Collaborative Provision

We have recently consulted on good practice guidance on handling complaints and academic appeals in the context of collaborative provision. The final guidance will be issued in Spring 2017.

Handling complaints and academic appeals in the context of collaborative provision

 

Background

Many students are studying at one OIA member provider on a course which leads to an award conferred by another awarding body. Often, the awarding body is a provider which is also a member of the OIA Scheme, although this is not always the case.

Sometimes students are studying for a ‘dual’ award – where two or more awarding bodies collaborate in the delivery of a jointly delivered programme or programmes leading to separate awards being granted by both/all of them – or a ‘joint’ award, which is jointly awarded by two or more awarding bodies.  In some cases, all of the awarding bodies are members of the OIA Scheme but this is not always the case, in particular where the arrangement involves an overseas provider.

We have set out below some principles that we would normally expect to apply in those different scenarios, in relation to complaints that we receive from students on these types of course.

 

The student is studying for a ‘dual’ or joint award involving two OIA member providers

It is usually the case that the agreement between the providers will set out which of them is responsible for overseeing the complaints and appeals procedures; that provider will issue the Completion of Procedures Letter.

Our guidance on Completion of Procedures Letters provides further information.

 

The delivery provider(s) and the awarding provider(s) are members of the OIA Scheme

Our Guidance

A provider (the ‘delivery provider’) may have agreed to deliver all or part of a course leading to an award of another provider (the ‘awarding provider’) under, for example, a franchise agreement or a validation agreement. Other types of collaboration agreement may involve more than two providers in the delivery of a course and grant of an award. The agreement between the providers will set out the obligations and responsibilities of each party, including as to the handling of student complaints, and will be our starting point in reviewing complaints from students on this type of course.

Our understanding of the terms ‘validation agreement’ and ‘franchise agreement’ is taken from guidance issued, from time to time, by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and our guidance below distinguishes between the two types of arrangement. However, we are aware that those terms may have different meanings in different contexts and/or providers may use those terms interchangeably. We will take a pragmatic approach in reviewing complaints involving more than one member provider and will deal with them on a case by case basis.

Our guidance on Completion of Procedures Letters sets out the principles that we would normally expect to apply in cases where both the awarding provider and delivery provider are members of the OIA Scheme. Our Guidance reflects the principle in the QAA Quality Code for Higher Education that the awarding provider has overall responsibility for academic standards of courses leading to its awards. Chapter B9 (Academic Appeals and Student Complaints) and Chapter B10 (Managing Higher Education Provision with Others) of the QAA Quality Code for Higher Education are of particular relevance.

Providers should ensure that their procedures are clear on how complaints, appeals etc will be dealt with between themselves.  Many student complaints and appeals cover multiple issues and the student may not know where responsibilities lie between the providers. Students should not be expected to know which provider to address their concerns to or in which circumstances they may escalate their issue to the awarding provider. Complaints and appeals are likely to begin as a concern the student raises with the delivery provider. The delivery provider’s procedures should provide an outline of the circumstances in which the awarding provider might become involved. The delivery provider can then determine whether the matter is one which requires the involvement of the awarding provider because, for example, it concerns the academic quality of the course.

We acknowledge that providers will need some time to consider their partnership arrangements and internal procedures to ensure that they follow the good practice principles set out in our Guidance , following the expansion of the OIA Scheme’s membership on 1 September 2015 and that any changes to be made are likely to be informed by handling real-life complaints from students.

We will continue to work with providers to develop our guidance on collaborative provision in light of actual complaints that we receive.

Which OIA member provider should issue the COP letter?

CASE STUDY 1: Academic appeal

Sara is a student at Provider B, an FE college, studying a BA (Hons) degree validated by Provider A, a university.

Sara brings an academic appeal on the grounds that Provider B has failed to take into account her mitigating circumstances. The appeal is considered first by Provider B and then by Provider A.

Provider A should issue the COP letter and the OIA will consider a complaint about Provider A

CASE STUDY 2: Academic appeal and complaint about the delivery provider’s initial consideration of the appeal

Sara is a student at Provider B, an FE college, studying a BA (Hons) degree validated by Provider A, a university.

Sara brings an academic appeal on the grounds that Provider B has failed to take into account her mitigating circumstances. The appeal is considered first by Provider B, and then by Provider A

Sara complains to the OIA about the outcome of her academic appeal. Sara also complains that, as a result of serious delays in Provider B’s consideration of the appeal, she has lost an offer of employment at the conclusion of the course.

Provider A issues a COP letter for the academic appeal. The OIA considers the complaint against Provider A about the appeal and recommends that Provider A rehears the appeal.

The OIA also considers the separate complaint against Provider B about the delays in its consideration of the appeal. The OIA discusses the matter with Provider B which agrees that its decision letter at Stage 2 of the appeals process may be treated as a COP letter.

The OIA determines that it should wait for the outcome of the rehearing of the academic appeal by Provider A before it can decide the effects of Provider B’s delay in its original consideration of the appeal. The OIA therefore suspends its review of the complaint about Provider B pending the outcome of the appeal rehearing by Provider A.

CASE STUDY 3: Complaint about teaching standards and course materials

Sara is a student at Provider B, an FE college, studying a BA (Hons) degree validated by Provider A, a university.

Sara complains that a lecturer at Provider B speaks very poor English and that she cannot follow the lectures. She also complains that another lecturer turns up late and misses tutorials and that teaching materials are all out of date.

Provider B considers the complaint. The final stage of the complaints procedure is conducted by Provider A because it relates to academic standards.

Provider A issues COP letter and the OIA will consider a complaint about Provider A.

CASE STUDY 4: Academic appeal and complaint about project supervision

Sara is a student at Provider B, an FE college, studying a BA (Hons) degree validated by Provider A, a university.

Sara appeals the outcome of her final year project. Feedback reports from her supervisor say that the project was on course for a first class mark. However, Sara’s project was given a poor mark and the examiners’ report says that her approach was fundamentally flawed.

Sara’s appeal is considered by Provider B and then by Provider A. Both conclude that the appeal is a challenge to the academic judgment of the marker and so dismiss the appeal. “Poor supervision” is expressly excluded from the grounds of appeal. Provider A should issue COP letter in relation to the academic appeal.

Sara complains to the OIA. The OIA determines that Provider B should consider the complaint about supervision. However, since the complaint relates to teaching quality, the final stage of the complaints procedure would normally be conducted by Provider A.

The OIA may defer its review of Sara’s complaint about Provider A, in respect of her academic appeal, until her complaint about supervision has been decided.  If that complaint is upheld, the OIA is likely to conclude that poor supervision amounts to a procedural irregularity and so requires an academic remedy, notwithstanding that ‘poor supervision’ is not a formal ground for appeal.

CASE STUDY 5: Franchise agreement – complaint about facilities

Bill is studying at Provider B on one of Provider A’s degree courses under a franchise agreement.

Bill complains that the lecture facilities at Provider B are overcrowded and the acoustics are very poor. He says Provider B has failed to make adjustments for his hearing impairment.

The complaint is considered by Provider B and then by Provider A as it has responsibility for anything to do with the course delivery.  Provider A issues the COP letter

The OIA considers a complaint against Provider A.

 

The delivery provider is a member of the OIA Scheme but the awarding body is not a member of the OIA Scheme

Some students are studying at OIA member providers on courses which lead to qualifications awarded by external awarding bodies (for example, HNCs and HNDs awarded by Pearson (Edexcel)). In England, these external awarding bodies are regulated by Ofqual.  In Wales, they are regulated by Qualifications Wales.

These external awarding bodies are not required to join the OIA Scheme; they may join voluntarily as ‘Non-Qualifying Institutions’ but none has yet done so.

The member provider should issue a Completion of Procedures Letter to a student on this type of course at the conclusion of any internal procedure, in the usual way (NOTE: if the student is studying at a member provider brought into membership of the OIA Scheme by the Consumer Rights Act 2015, the student must be studying on an HE Course. Our template Completion of Procedures Letter for students studying for a qualification awarded by an external awarding body includes some explanatory text which should be included).

In the event that the OIA receives a complaint from a student on this type of course, it will first identify whether the complaint relates to: (1) an act or omission of the member provider relating to the service provided which falls within the OIA’s remit; or (2) the overall quality or standards of the qualification itself.

Examples

Category (1) above may include the following types of complaint: (i) complaints relating to a member provider’s failure to have followed its internal procedures; (ii) complaints about how a member provider considered a student’s academic appeal (rather than the outcome of the academic appeal itself), for example the member provider’s failure to have considered at all a student’s mitigating circumstances in accordance with its own policy; (iii) complaints relating to bullying or harassment; (iv) complaints relating to pastoral provision or provision of facilities.

Complaints relating to the design, delivery of assessment, moderation and awarding of the qualification are likely to fall into category (2) above.

If the OIA considers that the complaint relates to an act or omission of the member provider relating to the service provided which falls within the OIA’s remit (category (1) above), it will review that complaint under its usual review procedures.

If the OIA considers that the complaint relates to the overall quality or standards of the qualification itself (category (2) above), it will notify the student and will then forward a copy of the complaint to the relevant awarding body. The OIA will not take any further action in respect of that complaint.

The OIA may discuss a complaint with Ofqual or Qualifications Wales, as applicable, in order to determine whether it falls within the OIA’s remit or should more appropriately be addressed to the relevant awarding body.

 

Arrangements involving overseas provision

OIA member providers with campuses or partner colleges overseas

Some OIA member providers run or validate courses at overseas sites. Those sites might be campuses wholly owned and managed by the member provider. Alternatively, the member provider might enter into a collaborative arrangement with an overseas partner college for the latter to deliver all or part of a course leading to one of the member provider’s awards.

Students studying on overseas campuses or at overseas partner colleges of member providers can complain to the OIA about acts or omissions of the member provider, provided of course that their complaint falls within the OIA’s remit.

Case studies

Case Study 1 – overseas campus of OIA member provider

Provider A is a university in Wales. Li is a studying at Provider A’s campus in China for a degree awarded by Provider A. The campus is owned and managed by Provider A.

Li should be treated in the same way as a student studying at Provider A’s Welsh campus. Provider A should consider a complaint or academic appeal brought by Li and issue a Completion of Procedures letter at the end of its processes.

Case Study 2 – overseas partner college

Yasmeen is studying at Provider B, an HE provider in India, on a course validated by Provider A and leading to one of Provider A’s awards. Provider A is a university in England.

Yasmeen appeals against her final degree classification. The appeal is considered by Provider B and then by Provider A. Provider A issues a Completion of Procedures letter rejecting the appeal.  Yasmeen can then complain to the OIA about Provider A’s decision.

Yasmeen complains that Provider B has overcharged her for tuition fees. Tuition fees are the responsibility of Provider B under the collaborative agreement. Provider A does not consider the complaint. Yasmeen cannot complain to the OIA about Provider B.

Dual or joint awards involving an OIA member provider and one or more overseas providers

It is becoming more common for UK degree-awarding bodies to enter into collaborative arrangements with overseas partners to deliver programmes leading to a joint award or ‘dual’ awards. The UK degree-awarding body will be a member of the OIA Scheme but the overseas partner body will not be a member of the OIA Scheme. Any UK HE provider entering into an arrangement with an overseas partner provider would need to take care to follow the Indicators of Sound Practice in Chapter B.10 of the QAA Quality Code (Managing HE provision with others).

In relation to handling complaints from students on this type of course, UK HE providers which are members of the OIA would, in our view, have to consider three key principles:

(i) the information given to students must set out clearly how and to whom students should make a complaint or bring an academic appeal;

(ii) a student should be able to complain to the OIA about any act or omission of the  member provider; and

(iii) the member provider cannot delegate its responsibility for the academic standards of its awards (whether awarded jointly or as one of a dual award with another provider).

Case studies

The case studies below illustrate some general principles only. Much may depend upon the way in which the arrangement is structured and indeed the jurisdiction(s) in which the overseas partner(s) is/are based which may have their own quality assurance and/or complaints-handling arrangements.

Case Study 1: Academic appeal – jointly awarded degree

Theo is studying for a Masters degree which is awarded jointly by Provider A, a university in England, and Provider B, a university in the Netherlands

Theo fails his dissertation and submits an academic appeal on the grounds of procedural irregularity in the marking of his dissertation by Provider A. Theo ought to be able to make a complaint to the OIA about acts or omissions of Provider A at the end of the academic appeal process (wherever that process has been conducted).

If the academic appeals process is conducted by Provider B, under the terms of its collaborative arrangement with Provider A, this might mean that the appeal has to come back to Provider A so that a Completion of Procedures letter can be issued.

Case Study 2 – Extenuating circumstances

Theo is studying for a Masters degree which is awarded jointly by Provider A, a university in England, and Provider B, a university in the Netherlands.

Theo submits an extenuating circumstances claim which is considered by Provider B and rejected. The OIA would not have jurisdiction to consider a complaint about Provider B’s decision in that regard.

However, if Provider B’s decision has an impact on Theo’s overall Masters’ result, he could complain to the OIA since it is a joint award and so the final result is determined by Provider A, albeit jointly with Provider B. The matter may need to come back to Provider A so that it can issue a Completion of Procedures letter.

Case Study 3 – Joint programme with three awarding providers

George is studying for a degree awarded jointly by Providers A, B and C. Provider A is a university in England, Provider B is in France, and Provider C is in Belgium. The degree programme is structured so that students spend one year studying at each of the three providers.

Under the agreement between the providers, Provider B is the “lead” provider, and is responsible for handling all student complaints and academic appeals.

George appeals against his degree result. Provider B considers the academic appeal. As it relates to academic standards for which Provider A remains responsible under the QAA Quality Code, Provider A should issue a Completion of Procedures letter at the conclusion of the appeal so that George can complain to the OIA.

George complains about the accommodation at Provider C. Provider B considers the complaint. Provider A has no responsibility for service issues under the agreement and does not consider the complaint. George cannot complain to the OIA about Provider C.

George complains about the lecture facilities at Provider A. Provider B considers the complaint. As this is an issue which arose while George is studying at Provider A, he should not be prevented from complaining to the OIA about it. Therefore Provider A should consider the complaint itself and/or issue a Completion of Procedures letter after Provider B has considered the complaint.