We have published our second set of case summaries of complaints arising from the impact of coronavirus.
Most of the cases summarised relate to the 2019-20 academic year because it often takes some time for complaints to reach us. We have selected the summaries to illustrate our approach to different scenarios in the complaints we have seen so far.
Some of the complaints we have looked at have been about accommodation, most commonly raising concerns about paying rent while not living in the accommodation due to coronavirus restrictions. We can look at complaints about accommodation that is owned by a provider, or that the provider is responsible for. For the 2019/20 academic year, most providers decided not to charge students (or to refund those who had paid) for accommodation for at least part of the period the students were not living in it. We think it is good practice to put in place a policy for considering when it might be appropriate to waive accommodation charges and most providers in the cases we have seen have had such a policy. We have looked at whether providers have acted fairly in the particular circumstances of the cases we have considered.
Some students have complained to us about the cumulative effect of disruption caused by industrial action and the pandemic. In those cases we have considered whether the provider did enough to make sure that the student was not academically disadvantaged by the disruption and could meet their learning outcomes, and whether the provider delivered something that was broadly equivalent to its usual arrangements.
Other students have complained to us that their provider has not been able to deliver practical experience that was an important part of their course. In complaints we have seen, the provider has offered the students alternatives to the practical components that could not be delivered and so students have still been able to meet all or most of their learning outcomes and to complete their studies. But for particular reasons the alternatives offered did not work for the students whose cases we have summarised and they did not have the learning experience that they reasonably expected. We have recommended that the provider should pay some compensation, or settled the case on that basis.
Felicity Mitchell, Independent Adjudicator said:
“The case summaries reflect the hugely challenging and complex situations that students and providers have faced as a result of the pandemic. Where possible we try to reach a settlement and we are pleased that in many cases providers and students have been very open to this.
The summaries illustrate our approach to deciding what is fair and reasonable in these kinds of situations. We hope they will be helpful to providers and students.”
Notes to editors
- An embargoed copy of the case summaries is attached. The summaries will be published on our website on 2 March 2021 (the first set of case summaries relating to complaints about the impact of coronavirus are also available).
- The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) is the independent student complaints ombuds service 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.
- In 2020 we received 2,604 complaints. Complaints to us have been rising steadily over the last few years and this continued in 2020.
- We have to date received around 500 complaints arising from the impact of coronavirus. There is always a time lag in complaints reaching us, because students need to first raise their complaint through their provider’s internal complaints process and then have up to 12 months to come to us.
- Where we decide that a complaint is Justified or Partly Justified we make Recommendations to the provider to put things right for the student. In some cases this might include a partial refund of tuition fees.
- You can find further information about the Scheme and our work at oiahe.org.uk.