Complaints to the OIA
The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) is an independent body, set up to run the Student Complaints Scheme in England and Wales. It is now a legal requirement under the Education Act 2005 for Higher Education Providers in England and Wales to become members of the OIA.
What can you complain to the OIA about?
The OIA provides an independent, free, transparent scheme to review student complaints and appeals against individual Universities.
The OIA look at final decisions made by the University on a number of issues including;
- Disciplinary Action
- Fitness to Practice
- Procedural Irregularities
- Unfair practices
The OIA is unable to deal with the following;
- Academic Judgment
- Student employment
- Matters which are being considered or have been concluded by a court or tribunal
- Matters which the OIA have already dealt with
What can the OIA do?
The OIA are a review body, not an appeal body. This means that they will not initiate a new investigation or decide on a new outcome. They will instead look at the decision made in your case and consider:
- whether the University followed their own procedures properly; and
- whether those procedures and decision making processes were fair and reasonable.
The OIA will decide whether your complaint is Justified, Partly Justified, or Not Justified. If your complaint is found to be justified, or partly justified, the OIA can consider the most appropriate course of action and make recommendations to the University. They will not overturn a decision but, if they find a decision to be unfair, they will recommend to the University that they reconsider your case in a fair way.
You have 12 months from the date of the Completion of Procedures (COP) letter from the University in which to complain to the OIA.
What is a Completion of Procedures (COP) letter?
The University should issue a Completion of Procedures Letter at the point they are making their final decision in your case. When you get to the end of most procedures, as described in the University's Academic Regulations, the University offer you a chance to request a review under the Review Procedure. Once the Review Procedure is exhausted, or at any point where you have reached the end of the line and there are no further steps that you can take internally, you should automatically be issued with a COP letter detailing the final decision and the reason for it.
What if I don't have a COP letter?
Some of the University's Procedures can take a significant amount of time, as the duration of an investigation may vary depending on the complexity and the number of people involved. The OIA will only consider reviewing a complaint without a COP in exceptional circumstances. in most cases, if you feel you have been waiting an unreasonable amount of time, you will need to consider submitting a complaint about the way in which your case is being handled.
If you feel that the University's delays are unreasonable and/or are causing you distress or inconvenience, you can consider submitting a complaint to ask for compensation. Further information is available on our Claiming Compensation page.
How do I complain to the OIA?
In normal circumstances, once you have received a COP Letter, you can submit a complaint to the OIA through the MYOIA webpage or by downloading the form and emailing or posting it to the OIA:
- Email address: email@example.com.
- Postal address: OIA, Second Floor, Abbey Wharf, 57-75 Kings Road, Reading, RG1 3AB
If you are posting your complaint form, it is important that you ask for proof of postage from your local post office.
Again, only in exceptional cases, you may be able to submit a complaint without a COP Letter.
To submit a complaint, you must have:
- Completed the Complaint form;
- Included your COP letter;
- Submitted your complaint within 12 months of the date of your COP letter.
If you miss this deadline, it is likely that your complaint will be rejected.
This is all you need to do in the first instance. The OIA will contact the University for further information. If they need anything from you they should be in contact with you.
Writing your Complaint
You will be asked to explain your complaint in section 5 of the form. You will see that it asks:
- For a summary of your complaint. You will be submitting your complaint and/or appeal to the OIA as a supporting document, so you don't need to repeat everything here. You do need to provide a clear and concise summary of your complaint that focuses on the very essence of the issue.
- Why you are dissatisfied with the decision and/or the process followed. As above, the OIA is a review body that can review the University's decisions and decision making processes. The OIA accept that universities are able to make their own procedures but require that these procedures are reasonable and are followed by the institution making them. If the University have not followed their own procedures, you should explain how they have failed (i.e. quote the rules and link them to the University's actions/inaction). If you feel that the University's process was unreasonable in the circumstances, you need to explain why.
- What you would like as a resolution to your complaint. What you put here may not be what you get but asking for something the OIA disagree with will not affect the outcome of your complaint in terms of whether it is justified or not. You will see below in the remedies section that the OIA have guidance as to what they see as a reasonable remedy. You can get an idea of what this is likely to be by reading their Putting it Right Framework and Case Summaries sections.
Reasonableness is a tricky argument and it can be hard to show that a process is unreasonable without some kind of supporting evidence. You may, for example, feel that it is unreasonable not to allow you to complain about your marks because you disagree with the marker, but the OIA will not consider arguments about academic judgment. Support can come from many places, including the OIA's Good Practice Framework. If, for example, the University has decided that you are not fit to practise but the procedure used did not include key elements as required by The Good Practice Framework: Fitness to practise, you may have good grounds to argue that the decision making process was unfair/unreasonable.
OIA Good Practice Framework
The OIA Good Practice Framework is a group of documents produced by the ombuds body, the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA). These documents set out the overriding principles and operational guidance intended for use by the University in ensuring their processes are robust, fair, transparent and timely. If the University has not followed these principles, your case for unreasonableness becomes much stronger than just your opinion.
The Good Practice documents include:
If you are complaining to the OIA about the University decision on an appeal or complaint, you are likely to have most, if not all, of the evidence you need already. You will normally be expected to provide:
- Any documents linking to the initial issue. This can include, for example, your original complaint or appeal form and all evidence submitted with it. If you are complaining about the outcome of a disciplinary process, you should include all the documents that were included in the investigation (e.g the letter detailing the concern, any statement from you, or witnesses, notes of any investigatory meeting etc.).
- Any documents linked to the Review Procedure. This can include your review request form and any new evidence provided at this stage.
- Any correspondence detailing the University's decisions in your case. This can include your original decision letter detailingthe outcome of your complaint and the COP letter at the end of the review process.
- Any new relevant evidence. You may not have or need to provide any new evidence at this stage but it may be appropriate to do so if, for example, the University's decision or decision making process has caused you distress and is continuing to do so. New evidence in this sense can be a new letter from your GP explaining the ongoing affect on your mental health.
- Any relevant information found through a Subject Access Request. You have the right to request to the personal data the University holds about you under data protection laws. This is known as a Subject Access Request (SAR). You can ask the University in the first instance but, if they do not send what you ask for, you will need to follow the SAR process detailed on the University's website. You do not necessarily have to submit a SAR if you are complaining to the OIA but, if you have reason to believe that the University hold some information that may be useful as evidence to support your complaint, it can be helpful to do so. Examples of the type of information that can be helpful include Examining Board minutes, correspondence within the University relating to your appeal, correspondence within your School relating your extenuating circumstances, correspondence relating to your fitness to practise etc.
What happens once I submit my application form?
When the application form is complete and submitted, it can take on average 6-18 months to get a decision from the OIA, therefore, any decision made by the University should be considered final until then. As this is a transparent scheme any information that you share with the OIA will also be shared with the University for a response. Any information shared by the University regarding your case will also be shared with you. If you want to know more about what happens after you have submitted your application form, you can find out more here.
What remedies can the OIA recommend?
If your complaint is fiund to be justified, or partly justified, the OIA can make recommendations to the University as to how to put things right. This may
- A practical remedy, such as a change of supervisor or recommendations to a School to make changes to the way they work moving forward; and/or
- A financial remedy to compensate you for any financial loss and distress or inconvenience.
The OIA can consider claims for tuition fee refunds if the course is not what was promised or was poorly delivered. It is, however, very unusual for the OIA to recommend a full reimbursement. If you are seeking a financial remedy, we advise that you consider the OIA’s Putting it Right Framework to get an idea of what financial compensation the OIA may deem appropriate in your circumstances.
The OIA usually employs the rule of precedent to ensure students, institutions and cases are treated fairly and equitably. This means that if your complaint is similar to others that have been reviewed previously, the outcome of your review is likely to be consistent with previous review decisions. As such, we strongly advise to consider the OIA Case Summaries published by the OIA before submitting your complaint. If you can find a case similar to yours, you can use the outcome to assess whether the remedy you have been offered by the University is likely to be deemed appropriate or not.
For Complaints relating to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the Industrial Strike action, the Case Summaries can be very helpful in helping you to understand that contextual landscape of your claim.
What happens if I am unhappy with the decision of the OIA?
Once the OIA makes its final decision, there is no avenue of appeal. The decisions made are not binding on the student which means that you can reject any offer made by the University following the recommendation by the OIA. If you accept the offer from the University this is deemed as the full and final settlement of your case and you cannot appeal/complain any further.
If you still remain dissatisfied following the OIA final decision, you can, if you wish to take legal action. We would, however, always advise that you seek advice from a reputable legal professional before doing so.
Contact Student Advice
+44 (0)2920 781410