When industrial action takes place within an HE provider it is likely that large numbers of students will be concerned about how their studies will be affected. Industrial action in placement settings, such as hospitals or schools, might also cause disruption for students. This note sets out some practical tips for student representative bodies (SRBs) to consider when supporting students with complaints arising from industrial action. It draws on our previous experience of complaints about industrial action.

  1. Providers are more likely to be able to respond quickly and consistently to complaints where students who were all affected in the same way, set out their concerns together. So it’s good to help and support students to come together in course and/or year groups and to encourage them to appoint a student to represent their group.
  2. Explain to students whether the SRB can act on behalf of individual students, or whether its role is limited to providing advice and support.
  3. SRBs may be sympathetic to the industrial action and supportive of the members of staff undertaking it. It is important not only that students have access to the impartial advice and support that their SRB can provide, but also in this context that they feel confident it is impartial. Consider how the SRB can best approach providing advice in a way that supports this confidence.
  4. Encourage students to keep a record of what has been affected by the industrial action (teaching, supervision, facilities, services?). It is helpful for students to keep track of what they missed, and how this has affected them.
  5. If the industrial action has cost the student in some way, encourage them to keep evidence of this. For example, if a student had a paid notetaker pre-arranged for a lecture that was cancelled at short notice, and so had to pay for the service even though there was no lecture, the student should keep a record of the payment.
  6. Encourage students to be realistic about what the provider can do to put things right. Providers may be able to reschedule some classes later in the year, but some missed teaching may be delivered in other formats, for example through additional guided reading or recordings of previously delivered classes. Where providers have taken steps to replace the lost learning opportunities, it is unlikely that students will receive a refund of their tuition fees. SRBs can help students understand how their tuition fees support more than just direct teaching activities.
  7. A student may believe that the steps the provider is planning to take to replace lost learning opportunities will not meet their needs, for example, because they are a disabled student. Encourage students to tell the provider as soon as possible if they are worried that they will not benefit from the planned replacement activity.
  8. Remind students who are distressed as a result of the industrial action of the support services that are available to them locally. Consider whether it is appropriate to advise the provider if a student is particularly badly affected and there might be concerns for their welfare.
  9. It is important to advise students who have unresolved concerns to engage with the provider’s procedures so that they have the best chance of getting their concerns addressed. This will also keep open the possibility of bringing a complaint to us if they are unhappy with how the provider responds to their concerns. Students who only sign a petition or sign up to be part of a legal action may miss the opportunity to have their concerns properly addressed.
  10. Let students know that if they are unhappy with the way the provider has handled their complaint, they can complain to us. Our service is free to students. There are other bodies which have an interest in industrial action in higher education providers and in students’ rights as consumers, including the Office for Students and the Competition and Markets Authority. But these bodies will not consider individual complaints from students. Students can see examples of the decisions we have made and the remedies we have recommended for students on our website.

Contact us

If you have any questions about this note, please contact us on 0118 989 5813 or email

Guidance for providers - Handling complaints arising from significant disruption

Some suggestions about things to consider when handling students’ concerns around significant disruption, for example from the pandemic or industrial action.

Related pages

Case summaries of complaints involving industrial action

See our case summaries of complaints related to the impact of industrial action.

Briefing note: Complaints arising from strike action - March 2018

The purpose of this note is to outline the approach we would take to complaints from students arising from industrial action.

Industrial action - FAQ for students

Information and FAQs for students who have been affected by industrial action.