Covid-19 has had a huge impact on many aspects of student life and the impact is likely to be long lasting. Almost every student’s experience has been affected in some way, some more seriously than others. Everyone is having to continually adapt to changing realities and to be realistic about what is possible. We encourage students, their representative bodies and higher education providers to work together to try to find good ways forward.
In these FAQs we try to answer some of the questions you may have about what you can expect, and what you can do if you are unhappy with what your provider is doing. If you are considering making a complaint to us, we hope the information here will also give you a sense of whether your complaint is something we’re likely to be able to help with.
We want to be able to help you if you have a complaint. We can only do that if you have tried to resolve the problem with your provider first. You must give your provider the chance to respond to your concerns, so you need to raise your concerns through your provider’s complaints process. If you haven’t done that, we won’t be able to look at your complaint.
My provider has made or plans to make changes to my course – can I get a reduction in my fees?
The pandemic has inevitably resulted in changes to how courses are delivered. If your provider has offered you different but broadly equivalent teaching and assessment opportunities and these are accessible to you, it is not likely that you will get a fee refund or reduction for that.
Your provider may do several things to try to ensure that you are not disadvantaged because of the pandemic. They may be able to offer a different way to deliver the content from in-person teaching. Providers are also likely to take the pandemic into account when deciding how to carry out assessments. Providers may be able to rearrange some elements of learning, so that, for example, opportunities for in-person laboratory work that have been lost during one year can be put in place in a later year.
You might not be entitled to a financial remedy if the provider takes steps to put things right another way.
Your provider might offer you a financial remedy, or if we uphold your complaint we may recommend that your provider gives you a financial remedy, particularly if it is unable to take any other action to put the situation right.
What should I expect during 2021/2022?
Higher education providers are planning for a range of different scenarios during the academic year. This might include a mix of face-to-face and online learning. You should expect your provider to keep you up to date through the year about how it will deliver your course and access to facilities. It should outline plans for different circumstances that could happen over the year, although it won’t be possible to predict every situation that might arise. It should draw your attention to any significant changes to your course of study. If you don’t agree to the changes, your provider should tell you what your options are.
If you are concerned about the plans your provider has outlined, you should talk to your provider to see if it can address your concerns.
The situation continues to evolve so you should regularly check your provider’s website, your email, and any other channel the provider usually uses to communicate with you (including via a Virtual Learning Environment) for updates.
Will I still be able to do placements?
Many students take part in placements in professional settings during their studies. Providers may need to make some changes to how placements are carried out and will be following advice from relevant professional bodies and regulators of professions (known as Professional, Statutory, and Regulatory Bodies or PSRBs) about this.
Some placement settings may have had to change the placement opportunities which they had expected to make available, for example, making them shorter or limiting how much students can work across many different areas.
Some courses include optional placement opportunities, for example, in business. It is possible that some organisations will not be offering these opportunities at the moment because of the impact of Covid-19.
Your provider should keep you updated about what placement opportunities are available and what is expected of you. If you don’t get the placement opportunities that you were expecting, talk to your provider to find out whether anything can be done. If you participate in a placement but are unhappy about your experience, it’s important to keep a record of what has happened, and to talk to your provider as soon as possible so that it can take action to address your concerns.
Will I still be able to study abroad?
If you were expecting to study abroad in the near future, it is very likely that this will be disrupted. Travel restrictions continue to change very rapidly. Your provider should keep you updated about what options are available to you. It should let you know how it plans to deliver learning opportunities to you, if study abroad can’t go ahead as planned. Providers should also give you advice about practical arrangements such as visas, finance and accommodation.
How will coronavirus affect my visa?
Changes have been made to how attendance is monitored to allow students with visas to study online.
Another source of information for international students is UKCISA.
I am not happy with what my provider is offering. What should I do?
Your provider should be communicating with you regularly about your studies. If you have questions about what is planned, or don’t think it’s right for you, talk to your provider. Do this as soon as you can, so that there is time for the provider to respond to your concerns. If you don’t know who to contact, you could ask your personal tutor or your student representative body for help.
If this doesn’t resolve your concerns, you can make a complaint.
My course has been disrupted by Covid-19 and industrial action
As well as the Covid-19 disruption, industrial action can also be disruptive and some students may feel the effect of this is cumulative. It’s important to raise any concerns you have about your studies with your provider as soon as you can. Most providers’ procedures include time limits for making a complaint so if you wait too long then the provider may say it’s too late to complain. If you have good reasons for not complaining earlier you should explain that to your provider.
My provider changed my assessments and I don’t think my mark is fair
Many providers changed the format or style of their assessments and exams during the pandemic. When providers mark assessments they usually have some sort of process for maintaining consistency between different markers and cohorts. This is known as moderation. In some cases providers moderated assessments that had been changed so that students’ marks were broadly in line with what might have been expected if they had sat the normal assessments.
Your provider should have talked to you about any changes it was making to your assessments, why those changes were needed, and what this might mean for your progression or final grade. It should be able to explain to you how your mark or grade has been calculated.
You should talk to your provider if you think you have been given incorrect information, that the provider has not done what it said it would, or that the provider has not taken into account your request for additional consideration (because of illness or personal circumstances).
Many providers have a process for challenging a decision about academic results which is separate from their complaints procedure. Often this is referred to as making an academic appeal. Your students’ union or other student representative body may be able to give you advice about making an academic appeal.
I don’t know how to complain or appeal to my provider. Where can I get help?
Most providers publish their complaints procedures on their websites. You may find them in sections about “regulations” or “procedures” or by searching for the word “complaint” or “appeal”.
If you need help to make a complaint or appeal, your student representative body may be able to support you.
If a group of students all have a similar complaint, your student representative body or your course representative may be able to help coordinate a group complaint. You may all get a response more quickly by working together.
If you are a disabled student and you are finding it hard to access your provider’s complaints process, get in touch with them and let them know. Your provider’s disability support service or student welfare services may be able to help.
I have made a complaint to my provider but haven’t had an answer yet. Can I complain to the OIA?
You must give your provider time to look into your complaint and respond. Some providers need longer than usual to respond to complaints, because of high volumes or because of other pressures on staff from the impact of coronavirus. If you haven’t heard anything from your provider after a few weeks, you should remind them you are waiting for a response. If your complaint still does not progress after that, you can get in touch with us and we will try to help.
My provider has finished looking at my case and I am not happy with the outcome. What should I do now?
If your provider has not upheld your complaint or academic appeal, it should send you a Completion of Procedures Letter when it has made its final decision. If it has upheld some or all of your complaint or appeal you may need to ask for this letter. It should also send you a Completion of Procedures Letter if it has rejected your complaint because it says you made it too late.
When you have the Completion of Procedures Letter, you can complain to us. You just need to fill in our Complaint Form, and submit a copy of the letter with the form.
You must do this within 12 months, but it is best to do it as soon as you can.
What complaints can the OIA look at?
We have a wide remit and can look at how your provider has responded to your concerns about almost any aspect of your student experience.Learn more about what we can and can’t look at
We can only look at complaints from students and former students, not from applicants who have not yet started their course.
Students raise a variety of concerns about the impact of Covid-19, including issues around changes in course delivery, placement arrangements, accommodation, access to facilities on campus such as sports facilities, library facilities and student societies, and how assessment has been carried out. We can look at most of these issues.
Can I complain about accommodation?
We can only look at complaints about what your provider has done, or not done. That means we can look at complaints about accommodation owned or managed by the provider but we can’t look at complaints about accommodation if you rent this from a different landlord.
Although we can’t look at complaints about privately rented accommodation, sometimes we can take the costs of this accommodation into account when looking at a student’s complaint about something else. For example, if a student had to stay on for an extra term because of something the provider did, we could consider whether the provider should pay financial compensation towards the extra costs the student would have.
What should I say in my complaint?
To make a complaint to us you do not need to write long statements, or know any legal terminology. Just explain as clearly as you can:
- what your complaint is about
- what your provider has done about it
- why you are not happy with what has been done
- what you want as the outcome from your complaint.
You need to send us a copy of your Completion of Procedures Letter.
How will you decide if my complaint is justified?
This will depend to some extent on what your complaint is about, but broadly we will consider whether what your provider did was reasonable in all of the circumstances of your complaint, whether your provider followed its procedures correctly and whether those procedures were fair.
If your provider has rejected your complaint because you made it too late, we will look at whether that was a reasonable decision. If we decide it wasn’t, we would most likely ask the provider to look at your complaint.
We are likely to look at the way your provider kept you informed about what was happening, and what steps it took proactively. If you needed support to access your course, we will look at what support your provider offered, and how quickly.
We may look at how your particular course has been affected, and what your provider has done about it. We will consider the impact on you as a student.
We may consider what students were promised, in prospectuses, course and module handbooks, and on the provider’s website. We will take account of the public health restrictions in place, and any guidance that was available to the provider at the time, to decide if what it did was reasonable. We may ask your provider to explain what measures it took to support students in general, and how it responded to you specifically when you raised your concern.
If your complaint is about course delivery, we will look at what your provider promised in terms of contact hours and other learning opportunities and whether it made sure that you were not disadvantaged academically and could achieve your learning outcomes. We’ll look at what your provider delivered, and whether that matched what was promised and what you could reasonably have expected, and was broadly equivalent to its usual arrangements. We’ll also look at whether your provider communicated clearly with you throughout, and whether it listened to you and tried to resolve your concerns.
Where can I go for extra support?
Your provider may have a welfare service, or you may be able to get advice and support from a students’ union or other representative body. These services may be operating remotely and are likely to be busier than usual.
This is a worrying and exceptionally challenging time for everyone. If you need some support with your mental health and wellbeing, you may find these resources helpful.
If you need someone to talk to urgently, you can call the Samaritans, free of charge, at any time, on 116 123 or ask for advice by email to email@example.com.