Over the last two years, 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 has had to adapt to changing realities. In many cases students and their representative bodies have worked with higher education providers to find good ways forward.
In these FAQs we try to answer some of the questions you may have about what you can do if you are unhappy about issues arising from the pandemic or changes to your course.
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 is making changes to my course – can I get a reduction in my fees?
- What should I expect during 2021/2022?
- Will I still be able to do placements?
- Will I be able to study abroad?
- How will coronavirus affect my visa?
- I’m an international student worried about returning or coming to the UK. What should I do?
- I am not happy with what my provider is offering. What should I do?
- My course has been disrupted by Covid-19 and industrial action
- I am worried about changes to my assessments
- I don’t know how to complain or appeal to my provider. Where can I get help?
- I have made a complaint to my provider but haven’t had an answer yet. Can I complain to the OIA?
- My provider has finished looking at my case and I am not happy with the outcome. What should I do now?
- What complaints can the OIA look at?
- Can I complain about accommodation?
- What should I say in my complaint?
- How will you decide if my complaint is justified?
- Where can I go for extra support?
The pandemic inevitably resulted in changes to how courses have been delivered. There have been fewer coronavirus-related restrictions in the current academic year, but providers are still having to consider how they can best protect students and staff. Your provider may have needed to make some changes to your course and how it was delivered and should have given you information about these changes. If your provider has made or is making changes to your course that you were not expecting and you are not happy with, you should talk to your provider about this. 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 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.
Higher education providers are likely to have planned for a range of different scenarios during the academic year. Your provider should have outlined plans for different circumstances that could happen, drawn your attention to any significant changes to your course of study, and explained your options if you didn’t agree with the changes. 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.
If you are concerned about the plans your provider has outlined or changes it has made, you should talk to your provider to see if it can address your concerns.
The situation is still evolving and it’s a good idea to keep a close eye on 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.
Many students take part in placements in professional settings during their studies. Providers may have made or 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 changed the placement opportunities that they make available, for example, making them shorter or limiting how much students can work across many different areas.
Changes in the law in England in 2021/22 will mean that some healthcare placement settings will not be able to offer placements in patient-facing settings to students who have chosen not to be vaccinated against Covid-19. If you think this might affect you, talk to your provider about your options.
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 ongoing 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.
There are still some issues around study abroad, for example different countries have different restrictions at different times, that may mean that your study abroad is disrupted or can’t go ahead. 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.
Changes have been made to how attendance is monitored to allow students with visas to study online.
For international students sponsored by their provider, and who are not on a course that is specifically 100% distance learning, the current visa requirement says that you must be in the UK and attending face to face sessions by 6 April 2022, unless travel restrictions mean you cannot reach the UK.
You can find up to date information about visas and immigration advice on the government website or you can email the Home Office Immigration Helpline on CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk. Another source of information for international students is UKCISA.
Some providers may want international students to attend face to face learning before 6 April 2022. If you do not know when you are expected to start attending in person sessions, if you have any concerns about making arrangements to travel, or if you are worried about attending in person, you should first contact your provider to explain your situation. If you are unhappy with your provider’s response to your concerns you can make a complaint. Your students' union or other student representative body may also be able to help you or tell you where you can get more support.
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 students' union or other student representative body for help.
If this doesn’t resolve your concerns, you can make a complaint.
As well as the Covid-19 disruption, industrial action can also be disruptive and some students may feel that 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.
Many providers have made changes to the format or style of their assessments and exams during the pandemic.
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 changes the provider has made might put you at a disadvantage.
If you think your performance in assessments might be affected by illness or personal circumstances you may be able to ask your provider to take those circumstances into account. Your provider will have a process for considering these requests which you should follow. 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 asking for additional consideration of your personal circumstances, or making an academic appeal.
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 students' union or other 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.
You must give your provider time to look into your complaint and respond. If you haven’t heard anything from your provider after a few weeks, you should remind them you are waiting for a response. Providers should normally complete their consideration of a complaint within 90 days. If your provider is taking longer than that, and it has not explained why, 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.
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 have raised 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. We have published some case summaries of the sort of complaints we have seen which you may find helpful.
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.
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.
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 any 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 at that time, 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.
Your provider may have a welfare service, or you may be able to get advice and support from a students’ union or other student representative body.
The last two years have been 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.
Last updated: January 2022