can you complain to us?

Visual process flow to see if a student can complain to the OIA.

Before you make a complaint to us, it’s worth checking whether your complaint is one that we can look at. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

Are you, or have you been, a registered student?

You can complain to us if you are or were a student registered at a higher education provider, or you are or were studying for an award granted by a higher education provider. The term “student” includes trainees, apprentices and those studying at a campus abroad for an award from a provider in England or Wales.

If there is any doubt about whether you are or were a registered student, we will look at the provider’s regulations to decide whether your complaint is one that we can review.

Is the provider a member of our Scheme?

Members of the Scheme include universities, Further Education (FE) and Sixth-Form colleges, alternative providers and providers of School-Centred Initial Teacher Training (SCITTs). These are all forms of higher education provider.

We can only review a complaint if the provider is a member on the date we receive your Complaint Form, and if the provider was a member at the time of the events that the complaint is about.

If a provider stops running higher education courses, it becomes a “transitional institution” for a period of 12 months. We can only look at a complaint about a transitional institution if the complaint relates to things that happened before the institution became a transitional institution.

You can complain about some providers no matter what course you are or were studying. You can only complain about some other providers if you are or were on a higher education course.

You may be studying for an award from one provider, which is delivered by another. If both providers are members of the Scheme, you may be able to make a complaint about either or both, depending on who is responsible for the matters you are complaining about.

For a list of our members and to find out more, please visit our members page.

Is the complaint about something we can look at?

You can complain to us about anything a provider has done or failed to do. This might be about a programme of study, a service or a final decision of the provider’s disciplinary or appeal body. There are some things we can’t look at (see below). Our Rules and Guidance Note give more information about what we can and can't look at.

Complaints we can look at include but are not limited to:

  • Academic appeals
  • Accommodation
  • Bullying and harassment
  • Disciplinary matters (including plagiarism)
  • Discrimination*
  • Extenuating circumstances
  • Fitness to practise processes
  • Placements
  • Procedural irregularities
  • Research supervision
  • Teaching provision and facilities
  • Unfair practices
  • Welfare

We can't look at complaints about:

  • Admissions, unless the person complaining is a former student of that higher education provider who is applying for re-admission, and the complaint is directly connected to their time as a student.
  • Academic judgment
  • Student employment
  • Something that has already been the subject of legal proceedings in a court or tribunal unless those proceedings have been put on hold.
  • Something that has already been considered by another alternative dispute resolution body.


* When we look at complaints involving discrimination, we refer to the law and guidance on discrimination to decide whether the provider has acted fairly. But we don’t act in the same way as a court and we don’t make findings that a provider has discriminated against a student.

We may decide not to review a complaint if we believe reviewing it might seriously damage our ability to run our processes effectively. For example:

  • A different forum is better equipped to consider the matter: for example, complaints about data protection issues will normally be better considered by the Information Commissioner’s Office.
  • There are other proceedings taking place within the higher education provider or elsewhere which are relevant to the complaint. For example, a student complains to us about an academic appeal and they want to be given a further resit opportunity. The student is also the subject of separate disciplinary proceedings which might result in their exclusion. If they are excluded, then they would be no point in conducting a review of the academic appeal before the results of the disciplinary proceedings are known.
  • The complaint relates to events which took place over a significant period of time (more than three years) and involves a very high volume of documentation.

Have you completed the provider’s complaints or appeals process?

We normally expect students to follow their higher education provider’s internal procedures to their conclusion before complaining to us. This gives the higher education provider the opportunity to investigate and, where appropriate, put things right. Once the internal procedures are completed, the provider should issue you a Completion of Procedures Letter. This letter should set out clearly the matters that have been considered, the provider’s final decision and the deadline for bringing a complaint to us.

If you think you have completed the internal procedures and the provider has not issued a Completion of Procedures Letter, you should ask the provider to send you one, or tell you what you need to do to complete the internal procedures.

In exceptional circumstances, we may look at a complaint where the internal complaints or appeals procedures have not been completed. For instance, where a provider has unduly delayed in either progressing the complaint or in issuing a Completion of Procedures Letter, or if there is evidence that the higher education provider might be obstructing the complaint, or where there is nothing to be gained by progressing with the internal processes. In all these cases, we would expect the student to have pursued the matter first with the provider.

Are there time limits for complaining to us?

Yes. We must receive your complaint within 12 months of the date of the Completion of Procedures Letter, otherwise your complaint will not be accepted. The 12-month period will normally run from the date of the Completion of Procedures Letter. For example, if your Completion of Procedures Letter is dated 7 September, we must receive your OIA Complaint Form by 7 September the following year.

It is usually better to complain as soon as possible after the conclusion of the provider’s processes. This is because the remedies we can recommend may be limited if you wait a year before complaining. This is particularly important if your higher education provider is a transitional institution because you won’t be able to complain to us once the transition period is up.

Find out how to submit a complaint to us

Related pages

Who can complain to us?

Learn more about who can complain to us and what they can complain about.

What happens when a student complains to us?

Learn more about how we deal with complaints, and what happens once a complaint is made.

What happens if we can't look at all or part of your complaint?

Find out about asking us to reconsider our decision.

Our Rules

Our Rules set out how our Scheme works, who can complain, what we can and can’t look at, how we review complaints, and what higher education providers should do.