Dispute resolution bodies
We are approved by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) as a consumer alternative dispute resolution (ADR) body. A consolidated list of ADR bodies can be found on their website.
This page sets out the information we are required to publish as an ADR body.
The European Commission’s Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) platform can be accessed via their website.
We submit annual activity reports to the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI).
Our contact details
Second Floor, Abbey Gate
57-75 Kings Road
0118 959 9813
Our contact details can also be found on our Contact Us page.
The following staff handle complaints:
- Casework Administrator (7)
- (Senior) Case-handler (18)
- (Senior) Assistant Adjudicator (18)
- Casework Support Manager (1)
- Adjudication Manager (4)
- Head of Adjudication Team (1)
- Head of Casework Support and Resolution Teams (1)
- Independent Adjudicator (1)
This list was correct as of 1 October 2019.
The Independent Adjudicator is appointed by the Board of Directors, normally for a five year term, renewable for a further three years.
All other case-handling staff members are appointed through competitive recruitment exercises (internal and/or external) and are salaried.
Membership of networking bodies
We review complaints from students who are or were registered at a member higher education (HE) provider. Any qualifying HE provider (as defined in the Higher Education Act 2004 and, subsequently, the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and the Higher Education and Research Act 2017) must be a member of the Scheme. The HE providers we cover are in England and Wales, but we review complaints from UK, other EU, and international students at these providers.
The disputes we are competent to deal with include:
- Complaints about academic appeals, assessments, progression and awards.
- Complaints about the course or teaching provision, facilities and supervision.
- Complaints about disciplinary proceedings for non-academic offences.
- Complaints about academic offences including plagiarism, collusion and examination offences.
- Complaints where the student says there has been any form of discrimination, including harassment, or where they say their human rights have been breached.
- Complaints about finance and funding, eg fees and fee status, bursaries and scholarships.
- Complaints about support services, eg counselling, chaplaincy, assistance for international students, accommodation issues and welfare.
There are no financial thresholds to bringing a complaint.
We are free to students. We normally review complaints which have completed the provider’s internal procedures. We share all documents with both parties before reaching our decision.
We review complaints to decide whether they are Justified, Partly Justified or Not Justified.
For further information about our process please see Reviewing complaints.
The grounds on which we might refuse to deal with a dispute
In summary, the Scheme doesn't cover a complaint if:
- it is about an application for admission to a provider: we can't consider a complaint from a prospective student;
- it is about a matter of academic judgment;
- it is about a student employment matter;
- it is about something which has already been the subject of legal proceedings in a court or tribunal unless those proceedings have been put on hold;
- it has already been considered by another ADR body;
- the student has died and the OIA had not received a Complaint Form during the student’s lifetime;
We may also decide not to review a complaint if:
- it does not materially affect the person making the complaint as a student
- it has no serious purpose, or is intended to cause disruption or annoyance, or the student is seeking an unrealistic remedy;
- dealing with the complaint would seriously damage our ability to run our processes effectively.
We won't consider a complaint unless the completed Complaint Form is received within 12 months from the date upon which the provider has given the student its final decision on the complaint or appeal.
In addition, we won't normally consider a complaint which arose before the provider became a member of our Scheme. Sometimes a 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.
We can accept/conduct complaints in English or Welsh.
Principles of complaint handling
When reviewing a complaint, we will consider whether a provider followed its rules and regulations and whether the outcome was reasonable in all the circumstances, having regard to the relevant law, codes of practice and guidance.
The student must normally first complete the provider’s internal procedures before bringing a complaint to us. The student is not required to meet with us during our review of the complaint.
Our reviews are normally conducted in writing. However, we may accept evidence orally, for example, by telephone, where it is appropriate to do so (for example, where a student has a disability which makes written communication difficult).
Withdrawal of complaint
The student can withdraw the complaint at any time during the review process and is not obliged to accept our decision.
The provider is not able to withdraw from the process and is required by the Scheme Rules to accept any Recommendations.
Is there a cost?
The Scheme is free for students to use.
Members of the Scheme are required to pay a subscription fee and may also pay an additional amount based on the number complaints about them.
We may recommend that the provider pays a contribution to the student's costs but won't normally do so.
What is the average length of the review process?
The (mean) average time from first receiving a Complaint Form to closing a complaint is 122 days for both domestic disputes and cross border disputes (information last updated for period 1 October 2018 to 30 September 2019).
The ADR requirement to close all cases within 90 days of receipt of the complete complaint file was met in 100% of cases.
The legal outcome of the ADR process
We expect providers to comply with our Recommendations fully and within the timescale we give. This may include making an offer to a student.
Our Complaint Outcome is normally our final decision. Students and providers may comment on any Recommendations before they are finalised. We may reopen a review if there is good reason to do so because: (a) we receive new evidence which could make a difference to the outcome of the review, and which the student or provider could not reasonably have given to us at an earlier date; or (b) we have reason to believe that there might be an error in the Complaint Outcome which has or might have seriously affected the outcome of the review.
Learn more about options when a complaint is closed.
Providers have a good record of complying with our Recommendations. Non-compliance is reported to our Board and published in our Annual Report.
Our decisions are not binding on the student. This means that the student can reject the decision, and any offer made by the provider, and pursue any other available remedy, including legal action. If the student accepts the provider’s offer, then they will not be able to take the complaint further. We cannot give advice to students on any further action they might be able to take because we must remain independent.