This letter should set out clearly the issues that have been considered, the provider’s final decision and the deadline for bringing a complaint to the OIA. Please read our Completion of Procedures Letter guidance for further information.
Once they have received a Completion of Procedures Letter the student needs to send us a completed and signed OIA Complaint Form. Under our Rules, we should receive this within 12 months from the date on which the provider gave notice to the student of its final decision on the matter, which will normally be the date of the Completion of Procedures letter.
In exceptional circumstances, we may look at a complaint where the internal complaints or appeals procedures have not been completed.
Does it cost students anything to make a complaint to the OIA?
No. There is no charge to students for complaining to the OIA.
What complaints can the OIA look at?
We review complaints about acts and omissions of member providers.
Examples of complaints we can look at include those relating to teaching provision and facilities, accommodation, research supervision, discrimination (although we do not make findings of discrimination in the same way as a court would), bullying and harassment, disciplinary matters and fitness to practise issues. This list is not exhaustive and the ‘Complaints Wizard’ on our website will help students, and providers, to determine whether a complaint is one that we can look at.
If the student is studying at one provider (the ‘delivery provider’) for an award which is conferred by another provider (the ‘awarding provider’), they may be able to bring a complaint to the OIA about both the delivery provider and the awarding provider, assuming that they are both members of the OIA Scheme. We have published a section of the Good Practice Framework setting out some further guidance on handling complaints and academic appeals in the context of delivering learning opportunities with others.
Are there any complaints that the OIA cannot deal with?
Under our Rules, we cannot consider a complaint to the extent that it relates to academic judgment. Furthermore, we will not normally consider a complaint to the extent that it relates to professional judgment. For example, a decision on whether a student is fit to practise in a particular profession is likely to include an element of academic and/or professional judgment.
In addition, we cannot look at complaints about: (i) admissions issues; (ii) student employment matters; (iii) matters which we consider do not materially affect the complainant as a student; or (iv) matters which have already been considered by a Court or Tribunal or which are currently being considered by a Court or Tribunal and those proceedings have not been formally ‘stayed’.
We may decline to accept a complaint where we consider that the substantive events complained about occurred more than three years before we receive the Complaint Form if we consider that to accept the complaint would seriously impair the effective operation of the OIA Scheme.
Can the OIA consider complaints about events that took place before the provider became a member of the OIA Scheme?
We will not consider a complaint about a provider where we consider that the substantive events complained about occurred before that provider became a member of the OIA Scheme unless, in our opinion, the event(s) complained about formed part of a course of conduct which continued after the provider joined the Scheme.
What happens if a provider ceases to be eligible to be a member of the OIA Scheme, for example because it is an alternative provider whose courses have been de-designated for student support funding? Will its students still be able to complain to the OIA?
Some providers have become members of the OIA Scheme because they offer courses which are designated for student support funding. If the provider stops offering those courses, they will no longer be ‘qualifying institutions’ for the purposes of the Higher Education Act 2004, as amended, and so will cease to be members of the OIA Scheme. Under our Rules, any member which ceases to be a 'qualifying institution' will continue to be a member of the OIA Scheme for a period of 12 months after it ceases to be a ‘qualifying institution’ in respect of acts or omissions that occured during the academic year in which it ceased to be a 'qualifying institution'. This will give eligible students an opportunity to bring a complaint about events that occurred in the academic year in which the provider ceased to be a 'qualifying institution'.
In addition, under our Rules, where a provider ceases to belong to the OIA Scheme, it will still be required to comply with the OIA’s request for information, and with any recommendations the OIA makes, in relation to complaints which were submitted to the OIA while the provider was a member.
Can a student appoint a representative to handle their complaint to the OIA?
It is usual for students to handle their own complaints to the OIA. However, a student may appoint a representative e.g. a member of the students’ representative body, a friend, or family member, provided they give us written authority in the OIA Complaint Form.
Our procedures are informal and a student should not need to have a legal representative. For this reason, we will not normally recommend compensation in respect of legal costs even if the case is found to be Justified.
What happens where more than one provider is involved in the provision of the higher education learning opportunity, for example where the student is studying at one provider for a qualification awarded by another provider?
What happens when a student is studying at a member provider for a qualification which is awarded by an Awarding Organisation which is not a member of the OIA Scheme?
Some of the courses on the OIA's list of higher education courses, and some other courses at universities, lead to qualifications which are awarded by Ofqual-regulated Awarding Organisations. Each Awarding Organisation has responsibility for the overall quality and standards of the qualifications that it awards and has some responsibility for considering complaints from students on courses leading to its qualifications. Awarding Organisations are not required to join the OIA Scheme although they may join voluntarily as 'Non-Qualifying Institutions'.
We have published a section of the Good Practice Framework setting out some guidance on handling complaints and academic appeals in the context of delivering learning opportunities with others, including where the award is granted by an Ofqual-regulated Awarding Organisation.
Which SCITTs have to join the OIA Scheme?
SCITTs which run ITT courses that have been designated to receive student support funding from the Student Loans Company (‘SLC’), are required to join the OIA Scheme. In practice, this means that SCITTs which run provider-led and/or School Direct (tuition fee) courses must now join the OIA Scheme.
SCITTs which run School Direct (salaried) courses only, will not join the OIA Scheme since School Direct (Salaried) trainees are not eligible for student support funding from the SLC. However, see Question 14 below.
Further guidance for our SCITT members, including our approach to handling complaints where SCITT trainees are offered the option of studying for a PGCE/master's credits awarded by another provider, can be found on our website.
Once a SCITT has become a member of the OIA Scheme, which of its ITT trainees does the OIA Scheme cover?
Once a SCITT is a member of the OIA Scheme, all of its ITT trainees – including any on School Direct (salaried) courses and 'assessment only' trainees– will be covered by the OIA Scheme.
Further guidance for our SCITT members, including on our approach to handling complaints where SCITT trainees are offered the option of studying for a PGCE/master's credits awarded by another provider, can be found on our website.
How does the OIA review complaints?
Firstly, we will determine whether the complaint is eligible for consideration under the rules of our Scheme. If we determine that a complaint is eligible, it will be allocated to a case-handler who will determine how to proceed. For example, the case-handler may try to settle the complaint between the parties or may decide that further information is required from the student and/or the provider before we can progress our review.
We operate a transparent Scheme and all information received from a party will be copied to the other party. We will usually disregard any material which a party indicates is confidential and does not want us to share with the other party.
The purpose of the OIA’s review is to decide whether a complaint is Justified, Partly Justified, or Not Justified. In deciding whether a complaint is Justified, we consider whether the provider applied its regulations properly and followed its own procedures correctly. We also consider whether any decision made by the provider was reasonable in all the circumstances. The OIA is a review body and will not normally investigate matters afresh.
Our reviews are usually paper-based and we do not usually consider it to be necessary to hold oral hearings. Our written decisions on a complaint are called Complaint Outcomes.
Our website includes a ‘Complaints Tracker’ which enables the parties to track the progress of a complaint through the OIA. Member providers will be given a tracker code which will enable them to track all of the complaints that the OIA has received from their students.
What can the OIA do about the complaint?
We decide whether a complaint is Justified, Partly Justified or Not Justified.
If we conclude that a complaint is Justified or Partly Justified, we may make Recommendations. For example, we may require the provider to:
(i) reconsider the student’s appeal/complaint;
(ii) review or change its procedures or regulations; or
(iii) review or change the way in which it handles appeals and/or complaints.
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 financial compensation or some other remedy. We are not a regulator and we cannot punish or fine providers.
The parties will be given an opportunity to comment upon the practicalities of any proposed Recommendations.
Further details of the OIA’s remedies can be found at http://www.oiahe.org.uk/media/42902/oia_remedies_and_redress_leaflet.pdf
If we conclude that a complaint is Not Justified, we may still make good practice suggestions and/or observations for the provider to consider.
Does a provider have to comply with the OIA’s decision?
Providers are expected to comply with OIA decisions and any Recommendations in full. We consider non-compliance to be a very serious matter which will be reported to our Board and publicised in our Annual Report. To date we have had only three incidents of non-compliance which have been reported in our Annual Report.