Covid-19 has had a huge impact on many aspects of student life and will continue to do so into the next academic year. Everyone is having to adapt to new realities and to be realistic about what is possible. Almost every student’s experience has been or will be affected in some way, some more seriously than others. We encourage students, their representative bodies and higher education providers to work together to try to find good solutions.
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.
Will I get my tuition fees back?
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 in a way that you could access, it is not likely that you will get a fee refund 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. For continuing students, providers may be able to rearrange some elements of learning, so that, for example, opportunities for in-person laboratory work that have been lost in 2019/2020 can be put in place in 2020/21 or subsequently.
You might not be entitled to a financial remedy if the provider has been able to take 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.
I have signed a petition about getting a refund. Have I done enough to make my complaint?
No. Signing a petition is not the same as making your own complaint. You will not usually get an individual response from your provider if you sign a petition. If you think that you may want to make a complaint to us, then it’s very important that you make a complaint to your provider first by using their complaints process.
What should I expect for 2020/2021?
Higher education providers are planning for a range of different scenarios in the next academic year, which may include continued social distancing measures and the possibility of local or national lockdowns.
You should expect to hear from your provider about how it will deliver your course and access to facilities. Your provider may be able to offer you a choice about how you will study some or all of your course in 2020/21, but this may not always be possible. It should outline plans for different circumstances that could happen over the next year, although it won’t be possible to predict every scenario. It should draw your attention to any significant changes to your course of study, for example, if all teaching will be delivered online, or if modules have been moved to a later year 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 is likely to keep changing, 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 the Virtual Learning Environment) for updates.
Can I postpone returning to my studies?
Taking time away from your studies may be called different things at different providers. Taking a short amount of time away (a few weeks) is often called “suspension” of studies. Taking a longer amount of time away (a whole academic year) is often called a “deferral” or “intermitting”.
You will need to contact your provider to ask for a deferral if you want to take time away from your studies. We are encouraging providers to be flexible in considering requests for a deferral, but your request might not be granted automatically. Providers have to plan for how many students are at a particular point of the course at a particular time so that they have the right resources in place to support their students.
It is important to weigh up this decision carefully and seek advice and support from your provider and from your student representative body. You may need to think about how it will affect your funding, accommodation, visa status or access to other services and facilities at your provider. Your provider may be able to give you other options, for example, changing from full-time study to part-time study. Or if your concerns are about being able to access online learning, your provider may be able to support you, for example, by lending you equipment or helping you to develop relevant IT skills.
Will I still be able to do placements?
Many students take part in placements in professional settings during their studies. Providers have been following advice from relevant professional bodies and regulators of professions (known as PSRBs) to make new arrangements for student placements. Some PSRBs have made changes to what students are required to do on placements, or to how those placements must be carried out.
It is likely that 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. It is possible that some organisations will not be offering these opportunities at the moment because of the impact of Covid-19 on their business.
Your provider should keep you updated about what placement opportunities will be 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 are changing 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.
You can find up to date information about visas and immigration advice on the government website. There is also a free of charge coronavirus immigration helpline 0800 678 1767 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm) or you can email CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk.
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 what your studies could look like in the coming months. If you have questions about what is being 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.
I don’t know how to complain 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”.
If you need help to make a complaint, 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 staff are working on new arrangements for the coming year. 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 complaint and I am not happy with the outcome. What should I do now?
If your provider has not upheld your complaint, 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 you may need to ask for this letter.
When you have the Completion of Procedures letter, you can complain to us. You just need to fill in our form, and send us a copy of the letter.
You must do this within 12 months. We strongly advise you to do this as soon as possible.
What complaints can you 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.
We expect students will have 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.
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.
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 whether learning opportunities were delivered flexibly, whether you were supported to access the learning, and whether it was possible for you to achieve your expected learning outcomes. We will consider whether you were disadvantaged in your assessments. We will also look at whether your provider communicated clearly with you throughout, and whether it listened to you and tried to resolve your concerns. If your provider has done all of this, it’s unlikely that we would uphold your complaint.
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. We know that students and staff working at higher education providers may be very anxious. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.