39In certain cases and if appropriate we may try to settle a complaint.
39.1Settlement is the informal resolution of a complaint brought to us. This means that the complaint is resolved without the need for a full review. We may try to settle a complaint at any stage in our review process. Sometimes we will invite the higher education provider to make an offer to the student. The offer will normally be ‘in full and final settlement’ of all the issues raised, which means that the student would not be able to take further action in relation to the same issues.
39.2Often a complaint can be settled on the basis that the provider offers to re-run a stage of its complaints or appeals procedures because it has come to light that the higher education provider did not follow the correct procedure.
39.3We will always give the student and the higher education provider time to consider the proposed settlement before they decide whether to accept it.
39.4If the provider makes what the OIA considers to be a reasonable offer to settle the complaint and the student does not accept it, we may decide to terminate our review on the basis that the provider has made a reasonable offer to settle the complaint.
39.5In some cases we may suggest that the complaint should be referred to an external mediator to help the student and the higher education provider to come to an agreement. We might do this where the student and the higher education provider agree about what has gone wrong, but cannot agree on how to put it right, or where we have found the complaint to be Justified or Partly Justified and we believe mediation would help to work out how best to put things right. Mediation can be particularly helpful when the student intends to return to their studies.
40We generally review complaints by looking at the documents that the student and the higher education provider give us.
40.1Once we have received the student’s Complaint Form, we ask the higher education provider for their response to the complaint and we ask for any other documents we need. We share the information the student gives us with the higher education provider, and we share the information the higher education provider gives us with the student.
40.2Usually the student and the higher education provider send us information in writing. This is helpful to us because it is easy to share that information with the other party. If there is any reason why the student might find it difficult to put information in writing we can take the information over the telephone or by video conferencing (eg Skype).
40.3We do not normally hold a meeting with the student or the higher education provider to discuss the complaint. We will do so if the student has particular difficulties with communication and a meeting would help us to understand the complaint.
40.4A hearing is more formal than a meeting: both parties have the opportunity to argue their case in front of the decision maker. We will not normally hold a hearing unless we decide it is necessary to help us reach a decision on the complaint.
40.5When we ask for information we will set a deadline for the response. The deadline will normally be 14 or 28 days but that will depend on how much information we are asking for. We will say what the deadline is when we make the request.
40.6We try to be flexible and if the student or the higher education provider cannot meet the deadline we have set they can ask for an extension, where possible before the deadline has passed. We normally expect the person asking for the extension to explain why they need it. If a student is having difficulties meeting a deadline because they are very busy or are not well we may suggest that they appoint a representative to help them, for example a student union representative.
40.7The Higher Education Act 2004, places a duty on higher education providers to comply with ‘obligations’ imposed by the OIA. This includes reasonable requests for information relating to the review of a student’s complaint. If the provider does not provide information requested we may report the provider to our Board, and may publish information about it. We have a process for reporting this.
41When we have decided that we have all of the information relevant to the complaint (that is, our complaint file is complete) we will contact the student and the higher education provider to tell them this. It is up to the person reviewing the complaint to decide when they have all the information they need to make a decision on the complaint. The person reviewing the complaint also decides what, if any, questions they need to ask about the student’s complaint.
42When we have all the information we need we will write a Complaint Outcome. This will set out our decision on the complaint and the reasons for it. We will decide whether the higher education provider properly applied its regulations and followed its procedures, whether those regulations and procedures were themselves fair, and whether or not the higher education provider’s decision in the student’s case was reasonable.
42.1When we decide a complaint we will say that it is Justified, Partly Justified or Not Justified. If we have upheld all of the points the student has raised and no suitable remedy has been given or offered to the student, we will conclude that the complaint is Justified. If we have upheld most of the points the student has raised, or decide that a remedy given or offered is not adequate, we will conclude that the complaint is Partly Justified. If we do not uphold any part of the student’s complaint, or if we conclude that the higher education provider has given or offered the student a suitable remedy for what has gone wrong, we will conclude that it is Not Justified.
42.2If we have found the complaint to be Justified or Partly Justified we will also set out any Recommendations we intend to make and the reasons for them in an appendix to the Complaint Outcome (see Recommendations, paragraph 43).
42.3We may also record in a Complaint Outcome the details of a settlement or the outcome of mediation, or confirm that a complaint has been withdrawn or terminated.
42.4We will normally send the Complaint Outcome to the student and the higher education provider within 90 days of deciding that we have all the information we need. If a complaint is highly complex it might take us longer to complete our review than normal. A complaint might be highly complex because there are several parts to it, there is a large amount of documentation, we decide that we need to hold a hearing or refer the complaint to mediation, or it is linked to another case and the review has to be put on hold to await the outcome. We will explain to the student and the higher education complaint why we have decided the complaint is highly complex and will tell them how long we think our review is likely to take.