OIA publishes Annual Report for 2023

We have today (15 May) published our Annual Report for 2023.

Read our Annual Report
Annual Report 2023
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Adroddiad Blynyddol 2023
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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:

“2023 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 and mental health, to support a joined-up, student-focused approach. We progressed work towards the expansion of 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.”

Helen Megarry, Independent Adjudicator said:

“In 2023, my first year as Independent Adjudicator, our team handled more complaints than ever before. We helped to bring resolution and closure for students on the issues that matter to them. It was a difficult time for many students and providers, making the work we do in sharing good practice and promoting learning from complaints even more important.”

Our Report in more detail

Complaint numbers and outcomes

In 2023 we again received and closed more complaints than ever before.

  • We received 3,137 new complaints in 2023, 10% more than in 2022 (2,850).
  • Despite the high volume of cases we met all of our targets for timeliness of our processes and we closed 3,352 cases, 19% more than in 2022 (2,821).
  • In total, 21% of cases were Justified (2%), Partly Justified (7%), or settled in favour of the student (12%). This is slightly lower than in 2022, at least in part due to the increasing proportion of academic appeals in our caseload (see also below) as the uphold rate for these is lower.
  • As well as the many practical remedies we recommended, we made Recommendations for financial remedies totalling £580,311. In addition, students received a total of £638,564 through settlement agreements we reached. The overall total financial compensation in 2023 through these Recommendations and settlement agreements was £1,218,875. The highest single amount of financial compensation was £42,500. 58 students received amounts of £5,000 or more, of whom 24 received £10,000 or more.

The nature of complaints

Complaints relating to academic appeals (academic matters such as assessments, progression and grades including requests for additional consideration of personal circumstances) as a proportion of our caseload rose to 45% (38% in 2022). The proportion of complaints about service issues (teaching, course delivery, supervision and course-related facilities) reduced to 34% (38% in 2022). This continued rebalancing was at least in part related to reaching the end of complaints directly arising from the pandemic, but we think it is also related to the rise in complaints to us from international students. 

The number of complaints in other complaint categories remained relatively small, but collectively these categories accounted for 21% of case receipts. This is slightly lower than in 2022 (24%).

  • Financial issues – 6% (6% in 2022)
  • Disciplinary matters (academic) – 5% (5% in 2022)
  • Welfare / non-course service issues – 4% (4% in 2022)
  • Disciplinary matters (non-academic) – 3% (3% in 2022)
  • Equality law / human rights – 2% (4% in 2022)
  • Fitness to practise – 1% (2% in 2022).

Sharing learning from complaints

We continued to share learning from complaints, publishing information and guidance and continuing our successful outreach programme.

In 2023 we consulted on the revised and updated version of our Good Practice Framework: Delivering learning opportunities with others (published February 2024). 

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 continued our in-person visits to providers and student representative bodies. We held discussion groups with people in providers working in student advice and complaints-handling roles, and with student advisers, as well as our student discussion groups which enable us to hear directly from students about their experiences and perspectives.

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 whose mark for an assignment was reduced because they submitted it late, just minutes after the deadline. The student made an appeal asking for their personal circumstances including mental health issues to be taken into account, which they had not felt able to raise at the time. The provider had rejected the student’s appeal because they didn’t supply any independent evidence about their mental health at the time of the submission, but when the student complained to us they supplied new medical evidence. In the light of this, and considering what was proportionate in the circumstances of this case, the provider agreed to remove the penalty it had applied for late submission and the complaint was Settled on this basis.
  • An international student studying in the UK on a Student visa whose studies had been terminated on the basis of non-attendance. The student appealed against this decision, saying they had attended and citing problems in getting their student card to work which they had tried to address, but the provider rejected their appeal. We upheld the student’s complaint because we were not satisfied that the provider had done enough to check the accuracy of its records of the student’s attendance. We recommended that the provider should gather more information and consider the student’s appeal afresh.
  • A student with an autistic spectrum condition and a physical disability who had withdrawn from the course they were studying in the performing arts at one provider (provider A) leading to the award of another provider (provider B). We upheld the student’s complaint about a lack of support. There had been a failure to explore what the student’s specific needs were in the context of the course, and to identify and put in place support or reasonable adjustments. There had been confusion about whether students should seek this support from provider A or provider B, and about what kinds of complaints could be referred to provider B. Provider A had acknowledged some significant areas for improvement and had taken steps to improve some policies and to deliver staff training, but had not put things right for the individual student. We recommended that provider A should apologise to the student and pay them compensation of £5,000, and we made some Recommendations about the operation of its complaints procedures.


Notes to Editors

  1. For further information please contact Sarah Liddell, Head of Leadership Office, mediarelations@oiahe.org.uk, 0118 959 9813.
  2. The Report was published in English and in Welsh on our website on Wednesday 15 May 2024.
  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. You can find further information about the Scheme and our work at https://www.oiahe.org.uk/.