9Students and former students can complain to us. A student is someone who is or was registered at a higher education provider (paragraphs 15-27). If there is a doubt about whether the person making the complaint is or was a registered student, we will decide by looking at the higher education provider’s regulations. Someone who is or was studying for one of the higher education provider’s awards is also a student. Section 12 of the Higher Education Act 2004 says the student must be or have been “undertaking a course of study, or programme of research, leading to the grant of one of the qualifying institution’s awards” (paragraph 12).
10The term “student” can include trainees and apprentices. For example, a trainee teacher at a School Centred Initial Teacher Training (SCITT) provider can complain to us about matters which the SCITT is responsible for. If they are studying for a Postgraduate Certificate of Education (PGCE) or masters-level credits, they may also be able to complain about the higher education provider which awards the PGCE or credits. An apprenticeship is a job, so someone on a higher education apprenticeship will be employed as an apprentice but will also be a “student”. If the apprenticeship involves a higher education qualification which is delivered, awarded or assessed by a higher education provider, then the apprentice can complain about what the higher education provider has done.
11A student or former student can bring a complaint to us about anything their higher education provider has done or failed to do, provided the complaint is one we can review (see Rule 5, and Complaints we can and cannot review, paragraphs 28-33).
12The Higher Education Act 2004 (Section 12) says that the scheme covers complaints made by “a person as a student or former student” or “as a student or former student at another institution … undertaking a course of study, or programme of research, leading to the grant of one of the qualifying institution’s awards.”
12.1That means that the person’s complaint must relate to the fact that they are or were a student at a higher education provider. The complaint may be about the provider where they are or were studying, or the provider which grants the award for which they are or were studying. We may decide not to review a complaint which is about something that does not affect the person making the complaint as a student. We generally look at this broadly, and accept complaints which relate to student life and the outcome of the student’s studies. For example, we have considered complaints about references for former students, and where awards have been withdrawn because the student has been accused of plagiarism or other misconduct some time after graduation.
12.2Some complaints about higher education providers may have no bearing on student life or may not be in any way connected with study. For example, we decided not to accept a complaint about a provider’s voluntary legal advice centre declining to take on a student’s case against a private landlord; about a provider’s finance department pursuing an undisputed fee debt against a former student who had left her course some years before; and about the theft of a bicycle from a provider’s bike rack.
12.3We may also conclude that what the higher education provider has done has not affected the outcome of the student’s studies. For example, a marking issue may have no effect on the degree classification, or a procedural irregularity in an appeal may have been put right at a later stage of the procedure.
13Students can only complain about some providers if they are or were on a higher education course, and their complaint is about their experience on that higher education course. This is relevant to complaints about higher education providers that fall within paragraphs (da), (e), (ea) and (f) of the definition of a qualifying institution (see “qualifying institution”, paragraph 16). These providers are identified on our website. For these purposes, a “higher education” course is a course of any description mentioned in Schedule 6 to the Education Reform Act 1988 and which also meets the academic standards as they are described in the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications (FHEQ) for England, Wales and Northern Ireland at Level 4 or higher. We will normally be guided by the provider’s own assessment of the level of the course(s) in question and will take into account any information provided by or to regulatory and quality assurance bodies. We will not normally carry out our own assessment of whether or not a course is "higher education". If there is any doubt about whether a course is higher education we will normally treat it as higher education for our purposes. This definition applies where the complaint is about events which took place on or after 1 April 2018.
14We cannot accept a complaint from someone who is not a student (or former student).
14.1Usually, the best person to bring a complaint to us is the student themselves: they understand their situation better than anyone else. But a student may appoint another person to represent them in their complaint for example a students’ union representative, provided they give us clear permission to communicate with the representative. The student must make sure that their representative knows enough about their complaint, understands their wishes, can act in their best interests, and will be able to keep them fully informed throughout the process. Where a representative is appointed, we will normally correspond only with that person until our review is concluded.
14.2If a group of students has a complaint about the same issues, they may appoint one of their group to represent the whole group.
14.3Our processes are informal and it is not usually necessary to use a lawyer. Often when lawyers are involved the process can take longer and become legalistic.
14.4We cannot review a complaint concerning a student who has died unless the Complaint Form was received before their death. The Higher Education Act 2004 (section 12) says that a complaint must be “made by a person…as a student or former student”. That means that the student themselves must make the complaint to us. This is because we need to be sure that the student intended to pursue their complaint. If a student’s personal representatives ask us to, we can continue with a review of a student’s complaint after they have died, but only if we received the student’s Complaint Form during their lifetime.