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Good Practice Framework - Supporting disabled students

The Good Practice Framework - Supporting disabled students outlines good practice guidance for providers to consider when supporting disabled students. The section was prepared by the OIA in consultation with the Good Practice Framework Steering Group and the OIA's Disability Experts Panel. A draft was published for consultation in March 2017 and submissions were received from providers, student representative bodies, other higher education bodies and stakeholders, and interest groups.

 

 

Farewell to Judy Clements OBE, Independent Adjudicator and Chief Executive

The Independent Adjudicator and Chief Executive for Higher Education Judy Clements is leaving the organisation.

Recent High Court Judgment

On 31 March 2017 the Honourable Mr Justice Singh delivered judgment in the case of Ms AC. Ms AC successfully challenged the OIA's decision that her complaint was not eligible for review under our Rules.

Ms AC was a medical student at Leicester University and had to withdraw from the course in 2012 as a result of very difficult personal circumstances which resulted in ill-health. She applied to the University to restart the course as a first year and the University refused: its regulations did not permit any student who had previously studied medicine at any school to join its medical degree. Ms AC complained to the OIA in 2016 about the decision not to re-admit her. (She was not complaining about the process leading to her withdrawal.) We decided the complaint was Not Eligible under Rule 3.1 because it related to an admission decision.

Ms AC's judicial review claim was on two grounds: firstly that teh complaint did not relate to an admissions decision because it was inextricably linked to her withdrawal and the circumstances which surrounded it. She did not succeed on that ground. However, she did succeed on her second ground which was that Rule 3.1 is incompatible with the Higher Education Act 2004 if it excludes students in her position.

The argument turned on the phrase in section 12 of the HEA defining "qualifying complaint" as "a complaint about an act or omission of a qualifying institution which is made by a person (a) as a student or former student at that institution".

The judge did not strike out Rule 3.1 - the OIA can still exclude complaints about admissions decisions. However, he decided that the OIA was wrong to exclude Ms AC's complaint. This was because there was "sufficient nexus" between her complaint and her identity as a former student:

  • Ms AC was prevented from resuming her studies as a medical student because she was a former student: the University's regulation only applied to her because of her status as a former student; and
  • Ms AC claimed that the personal circumstances which led to her withdrawal were so serious that it was unreasonable and discriminatory for the University not to consider her application to resume her studies.

The OIA's decision was that Ms AC's complaint was Not Eligible was overturned and it was ordered to pay Ms AC's legal costs. The University has now agreed to consider Ms AC's application through UCAS.

We have amended our Guidance Note on Eligibility and the Rules to make it clear that we can accept a complaint about admissions if it is brought by a former student and if there is sufficient nexus between the complaint and the complainant's period as a student.

Download the judgment

Annual Statements 2016

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) has today (23 May) published its Annual Statements (formerly known as Annual Letters) to higher education providers for the calendar year ended 31 December 2016. For the first time, these are published in an online format.

OIA Annual Open Meeting 2017

The OIA’s Annual Open Meeting took place on 8 May 2017. The event was very successful, bringing together around 150 delegates from providers, students’ unions and others from across the HE sector. Delegates heard Judy Clements, Independent Adjudicator and Chief Executive reflect on her Annual Report and on the past year at the OIA, and insightful presentations from a student panel gave a range of perspectives on student complaints. The event also provided an opportunity for valuable discussion between the OIA, student representatives and providers on the challenges for all involved in dealing with student complaints and appeals.

OIA Annual Report 2016

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education, has today (4 May 2017) published it's OIA Annual Report for 2016. The report sets out:

  • The number and outcomes of complaints received and closed by the OIA.
  • Examples of the complaints student make to the OIA, and the recommendations the OIA makes when it finds complaints Justified or Partly Justified.
  • Information about the OIA’s work sharing good practice in complaints handling
  • Common issues arising in complaints to the OIA

Recent High Court Judgment

A recent high court judgment provided useful guidance for students and providers where the student wishes to preserve their rights to bring legal proceedings (usually judicial review proceedings) against the provider. Mr Justice Hickinbottom concluded that the OIA, as an ADR body, has a different function to the Court and therefore recourse to the OIA does not prevent a student from bringing a JR claim against their provider. Students should not lose their right to bring a JR claim because the OIA has considered their complaint. However, the court will give deference to the OIA’s conclusions; the degree of deference will depend on the nature of the claim. The Judge said:

“Where there is an available ADR procedure - especially when it is provided by Parliament - the interests of the public body and citizen in having a more attractive procedure and, very importantly, the public interest in resolving claims outside the court system where possible, will be of such weight that the balance of interests will be in favour of giving a proper opportunity for the dispute to be resolved, in whole or in part, by the alternative procedure …

Consequently, where there is such a complaints procedure as provided by the 2004 Act through the OIA, the court should be slow to become engaged with issues arising out of the same subject matter, unless and until that procedure has been given reasonable time and opportunity to run to a conclusion: and, where either a claimant or a defendant (or both) wish to progress court proceedings before then, they must provide the court with good reasons for doing so.

The judge went on to say that it should not be necessary for students to issue proceedings against the provider in order to protect their position in relation to the three month deadline for bringing JR proceedings: the court would normally grant an extension to the deadline provided the student had brought their complaint to the OIA promptly and then issued their legal proceedings promptly.

The Judge said that providers “should consider indicating, in any Completion of Procedures Letter, that, although the [OIA’s] Rules prescribe a twelve month period, if the student wishes to maintain his or her right to judicially review the relevant HEI decision, then it would be advisable to notify the HEI as soon as possible and make a reference to the OIA within three months, to avoid a contention that any subsequent [JR proceedings against the provider] are too late.”

Download the judgment

New Chair of the OIA Board

The OIA is delighted to announce that Dame Suzi Leather has been appointed to succeed Ram Gidoomal as Chair of the OIA. Dame Suzi will take up her role on 1 October 2016.

Annual Letters 2015

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) has today (13 July) published its annual letters to higher education providers. The letters are addressed to all providers that were members of the OIA Scheme throughout 2015.

OIA Annual Report 2015

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education, has today (9 June 2016) published it's OIA Annual Report for 2015. The report details:

  • The changes in OIA membership following new legislation, the Consumer Rights Act 2015, that extended its remit to cover students at more than 500 additional higher education providers. These include further education colleges and sixth form colleges for their higher education students, alternative providers and providers of School Centred Initial Teacher Training.
  • The OIA’s record of complaint handling over the year.
  • Examples of the complaints student make to the OIA, and the recommendations the OIA makes when it finds complaints Justified or Partly Justified.
  • Changes in the regulatory and legislative environment and what these mean for complaints handling in higher education.

Response to the Higher Education White Paper

The OIA has published its response to the Higher Education White Paper.

To view older News and Press Releases by the OIA, please go to the News Archive.

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New Chair of the OIA Board