Office of the Independent Adjudicator - complaints

The Higher Education Act 2004 stated that in England and Wales there should be an independent body to deal with students complaints against universities. The Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) for higher education was the chosen body to implement this scheme and review all claims made by students against universities. The OIA do not have any regulatory powers to punish or fine any universities and can merely advise them on how to deal with complaints.

Who can complain to the OIA?

Students can complain if they are or were registered as a student at a university or are on the OIA list of if they are or were studying at another institution for which a university on the OIA list presents the qualification.

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Types of student complaints:

  • Unfair practices
  • Disciplinary matters, including plagiarism
  • Fitness to practice issues
  • Placements
  • Maladministration
  • Procedural irregularities
  • Research supervision
  • Welfare
  • Discrimination - race, sex, disability, age, sexual orientation or religious belief
  • Bullying and harassment
  • Any final decision of the university
  • A service provided by the university
  • Teaching and facilities
  • Student accommodation

Usually it is easier for a student to complete the internal route of appeal or procedures for issues that the university can resolve for themselves however the OIA are there for when a student has already tried this route and still feels unsatisfied by the outcome of their case. The role of the OIA is not to reinvestigate the case that the student first put to the university; it is merely to ensure that the decision that the university came to follows their procedures and that they have acted fairly, complying with the student’s rights.

How to complain to the OIA

Usually after a student has completed the internal complaints procedure and remains unhappy with the decision they must complete complaints form and hand it in to the OIA. This must be received within 3 months of the student receiving the Completion of Procedures letter issued to them after they have completed the course of the internal complaints procedure.

Once the form has been received, the OIA will send an acknowledgement letter to the student to say that they have received their form and will look into whether or not they can discuss their case. There will be a case handler dealing with each case who will hear information from both parties before deciding the end result, this can be 1 of three things: the student is justified, unjustified or partly justified.

If the students claim has been deemed justified the OIA will advise the university to alter their decision but does not have any power to make them do this. If the university does not take notice of the decision the OIA may publish the information of the specific account in their annual report. Even though they have no legal power over universities, they hold very persuasive precedent over them.

Overall the whole process could take up to 6 months or more to be completed fully.

After the final decision there is no further route of appeal. If the student is still not happy they do not need to pursue the decision of OIA and is completely within their rights to explore other remedies.

As the OIA must remain independent they cannot advise the student on other remedies.

Why get legal help?

As this is a complicated procedure it is important to know what your rights are. At Stephensons we can help you every step of the way, this can include helping you fill in your complaints form, structuring your evidence to present to the OIA and also with other information you may need for alternative remedies or bringing a judicial review.

If you would like more information please contact us on 0175 321 5096 or complete an online enquiry form and a member of the team will contact you directly.

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