We have today (29 April) published our Annual Report for 2018.
The report sets out:
- The number and outcomes of complaints we received and closed
- Examples of the complaints students make to us, and the Recommendations we make when we find complaints Justified or Partly Justified
- 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 2018 we saw a return to the peak complaint numbers of 2012-14. Despite this we have maintained a strong performance against our key performance indicators for the timeliness of our case-handling process. We have continued to develop our extensive outreach programme and to share learning from complaints, benefiting both higher education providers and students. Listening to students has been a particular focus for us this year. Our organisation is more open than ever before about what we do and how we approach cases.”
Ben Elger, Chief Executive, said:
“Our commitment to fairness is at the heart of our work. This goes beyond reviewing individual complaints and sharing learning and into our wider role in the higher education sector. Throughout the year we have worked with other organisations in the regulatory landscape to promote a student-focused, proportionate and joined-up approach. We have contributed to policy developments, such as making the case for strengthening student protection arrangements including through widening access to our Scheme in England and Wales.”
Our Report in detail
Complaint numbers and outcomes
- We received 1,967 new complaints in 2018, 20% more than in 2017 (1,635).
- We closed 1,722 complaints, more than in 2016 or 2017.
- We consistently closed more than 75% of cases within six months of receipt during the year, sustaining the strong performance of 2017 despite rising case receipts.
- In total, 20% of cases were Justified, Partly Justified, or settled in favour of the student. This is 4% lower than in 2017. Of these, 4% were Justified, 7% Partly Justified and 9% settled.
- In addition to the many practical remedies we recommended, students were offered financial remedies totalling £639,515, just slightly lower than in 2017, as a result of our Recommendations, settlements or suggestions. The highest single amount we recommended was £54,200.
The nature of complaints
The overall pattern of complaints in 2018 was broadly similar to that of previous years.
We again dealt with significantly more complaints about issues affecting a student’s academic status than any other category of complaint. This category includes issues such as the mark given for an assessment or in an exam, progression between years, or final degree results. In 2018, 50% of the complaints we closed related to academic status, the same proportion as in 2017.
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 – 23% (25% in 2017)
- Financial issues – 7% (6% in 2017)
- Academic misconduct and plagiarism – 5% (5% in 2017)
- Discrimination and human rights – 3% (5% in 2017)
- Welfare and accommodation – 4% (4% in 2017)
- Disciplinary matters – 3% (2% in 2017)
- Fitness to practise – 2% (2% in 2017).
Sharing learning from complaints
In 2018 we published a new section of our Good Practice Framework. Disciplinary procedures gives good practice guidance for providers in designing disciplinary procedures and handling individual cases. It covers both academic and non-academic disciplinary procedures. We also published two briefing notes on our approach to complaints about industrial action and sexual misconduct and harassment.
We continued to develop our outreach work. For the first time we ran student discussion groups talking with around 60 students in England and Wales about their experiences, concerns and views of higher education to improve our understanding of student perspectives. We ran an extensive programme of webinars and workshops, attracting participants from student representative bodies and providers across England and Wales and from the full range of our varied membership. As well as our usual visits to providers we introduced “virtual” visits.
Common themes in complaints
Our Report gives a number of case summaries of complaints involving disciplinary procedures, consumer rights and value for money issues, industrial action and mental health. These include:
- A student who admitted using unauthorised notes in an exam and forged medical evidence that they were depressed at the time to support their appeal. We found the complaint Not Justified and concluded that it was reasonable for the provider to increase the penalty when it discovered that the student had forged evidence. (Case summary 2, page 14);
- A student on a medical degree who complained about misleading information in the provider’s prospectus. We found the complaint to be Partly Justified and recommended that the provider should pay the student £20,000 in compensation. (Case summary 5, page 17); and
- A student who appealed against their degree classification, saying their performance had been affected by their mental health difficulties. The student gave us evidence that the provider had not seen. We asked the provider to reconsider their appeal based on the new evidence and it agreed to do so. (Case summary 8, page 21).
Providers almost always comply with our Recommendations. Our Report names two providers that did not comply with our Recommendations, or complied very late, and both providers comment on what they have learned.
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 will be published on our website on Monday 29 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/.