(see also paragraphs 14.4 and 17-21)
28We can look at “qualifying complaints”, a term which is defined in the Higher Education Act 2004 (Section 12). The complaint must be about an “act or omission of a qualifying institution”, that is, something the higher education provider has done or failed to do. The person must be bringing the complaint as a student or former student (see student and former student, paragraphs 9-14) and the higher education provider must be a member of the OIA (see higher education provider, paragraphs 15-27).
29.1We cannot look at a complaint from a person whose application for study is rejected or badly handled. (That person would also not be able to complain to us because they were not a registered student at the higher education provider.) However, we will normally review a complaint from a student who, having registered at the higher education provider, is required to leave because of some irregularity in their application for admission. We may also review complaints from registered students about the information given by higher education providers to prospective students prior to admission.
29.2We may review a complaint from a former student who has either withdrawn from a programme of study or has been required to leave and who later applies for re-admission to the same higher education provider. In deciding whether we can review such a complaint we will consider whether or not there is a sufficient connection or relationship between the student’s complaint about their application for re-admission, and the circumstances surrounding the student’s withdrawal or exclusion from the higher education provider.
29.3If a student is already at a higher education provider but is applying to join another course or to transfer to PhD status, we will look at the provider’s procedures to decide whether the complaint is about admission.
30 Academic judgment
30.1Section 12 of the Higher Education Act 2004 says that a complaint is not a ‘qualifying complaint to the extent that it relates to matters of academic judgment’.
30.2Academic judgment is not any judgment made by an academic; it is a judgment that is made about a matter where the opinion of an academic expert is essential. So for example a judgment about marks awarded, degree classification, research methodology, whether feedback is correct or adequate, and the content or outcomes of a course will normally involve academic judgment.
30.3We consider that the following areas do not involve academic judgment: decisions about the fairness of procedures and whether they have been correctly interpreted and applied, how a higher education provider has communicated with the student, whether an academic has expressed an opinion outside the areas of their academic competence, what the facts of a complaint are and the way evidence has been considered, and whether there is evidence of bias or maladministration.
30.4Decisions about whether a student’s work contains plagiarism and the extent of that plagiarism will normally involve academic judgment, but that judgment must be evidence based.
30.5Decisions about whether a student has reached the necessary professional standards and is fit to practise involve professional judgment. When reviewing a complaint involving matters of professional judgment we will look at whether the higher education provider has followed correct and fair procedures and reached a reasonable decision, but we will give great weight to the decision of the panel or individuals who have made an assessment based on professional judgment.
31 Student employment
31.1We cannot consider a complaint from an employee of a higher education provider about their employment.
31.2A student may be employed by the higher education provider as well as being a student, for example where a postgraduate student is also employed by the higher education provider, as a lecturer or demonstrator or as a warden in a hall of residence. We can only look at the aspects of a complaint which relate to the person’s experience as a student.
31.3In the case of apprentices, and trainees on School Direct (salaried) initial teacher training courses, we will consider which aspects of the complaint related to the apprentice’s or trainee’s employment and which aspects related to the training course.
32 Legal proceedings
32.1We cannot consider matters which have already been decided by the courts. We cannot consider complaints where the matter is or becomes the subject of court or tribunal proceedings which have not been stayed (adjourned or put on hold). If any part of the complaint is being dealt with in the courts or by another body then the student and the higher education provider should tell us.
32.2We may ask to see the claim form and any defence filed in order to decide whether the legal proceedings relate to the same subject matter. If the legal proceedings have been stayed or adjourned by the court, we may ask to see the relevant court order.
32.3If a student has applied for permission to bring a judicial review claim against the higher education provider and has been refused permission, we would normally consider that those proceedings have been concluded and we would not look at the student’s complaint. However, we may accept the complaint if the judge has refused the student permission to bring the judicial review claim because the OIA is an ‘alternative remedy’ available to the student. We would only accept such a complaint for review if the judge has not reached conclusions on the merits of the case.
33 Alternative dispute resolution body
The OIA is recognised by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) as a consumer Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) body. We will not review a complaint which has already been considered by another ADR body. A list of ADR bodies can be found on our website.