Recent Decisions of the OIA

Case Studies

We review each complaint individually on its own merit. Any similarity between complaints does not mean that our Decision, or any Recommendations we may make, will be the same.

You can find cases published about the way named providers have handled student complaints, when it is in the public interest, on our dedicated public interest cases page.

You can also find older case studies on our archived case studies page.


Student Mental Health - Case Study 1

An LLB student had been diagnosed with depression, general anxiety disorder, social anxiety which prevented her from leaving her house. One of the adjustments recommended in her support plan was the use of a note-taker in workshops. The Provider initially refused the student’s request for a note-taker to attend workshops in her absence. It stated that attendance was key to the learning on the programme. Instead it offered the student access to an online programme starting the following academic year. The student appealed this decision as she did not want to pursue the online programme. The appeal was rejected. The panel noted that the participatory nature of the workshop sessions meant that attendance was necessary and felt that a note-taker could not provide useful notes from the session, the effectiveness of which was dependant on the students’ participation. The Provider was concerned about the impact a note-taker would have on the student’s engagement with the course and the impact on possible outcomes of assessments. The student complained to the OIA.

We concluded that this decision was not reasonable. The evidence did not suggest that the Provider properly considered its obligations under the Equality Act, in particular whether the attendance requirement placed the student at a substantial disadvantage because of her disability and, if so, what could be done to prevent the disadvantage. Further, we were not persuaded that the documentation showed that the Provider considered or established whether attendance at a workshop was a competence standard.

Outcome: Justified

Recommendations: We recommended the Provider offer to reconsider the appeal.

The Provider accepted that alternative provision should have been considered. It proposed an alternative remedy and offered a technological solution (iPad FaceTime) in order to allow the student to attend virtually when unwell. A note taker would be allowed to attend and take additional notes and manage the iPad. The student accepted the offer.

Student Mental Health - Case Study 2

A postgraduate student had been diagnosed with anxiety, low mood and sleeping difficulties after he failed assessments during his first year. The Provider was made aware of the diagnosis. He progressed to level two of the programme and after a few months the Provider wrote to the student about his lack of engagement. Text messages and telephone calls were also made in an attempt to get in touch. Eventually, the Provider sent a notice of withdrawal due to lack of engagement and academic progress. The student appealed.  The Provider upheld the appeal and the student was allowed to re-enter level two on medical grounds.

The student also complained to the Provider that it had failed in its duty of care during level two. The complaint was not upheld and the student came to the OIA. He said that inadequate support led to him having to repeat level two of the programme and that if the Provider communicated its concerns about poor attendance with his family, permission to do so having already been given, then he would have received the support he needed.

We concluded the decision was reasonable. While permission had previously been given for the Provider to liaise with a family representative about an earlier matter, it would have been inappropriate to contact the family member the following academic year about this matter. The student had not engaged with the support services that had been suggested and the Provider was unable to assess his needs or what support to put in place. We were satisfied the Provider made numerous attempts to contact the student and the tone and content of the communication was supportive while making it clear that he was at risk of being withdrawn.

Outcome: Not Justified

Student Mental Health - Case Study 3

A medical student complained to the OIA after the Provider dismissed her academic appeal. The Provider concluded that she needed to repeat Year 4 because she had not satisfied the progression requirements. Soon after this decision the student was diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. A psychiatric report stated that her condition was likely to have impaired her academic performance and engagement with the programme.

The student appealed the Provider’s decision and submitted a copy of the psychiatric report. She said she had not been able to disclose her disability because it was undiagnosed and her recent diagnosis had not been taken into account in relation to the assessments. The Provider decided that it was not possible to retrospectively apply the psychiatric report to assessments that the student had already completed.

We concluded that it was reasonable for the Provider to require students to satisfy the necessary conditions for progression before proceeding to the next stage of the programme. Repeating the year was the only way to demonstrate that the student could meet the requirements for progression to Year 5. However, we were concerned that the Provider had not given detailed consideration to the evidence provided. The Provider had taken a blanket approach by rejecting the evidence as retrospective without properly considering all of the relevant circumstances of the student’s particular case. The Provider could have asked itself whether the student’s diagnosis amounted to a new and previously unsuspected condition that might have affected her performance.

Outcome: Partly Justified

Recommendations: We recommended the Provider consider the student’s medical evidence and whether or not the circumstances might have impacted her performance. If it decided the circumstances might have affected her performance the Provider should consider the terms of the student’s repeat year, including whether it should be treated as a first attempt and whether or not it should be subject to tuition fees.

Student Mental Health - Case Study 4

Concerns were raised that a student’s behaviour posed a possible risk to himself and others. A Mental Health Adviser met with the student and his family and he was referred for an assessment by the Provider’s Occupational Health Doctor. In the interim the Provider temporarily suspended the student and excluded him from campus for an initial period of four months. The student appealed this decision on the basis of procedural irregularity. He also said the decision was unreasonable/disproportionate. The Provider rejected the appeal concluding that he had not established grounds. The student brought a complaint to the OIA.

New medical evidence was obtained before we began our review and the student asked the Provider to reconsider his suspension. Based on this evidence the Provider agreed that the student was fit and able to return to his studies. Although the suspension was lifted, the student wanted to pursue his complaint against the Provider because he believed its decision was unreasonable in the first place, particularly as he had not been diagnosed with any mental heath illness at the time.

We concluded that although new evidence had been provided that confirmed the student was not suffering from any mental health illness, the decision to suspend him had been taken on account of his behaviour at the time. The student had acknowledged that his behaviour during the previous term had been disruptive. The Provider had an obligation to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all staff and students, as well as the effective running of its academic Programmes. We were satisfied the Provider had followed its procedures and the final decision was reasonable.

Outcome: Not Justified

Student Mental Health - Case Study 5

The student, who had been diagnosed with Bipolar Affective Disorder, was pursuing a Doctorate which involved a practical element of assessment. After a few periods of absence and an extension to her registration period the student was warned that no further sustained absences could be supported.

She started a placement but then temporarily withdrew from the course. As she had only completed 50% of the programme requirements and could not meet the registration deadline she was terminated from the course. The Provider considered the student’s complaint about an earlier placement, funding, extensions and disability support. The Provider was satisfied it had acted in line with procedures and the student was unable to meet the registration deadline. It did acknowledge that signposting to support services could have been better. A complaint was received by the OIA.

We were satisfied that issues around the placement had been dealt with swiftly and any delay in securing a placement was beyond the control of either of the parties. We were satisfied the Provider was aware of the student’s disability and personal circumstances and had acted in a supportive manner and had made adjustments to accommodate these circumstances. The decision to terminate the student’s enrolment was reasonable. However we also concluded that the student should have been signposted to the Provider’s support services, in order to assess whether additional adjustments/support could have been offered. We were concerned that the Provider did not consider the impact the lack of signposting may or may not have had and whether a remedy should have been offered.

Outcome: Partly Justified

Recommendations: We recommended that the Provider apologise to the student and offer her compensation for distress and inconvenience in the amount of £1000.00. We also recommended that the Provider

offer to meet with the student to explore the options that would be available to her for future study at the Provider.

Settlement - Case Study 1

The student completed a two-year Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), and registered for a “top-up” year at the same Provider to convert her GDL into an LLB degree. She completed the top-up year and was awarded an unclassified degree. She submitted a complaint about her result to the Provider, but was informed that it did not classify the degrees of those who achieved the LLB via the top-up route. The student complained to the OIA. She said she had not been informed that her degree would not be classified. If she had known this in advance she would have studied elsewhere.

We had concerns with the way in which the information about the classification of the LLB degree was publicised. These concerns were informed by the Competition and Markets Authority’s 2015 guidance to Higher Education Providers about their obligations under consumer protection law. The Provider offered nine different routes to obtaining the LLB, all of which were classified apart from the GDL top-up. It did not look as if the Provider had drawn students’ attention to this difference in regulations, or that information about it was easily accessible.

We discussed our concerns with the Provider and it offered to reconsider the student’s marks profile and to classify her degree according to the same regulations used for its other LLB programmes. The student accepted the offer and was subsequently awarded a first-class degree.

Settlement - Case Study 2

The student was studying for a BSc in Economics. Her father had suffered severe ill-health throughout all three years of her degree, which affected her academic performance. The student made several applications for extenuating circumstances throughout her first and second years, which were approved, and her lowest-scoring modules were discounted.

After completing the course she appealed against her degree classification on the grounds that her academic performance was affected by extenuating circumstances. She also stated that the Provider’s staff had advised her that no further mitigation could be applied in her case, which was why she had not submitted extenuating circumstances during her third year. The Provider rejected the appeal because the student had not reported her extenuating circumstances at the appropriate time. She complained to the OIA.

We sent copies of the documents to the Provider and asked for comments. The Provider contacted us to say that it had identified a procedural error. The Provider said that when it originally considered the student’s appeal it did not address her allegation that she had been given incorrect advice. In order to remedy this error, the Provider offered to reconsider the appeal. The student accepted the offer.

Settlement - Case Study 3

The student withdrew from his course nine weeks after enrolling and lodged a complaint. He withdrew because he had not been contacted by disability services and felt unable to cope without reasonable adjustments in place. The Provider did not uphold the complaint. The delay providing adjustments was caused by a communication problem (it had a misspelt e-mail address on file for the student). Despite this the Provider made a goodwill offer to waive all costs associated with the first year, including tuition fees and accommodation, provided that the student recommenced his studies the following academic year. The student did not wish to return to the course as he was too unwell. He complained to the OIA.

We were concerned that the Provider did not appear to have considered its duties towards students with disabilities when reaching a decision on this complaint. We thought that the Provider had not acted swiftly following the student’s withdrawal, and this caused him to become liable for accommodation costs. We suggested that the Provider reconsider the case or offer a practical remedy to the student. The Provider made an offer to waive the student’s costs without requiring him to re-enrol the following year. The student accepted the offer.

Settlement - Case Study 4

The student was studying a Foundation Degree. He applied for a discretionary third attempt at an assessment on the grounds of extenuating circumstances. This application was denied and the student’s registration was terminated. He submitted an appeal against this decision which was not upheld. He complained to the OIA because he felt the Provider had not properly considered his case.

We had two concerns:

  • the decision to terminate the student’s registration was made by a Discretionary Panel and one of the members of this panel had been the subject of a complaint raised by the student. This staff member’s involvement could have led to a perception of bias.

  • the Provider’s regulations required it to make an initial decision as to whether or not the appeal met the permitted grounds. If it did not, the appeal could be dismissed. If the student’s appeal fell within the permitted grounds, the appeal should be referred for consideration by an Appeals Committee. In this case, the Provider dismissed the appeal without convening a Committee but, in doing so, it seemed to have reached conclusions on the merits of the appeal rather than just deciding whether the appeal was within permitted grounds. The student had lost the opportunity to have the substantive matters he had raised considered by a full committee.

We discussed our concerns with the Provider and it offered to convene a new Discretionary Panel to consider the case, and confirmed that the Panel would consist entirely of members with no prior involvement in the case. The student accepted the offer.

Settlement - Case Study 5

Student A was studying a BA. Following a party held in the Student A’s university-owned shared flat, another resident (Student B) submitted a complaint about noise. Student A was found guilty of breaching the Residents’ Code of Conduct for his accommodation and was issued with a fine. Some (but not all) of those involved in the party then posted unpleasant messages about Student B on a group chat application, under anonymous usernames. All of the students who had hosted the party were issued with a formal written warning in respect of bullying and harassment.

Student A complained to the OIA on the basis that he was not involved in the group chat, and that the penalty for his breach of accommodation regulations was disproportionate.

We were concerned that the Provider had not taken reasonable steps to establish whether or not Student A was one of those involved in the offensive group chat and had not properly considered the appropriate penalty. We discussed our concerns with the Provider and it offered to reconsider the matter. Student A was able to provide new information relating to the identification of those posting on the group chat, and the Provider agreed to include this in its reconsideration. Student A accepted the offer.

Settlement - Case Study 6

A postgraduate student complained to the Provider that there were significant procedural failings in the assessment of her thesis and in the management of her viva. The Provider partially upheld the complaint. The Provider accepted there had been supervisory failings and significant delays in handling the complaint. It offered the student the opportunity to have her thesis assessed by an external academic expert at no cost and, following the feedback from this assessment, to decide whether to submit her thesis for the award of MPhil or PhD. The Provider also offered £2,000.00 in recognition of the distress and inconvenience experienced by the student.

The student complained to the OIA. She was satisfied with the academic remedy the Provider had offered but she did not think that it had offered her sufficient compensation. We contacted the Provider to see whether it would be willing to increase its offer. The Provider agreed that it would be better if the matter was resolved as swiftly as possible because the student accepted the academic remedy and wanted to pursue her award. Therefore it increased the offer to £3,000.00. The student accepted the offer.

Settlement - Case Study 7

The student was studying for a BSc.  She complained that her fee status had been incorrectly calculated and she had been overcharged by £5,635.00. After submitting her initial complaint she did not receive any further correspondence from the Provider. She requested updates on the progress of her case but did not receive replies. By the time she contacted the OIA, she had been waiting more than a year for the Provider to respond.

We contacted the Provider, which immediately offered to refund the student the full sum of £5,635.00, along with an apology for not having dealt with her complaint. The student accepted the offer.

Settlement - Case Study 8

The student was studying for an HND in Hospitality Management. The student did not pass three pieces of assessed coursework, and did not resubmit them by the required deadline. The Provider terminated her registration without offering any right of appeal against this decision. The student complained to the OIA.

Following our initial review of the complaint the Provider offered to consider an appeal from the student. The student accepted the offer.

Settlement - Case Study 9

The student was studying for an MSc. She was awarded a postgraduate certificate because she had not accumulated sufficient credit to progress to the dissertation module that would allow her to achieve the MSc. The student appealed as she believed the decision had been based on an incorrect marks profile: the marks for three assessments were missing from her transcript. The Provider rejected the appeal and the student complained to the OIA.

We invited the Provider to comment on the student’s complaint. The Provider investigated the matter further and located the student’s missing marks. It therefore offered to allow the student to proceed to the dissertation immediately, and to waive the fee for that module. The Provider also apologised for the inconvenience caused. The student accepted the offer.

Settlement - Case Study 10

The student was pursuing a Diploma in Law. She stepped off the course for a year because she was pregnant. She was unable to return to her studies after having the baby because of a change in her finances and difficulties with caring responsibilities. The Provider refused to refund the tuition fees she had paid in advance.

The student lodged a complaint as she believed the Provider’s fee policy placed her at a disadvantage on grounds of maternity. The Provider’s Fee Appeal Panel refused to consider her refund request because it did not consider pregnancy to meet the ground of extenuating circumstances. The student complained to the OIA.

We asked the Provider to reconsider the student’s fee appeal. We thought that it was unreasonable to require the student to have made an informed decision about whether she would be able to continue with the course in the following year. It would be reasonable to expect the student to foresee that having a child might have an impact on her ability to complete her studies, but it is unlikely that the full extent of the financial and personal impact on her circumstances would have been clear to her when she stepped off the course.

The Provider agreed to reconsider the appeal and the Fee Appeal Panel agreed to provide the student with a refund of the fees for the academic year which she did not attend.