New members - Higher Education Providers

Frequently Asked Questions (Last amended: 14/12/2015)

 

Question 1
Which providers have to join the OIA Scheme?

Answer

The Higher Education Act 2004 ("2004 Act") defines the providers - 'qualifying institutions' - that are required to be members of the OIA Scheme. At the outset, this was universities and some other higher education institutions. Subsequent amendments to the 2004 Act, made by the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, have extended membership of the OIA Scheme to a wider range of higher education providers including those providing courses which are designated for student support funding, providers which are registered on the Office for Students register and providers in England delivering higher education courses that lead to an award by another OIA member in England. Our membership now includes many FE colleges and Sixth-From colleges which provider higher education, alternative providers and providers of School-Centred Initial Teacher Training, as well as universities. 

Other types of provider may join the OIA Scheme voluntarily if they wish. Providers wishing to do so should contact membership@oiahe.org.uk in the first instance.

A list of providers who are members of the OIA Scheme is available on our website.


Question 2
Who can complain to the OIA?

Answer

Students and former students can complain to us about their higher education provider, if that provider is an OIA member. A student is someone who is or was registered at a higher education provider or who is or was studying for an award granted by the higher education provider.

Students can only complain about some providers (indicated on our list of members) if they are, or were, on a higher education course for our purposes. Broadly, this is relevant to providers which are not universities and became OIA members under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 or Higher Education and Research Act 2017 amendments to the Higher Education Act 2004.

You can read more about these requirements in the Guidance on the OIA Rules.


Question 3
Do providers have to pay anything to join the OIA Scheme?

Answer

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.


Question 4
How does a student complain to the OIA about a provider?

Answer

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.


Question 5
Does it cost students anything to make a complaint to the OIA?

Answer

No. There is no charge to students for complaining to the OIA.


Question 6
What complaints can the OIA look at?

Answer

We review complaints about anything a member provider has done or failed to do.

Examples of complaints we can look at include those relating to academic appeals, 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.


Question 7
Are there any complaints that the OIA cannot deal with?

Answer

Under our Rules, we cannot review a complaint about the academic judgment of a provider. 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. Our Guidance on the Rules includes further information about the kinds of decision we normally consider to be matters of academic or professional judgment and the areas that we think do not normally involve academic judgment.

In addition, we cannot review complaints about student employment matters or applications for admission, unless the person complaining is a former student of that provider applying for re-admission and the complaint is directly connected to their time as a student. We cannot review a complaint about something that has already been the subject of legal proceedings in a court of tribunal unless the proceedings have been put on hold. 


Question 8
Can the OIA consider complaints about events that took place before the provider became a member of the OIA Scheme?

Answer

We will not look at complaints which arose before the provider became a member of the OIA Scheme. Sometimes a student's complaint relates to events which occurred before and continued after the provider became a member. In those cases, the events which occurred before the provider became a member are likely to be relevant background which we will take into account when considering the complaint about events after the provider became a member.  


Question 9
What happens if a provider ceases to be a ‘qualifying institution’ for the OIA Scheme’s purposes, for example because it stops running higher education courses? Will its students still be able to complain to the OIA?

Answer

If a provider stops being a qualifying institution, for example because it stops delivering higher education courses, the provider will carry on being a member of the OIA for a period of 12 months after it stopped being a qualifying institution. 

During this 12 month period, the provider is known as a transitional institution and remains subject to the requirements of the OIA's Rules. However, we can only look at complaints about transitional institutions if the complaint relates to events that occurred before the provider became a transitional institution. 

More information is included in the Guidance on our Rules.


Question 10
Can a student appoint a representative to handle their complaint to the OIA?

Answer

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.


Question 11
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?

Answer

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.


Question 12
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?

Answer

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 Awarding Organisation, such as Pearson or City & Guilds which is not an OIA member.


Question 13
Which SCITTs have to join the OIA Scheme?

Answer

SCITTs which run initial teacher training 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.


Question 14
Once a SCITT has become a member of the OIA Scheme, which of its trainees does the OIA Scheme cover?

Answer

Once a SCITT is a member of the OIA Scheme, all of its initial teacher training 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.


Question 15
How does the OIA review complaints?

Answer

Firstly, we will decide whether the complaint is eligible for consideration under the rules of our Scheme. If we decide that a complaint is eligible, it will be allocated to a case-handler who will decide 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.

Students and providers can use MyOIA to track the progress of a complaint through the OIA. Providers will be given MyOIA login details which will enable them to track all the complaints that the OIA has received from their students.


Question 16
What can the OIA do about the complaint?

Answer

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 before the thing the provider did, or failed to do, 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.


Question 17
Does a provider have to comply with the OIA’s decision?

Answer

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.