We have today (30 April) published our Annual Report for 2019.
The report sets out:
- The number and outcomes of complaints we received and closed
- Examples of the complaints students make to us
- Trends and common themes in complaints and how we share learning
- How we work with others in the higher education sector
- Information about developments in our organisation over the year.
Felicity Mitchell, Independent Adjudicator said:
“In 2019 we saw another substantial rise in complaints coming to us. Despite this we have maintained strong performance against our key performance indicators for the timeliness of our case-handling process. We have continued to develop our work to share learning from complaints, benefiting both higher education providers and students. The coronavirus situation is having a profound impact on the higher education sector but we hope the insights from our work shared in our Report will still be useful even in these difficult times.”
Ben Elger, Chief Executive, said:
“Throughout 2019 we worked with other organisations in the higher education regulatory framework, promoting a student-focused, proportionate and joined-up approach to policy and practice. This part of our role is perhaps now more important than ever as the sector navigates the uncharted waters of the coronavirus pandemic.”
Our Report in detail
Complaint numbers and outcomes
- We received 2,371 new complaints in 2019, almost 21% more than in 2018 (1,967) and our highest ever number.
- We closed 2,185 complaints, an increase of 27% on 2018.
- We consistently closed more than 75% of cases within six months of receipt during the year, sustaining the strong performance of 2018 despite rising case receipts.
- In total, 23% of cases were Justified (3%), Partly Justified (11%), or settled in favour of the student (9%). This is 3% more than in 2018 and is in line with previous years.
- In addition to the many practical remedies we recommended, students were offered financial remedies totalling £745,388, as a result of our Recommendations, settlements or suggestions. The highest single amount we recommended was just over £53,000.
The nature of complaints
The overall pattern of complaints in 2019 was broadly similar to that of previous years.
We again dealt with significantly more complaints involving academic appeals than any other category of complaint. This category (which we previously called “academic status”) includes issues such as marking processes, progression between years, and final degree results. In 2019, 48% of the complaints we closed related to academic appeals (50% in 2018).
Other categories of complaint were:
- Service issues including complaints relating to facilities, course content compared to the prospectus, processing of visa applications, teaching hours or research supervision – 29% (23% in 2018)
- Financial issues – 5% (7% in 2018)
- Disciplinary matters (academic) – 4% (5% in 2018)
- Equality law / human rights – 4% (3% in 2018)
- Welfare / non-course service issues – 4% (4% in 2018)
- Disciplinary matters (non-academic) – 3% (3% in 2018)
- Fitness to practise – 2% (2% in 2018).
Sharing learning from complaints
In 2019 we published a new section of our Good Practice Framework on Fitness to practise. The section gives good practice guidance for providers in designing fitness to practise procedures and handling individual cases. We also published case summaries covering a range of topics during the year.
We continued to develop our outreach work. We ran an extensive programme of webinars and workshops, as well as visits and “virtual visits” to providers. Our programme attracted participants from student representative bodies and providers across England and Wales and from the full range of our varied membership. We also continued to hold student discussion groups to understand more about student perspectives.
Common themes in complaints
Our Report includes several case summaries of complaints involving fitness to practise, sexual harassment and misconduct, and consumer rights issues, and complaints from disabled students. These include:
- A nursing student who was found unfit to practise following an unfair process. The provider told the student they had breached the relevant professional code of conduct, but did not clearly explain how or when. We decided the complaint was Justified and recommended that the provider should carry out a fresh fitness to practise process and pay some compensation. (Case summary 3, page 17)
- A student who complained that another student had sexually assaulted them but was given no information about the outcome of the resulting disciplinary case against the other student. The student complained to us about delays and a lack of communication and support during the process. We found the complaint to be Partly Justified and recommended that the provider should take immediate steps to address the student’s concerns about meeting the other student during their studies, and should pay the student some compensation. (Case summary 6, page 21)
- A disabled student with a degenerative condition on an art and design course who complained that they were not allowed to transfer to a different dissertation module that involved less practical work. We concluded that the complaint was Justified, and that the provider should have made adjustments to the dissertation module. We recommended that the provider should pay the student some compensation. (Case summary 7, page 23)
- A student on a Masters in a Business Management-related area who complained that they had been given misleading information about the level of maths knowledge needed for the course. We decided the complaint was Justified because the provider had not considered the information it had on its website about course requirements when it considered the complaint. We recommended that the provider should investigate the complaint properly, and pay the student some compensation for missing the opportunity to resolve the complaint sooner. (Case summary 10, page 25)
Notes to Editors
For further information please contact Sarah Liddell, Head of Leadership Office, firstname.lastname@example.org, 0118 959 9813.
- An embargoed copy of our Annual Report is attached. The Report was published on our website on 30 April.
- The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) is the independent student complaints ombuds for higher education in England and Wales. It is the designated operator of the student complaints’ scheme under the Higher Education Act 2004.
- Our Scheme is free to students, and has been designed to be accessible to all students, without the need for legal representation.
- We have a wide remit to review student complaints about higher education providers in England and Wales, as set out in our Scheme Rules.
- You can find further information about the Scheme and our work at https://www.oiahe.org.uk/.
- We have published some information in relation to the coronavirus situation.