OIA publishes Annual Report for 2022

We have today (20 April) published our Annual Report for 2022.

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OIA Annual Report 2022
PDF, 2430Kb
Adroddiad Blynyddol 2022
PDF, 2426Kb

2022 Annual Report

The Report includes information about:

  • The number and outcomes of complaints we received and closed
  • Trends in complaints
  • Examples of the complaints students made to us
  • How we share learning from complaints
  • How we work with others in the higher education sector
  • Information about developments in our organisation over the year.

Ben Elger, Chief Executive, said:

“2022 was again a complex and challenging year in our external environment. We worked extensively with others in the regulatory landscape to contribute to thinking around relevant policy developments including free speech legislation, to help promote a joined-up approach and a focus on key issues affecting students. We welcomed the Tertiary Education and Research (Wales) Act which will in due course expand our remit in Wales as part of a more integrated tertiary sector. We also continued to grow capacity alongside our ongoing focus on efficiency to manage our rising caseload.”

Felicity Mitchell, Independent Adjudicator said: 

“My last full year as Independent Adjudicator was another difficult year for students and providers. We are seeing increasing levels of distress among students who are struggling to cope and this is a major concern. At the same time the pressures on providers make it more difficult for them to support students effectively. In this challenging context, we received and closed our highest ever number of complaints, and shared learning from complaints through our good practice and outreach work. I am pleased to be leaving the OIA in robust health and well placed to continue its important work.”

Our Report in detail

Complaint numbers and outcomes

For the fourth year running, we received and closed more complaints than ever before.

  • We received 2,850 new complaints in 2022, 3% more than in 2021 (2,763) and once again our highest ever number.
  • Despite the high volume of cases we met most of our targets for timeliness of our processes and we closed 2,821 cases, also our highest ever number and 6% more than in 2021 (2,654).
  • In total, 25% of cases were Justified (3%), Partly Justified (7%), or settled in favour of the student (15%). This is slightly lower than in 2021 but comparable to previous years.
  • As well as the many practical remedies we recommended, we made Recommendations for financial remedies totalling £382,298. In addition, students received a total of £667,816 through settlement agreements we reached. The overall total financial compensation in 2022 through these Recommendations and settlement agreements was £1,050,114. The highest single amount of financial compensation was over £48,000, and 49 students received amounts of £5,000 or more.
  • In addition we closed a complaint from a group of over 400 students which we decided was Partly Justified, and where the students received around £640,000 in compensation in total. (This group is not included in our data on complaints to avoid a distorting effect on trend information.)

The nature of complaints

The proportion of complaints about academic appeals (which includes complaints about academic matters such as assessments, progression and grades) rose to 38% (29% in 2021). The proportion of complaints about service issues (teaching, course delivery, supervision and course-related facilities) fell to 38% (45% in 2021). This rebalancing of our caseload is likely to reflect the end of the “no detriment” or safety net policies that had been in place during the pandemic and had resulted in fewer appeals, as well as the reduction through the year in the number of complaints related to Covid-19 disruption.

The number of complaints in other complaint categories remained relatively small, but collectively these categories accounted for 24% of case receipts. This is slightly lower than in 2021 (27%).

  • Financial issues – 6% (6% in 2021)
  • Disciplinary matters (academic) – 5% (5% in 2021)
  • Equality law / human rights – 4% (5% in 2021)
  • Welfare / non-course service issues – 4% (5% in 2021)
  • Disciplinary matters (non-academic) – 3% (4% in 2021)
  • Fitness to practise – 2% (2% in 2021).

Sharing learning from complaints

We published the revised and updated version of our Good Practice Framework: Handling complaints and academic appeals following a consultation process during the year.

We continued to share learning from complaints, publishing information and guidance and continuing our successful outreach programme. Our webinar and online workshop programme attracted participants from student representative bodies and providers across England and Wales, and from the full range of our varied membership. We resumed our in-person visits to providers and student representative bodies. We also held student discussion groups to hear directly from students about their experiences, and introduced discussion groups with student advisers.

Case summaries

Our Report includes several case summaries which illustrate some of the kinds of complaints we saw during the year. These include:

  • A student on a healthcare-related course who had a mental health condition which meant that they were not able to start their second placement on time and missed the mandatory induction sessions. The provider temporarily withdrew the student while it tried to arrange another placement. We partly upheld the complaint because, although it was beyond the provider’s control that the placement provider didn’t offer alternative induction sessions, it should have done more to resolve this issue. The student had since withdrawn from their studies. We recommended a partial refund of tuition fees and some compensation for distress and inconvenience.
  • A group of students on a distance learning course who complained that the course didn’t live up to their expectations, based on the marketing materials. We upheld the students’ complaints because the provider hadn’t addressed a number of the concerns the students raised and information in the provider’s records supported the students’ case. We recommended that the provider should review the quality of the programme, and pay compensation to the students.
  • A student was accused of inappropriate behaviour by several other students. Following an investigation, the provider decided the student’s behaviour was sexual harassment and that they had breached the provider’s code of conduct. The student was given a final written warning and their access to certain buildings was restricted. The provider also required the student to attend counselling at the provider’s expense. We did not uphold the student’s complaint. We decided that the provider acted reasonably in how it investigated the allegations about the student’s behaviour and that it followed a fair process. The provider reached a reasonable conclusion that the student’s behaviour was unwanted and inappropriate. The written warning was the least serious penalty that the provider could apply for major misconduct and we concluded that imposing that penalty, along with the restriction and counselling, was proportionate.

In addition we summarise our review of the complaint from a large group of over 400 students about disruption to their arts-based courses during the pandemic.


Notes to Editors

  1. For further information please contact Jenn Runde, Communications Officer, mediarelations@oiahe.org.uk, 0118 959 9813.
  2. The Report was published in English and in Welsh on our website on Thursday 20 April 2023.
  3. 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.
  4. Our Scheme is free to students and has been designed to be accessible to all students, without the need for legal representation.
  5. We have a wide remit to review student complaints about higher education providers in England and Wales, as set out in the Rules of our Scheme.
  6. Felicity Mitchell comes to the end of her term as Independent Adjudicator on 30 April 2023 and Helen Megarry takes up the post from 1 May 2023.
  7. You can find further information about the Scheme and our work at oiahe.org.uk.