Public Interest Cases

Consumer protection issues


Communication of withdrawal of modules

Open University

A student at the Open University complained that he had not been given adequate notice of changes to the postgraduate Social Sciences programme. The withdrawal of an MSc qualification entailed the cancellation of several modules, which meant that beyond a certain date the student would be unable to gain the credits he needed to complete the original qualification he hoped to achieve. Other MSc options remained available to him.

The University was able to demonstrate that it had first communicated information about the withdrawal of the MSc and advice to students three years in advance and set out the timetable for existing students to complete the modules that were to be discontinued. It had continued to communicate via email, the module websites and the student portal for the qualification. The University’s conditions of registration made it clear that students are required to check their emails.

The OIA found the complaint Not Justified.


Acting on findings

Glyndwr University

A student at Glyndwr University complained about a number of aspects of her experience at the University. The University upheld two aspects of her complaint, relating to accommodation and to pastoral care. It offered financial compensation for accommodation difficulties as a gesture of good will.

The OIA found the complaint Partly Justified on three grounds: while the University acknowledged that there had been issues with tutor availability and ‘insufficient’ teaching it did not uphold this part of her complaint; it offered compensation as a gesture of good will only, rather than recognising that compensation was required for the problems the student had encountered, and the complaint also took too long to resolve.

The OIA found other elements of the student’s complaint Not Justified. We noted in particular that she had not sought advice or raised issues with the programme leaders; and that the University had looked into and given reasonable explanations for many of the matters she described. We considered the amount of compensation offered by the University to be reasonable.


Expectations on students

Birmingham City University

A student at Birmingham City University complained about the quality, content and delivery of his course. The course materials and core communications were delivered through the University’s Virtual Learning Environment. The University considered each of the issues he raised. The student’s difficulties appeared to arise from his misunderstanding of the extent to which the course relied on the VLE. He missed the induction programme and several sessions of the course before finally withdrawing.

The OIA found that the University’s communications about the course and its demands on students were clear. Course and programme guides were explicit that students needed to access materials and submit work via the VLE. The University had provided mentoring and other support for the student. He did not raise issues or make a complaint until after he had withdrawn, which precluded the university from taking steps to address any concerns he had.

The OIA found the complaint Not Justified.


Liability for fees

Aston University

A student at Aston University was withdrawn from his course after failing all but one of the modules. The University gave him the opportunity to submit late extenuating circumstances. His appeal against withdrawal was upheld on the basis that he re-started the course and paid the full fees. The student complained to the OIA, stating that he wished to be held liable for only half the fees.

The student had been slow to engage in the University processes prior to and following its initial decision to withdraw him. He had ignored emails and several requests from the Programme Director to meet with the student. His appeal was submitted after the deadline, but still considered by the University. The student had stated that he was able to pay the fees and had not requested any reduction.

The OIA found the complaint Not Justified. Given that the University’s academic judgment was that the student needed to repeat the year we found its decision that he should be charged the full fee reasonable in all the circumstances.


Changes to course content

University of Portsmouth

A student at the University of Portsmouth complained about the content and quality of her course, which she felt ‘did not fulfil the standards’ she would have expected.

It was clear from the OIA’s review of the case that the University had taken the student’s concerns seriously and undertook a detailed and thorough investigation.

A number of the complaints related to changes in the course. The OIA looked at how these changes had been introduced and communicated to students. The prospectus made it clear that aspects of the course could change. The University explained that changes had been made in part to deal with changes in staffing and in part to keep up with developments in a fast moving scientific field. Students were offered additional tuition.

The University concluded that the course was of the expected standard and quality for a degree course in this subject area, and that the changes improved it. That conclusion involved academic judgement. The OIA noted that the University had conducted a thorough and detailed investigation, and that the University had consulted the external examiner who had been positive about the changes.

The OIA found the complaint Not Justified. We noted that the student had graduated and that it would not be reasonable to award her a refund of fees and maintenance costs.


Composition of course

University of Chester

A student at the University of Chester complained that half the modules on his course related to a subject he did not wish to study. He subsequently withdrew from the course and complained further that he remained liable for fees.

The student had transferred to the course from a different degree programme at the same University and had missed the pre-enrolment information sessions. However the prospectus gave clear information about the composition of the course. The OIA considers it reasonable for universities to expect individual students to take responsibility for researching a course before deciding to enrol on it. The Programme Leader gave the student advice on how he might approach his work to meet the requirements of the course and about options to change to a different degree programme.

The student withdrew several weeks into the course and had become liable for fees.  The OIA found the University’s decision to charge 25 per cent of the fees was in accordance with its regulations and was reasonable in the circumstances.

The complaint was found Not Justified.


Partnership agreement

University of Wales (federal)

The OIA received a complaint from a student who was attending a college to study for a degree awarded by the University of Wales. Under the terms of the agreement between the University and the college, the University was responsible for the academic standards of the course, and for considering complaints about the course.

The college notified the student of its intention to change the structure of the course so that module assessments had to be completed in a shorter period of time. The student was not able to undertake the assessments on that basis and asked the college whether he could leave the course with an exit award. The college said that he could not. The student then left the course and asked for a refund of his tuition fees. At that point the student had achieved 40 credits. He could have achieved an exit award if he had achieved a further 20 credits.

The student made a complaint to the college on the basis that, before he had enrolled on the course, he had been told that he would be able to leave the course with an exit award. He also raised other complaints about the course delivery, maladministration, and the fee structure. The college did not resolve the complaint and the student complained to the University

The University accepted that the student had been given incorrect advice about the exit award, and partly upheld the student’s complaint. It initially decided that the college should refund the tuition fees to the student. It subsequently suggested that the college and the student should meet to agree a remedy. The meeting did not take place and the college did not make any further attempts to offer an alternative solution.

The University did not take any further action to resolve the complaint and the student then complained to the OIA. At that point the University offered to consider the complaint under the next stage of its complaints procedures. The remedy suggested by the University was not acceptable to the student who complained again to the OIA.

The OIA considered how the University had handled the complaint. We concluded that it had failed to deliver a reasoned decision on the student’s complaint. Having decided to uphold the complaint in part, it was up to the University either to ensure that the college complied with its recommendations or offer a remedy itself when the college failed to comply, given the University’s responsibilities under the agreement with the college. There were also significant delays in the handling of the complaint, some of which were the responsibility of the University. We found the complaint Justified and recommended financial compensation, representing a refund of fees and for distress and inconvenience.


Accommodation contract

Cardiff Metropolitan University

A student at Cardiff Metropolitan University complained that she was charged for 40 weeks accommodation although she moved out after teaching on her course finished earlier than on many other courses.

The University was able to demonstrate that it had given the student adequate notice of the dates on the course, including the end date. The accommodation Licence Agreement was clear that it was for a 40 week period and that the student was expected to pay the full fee. While sympathetic to the student’s position as a student on a limited budget the OIA was satisfied that the University had fully informed her of the length of the teaching term and the terms of the Licence. Once the student had signed the Licence Agreement she was bound by its conditions to pay the full fee.

The complaint was found Not Justified.


Withdrawal for non-payment of tuition fees

University of Greenwich

An international student was withdrawn from the University of Greenwich as she was unable to re-register for the new academic year due to non-payment of fees from the previous registration period.

The OIA found that the University had been flexible in giving the student opportunities to delay payments and had advised her of the implications of failing to pay her tuition fees.  We found its decision that the student was not able to register to continue her course reasonable.

The University informed the UK Borders Agency (at the time the agency responsible for student visas) that the student had been withdrawn for failing to register by the agreed deadline. However it did not inform the student either that she was no longer registered or that it had notified the visa authorities. The student continued to attend lectures and receive correspondence from a personal tutor after she had been withdrawn.

The OIA found her complaint Partly Justified on this basis and recommended that the university pay financial compensation for distress and inconvenience caused by its handling of her withdrawal.


Information about the programme

University for the Creative Arts

The OIA considered a complex complaint from a student who raised many issues about the content, teaching and assessment of her course at the University for the Creative Arts. Some of the issues related to academic judgment, which the OIA cannot look at, and we found some of her other complaints Not Justified.

Part of the complaint was that key staff and external visits described in the Course Handbook were not available. While the OIA accepts that changes to courses and teaching staff may be necessary, it is important for universities to explain clearly the situation, provide key information about the changes, and details about any options open to students in writing so that students can understand what has changed and are able to make informed decisions about their options. The OIA was critical of the way the University looked into these matters and found the complaint Partly Justified.

The student had graduated with a high classification. Overall we were satisfied that sufficient tuition and resources were provided by the University to enable the student to complete her course successfully at an appropriate academic standard. In the circumstances, we did not consider that it would be proportionate to require the University to re-investigate the complaint, and we recommended that the University should apologise to the student and pay her some compensation for distress and inconvenience.


Assessment and awards

Anglia Ruskin University

A student at Anglia Ruskin University complained to the OIA after his academic appeal was rejected by the University. He appealed on the grounds that there had been a material error in the assessment of one module.

We concluded that the University could not demonstrate that it had followed its published procedures for assessing the student’s work and that its decision to reject his appeal was not reasonable.

In the course of our review it became apparent that the University had awarded the student his degree two months before he had taken his final examination.

The University’s Assessment Regulations state that “students are considered for an Anglia Ruskin award by the Anglia Ruskin Awards Board if they have satisfied the general requirements for students….and in particular have satisfied the credit requirements of the course for which they are registered”. It appeared that an error had been made regarding the student’s Accredited Prior Learning.

It was clear from reviewing the information provided by the University that the Award Board did not consider the student’s correct academic profile when it calculated his degree classification and conferred the award. We concluded that a material administrative or procedural irregularity had occurred during the assessment process.

The OIA found the complaint Justified. We recommended that the University convene a fresh award panel to consider both the individual module assessment and the overall degree classification, and pay compensation to the student for distress and inconvenience.