This article is more than 4 years old

OIA: helping to minimise the impact of industrial action on students

This article is more than 4 years old

Felicity Mitchell is the Independent Adjudicator at OIA.

This is a briefing for Wonkhe SUs subscribers.

Many students will be concerned about the current industrial action, and how it might affect their studies.

For some this will be the third round of strikes – for some the action comes hard up against their final assessments, and for some it will take a quite a chunk out of a short course.

Students might be sympathetic to the industrial action and supportive of staff, but also worried or frustrated about the effects it might have on them. Students’ unions and other student representative bodies may find themselves in a difficult position, wanting to support striking staff but also needing to support concerned students. It’s reassuring for students to be able to get support and advice from someone impartial.

Following the 2018 strikes we found that many providers took effective steps to minimise the academic impact the industrial action had on students. But they were not so good at making sure that students didn’t miss out on learning opportunities. Student representative bodies can play an important role liaising between the provider and students to find ways to minimise disruption and to make up for lost learning. This might be through rearranging timetables, delivering the learning in other formats, or allowing students to attend classes in later sessions.

Finding common ground

Students in the same cohort who are doing the same modules will usually have concerns in common. Student representative bodies can help to organise those students into groups and this is likely to make it much easier for providers to deal with the concerns effectively.

Students should be encouraged to keep track of exactly what they have missed out on and how it has affected them. This might include access to facilities and non-academic support as well as teaching and supervision.

One size rarely fits all

Some students will find it harder than others to cope with missing out on precious teaching hours or other support or facilities. Disabled students might incur unnecessary costs, for example because they have to cancel a note taker at the last minute.

Moving deadlines might affect some students more than others. Student advisers can play a vital role in supporting these students individually, helping them to explain their situation to the provider and to find a way forward, and helping them to access appropriate support services.

Taking it further

Student advisers can also help students to be realistic about what the provider can do to put things right, and to understand that tuition fees support more than just direct teaching activities.

It is usually best if providers find a way to make up for what has been missed so that students do not lose out. We take the view that tuition fee refunds or other financial compensation are appropriate if that has not happened, or it has not worked for the individual student.

Can’t get no?

If students are not satisfied with the steps the provider has taken, they should engage with the provider’s internal complaints processes so that they have the best opportunity to have their concerns addressed. Those who are unhappy with the way their provider has handled their complaint can complain to us.

Our service is free to students and we try to make it as easy as possible for students to bring their complaint to us. Student representative bodies can provide valuable support to any students who may need extra help to do this.

In 2018 several law firms signed up large numbers of students for class actions in court but, as far as we know, there has been no successful class action. Some of those students missed out on bringing a complaint to us because they did not complain to their provider first.

Over the last couple of years we and other organisations such as OfS and NUS have published guidance relating to industrial action. Our guidance includes information for student advisers and for universities on how to handle complaints arising from the industrial action, and on how we will approach these complaints.

We have published case summaries of complaints to illustrate our approach. We have a special email address for queries about complaints arising from the industrial action: and a special complaint form for students who are not able to resolve their concerns internally.

One response to “OIA: helping to minimise the impact of industrial action on students

  1. While as usual this is helpful advice, I don’t remember OIA being set up to adjudicate on contractual issues including the vexed question of force majeure being used as a defence to a breach of contract claim. It was established – well before modern consumer legislation- to replace the long outdated Visitorial system (which still operates in NI) – I well remember the gathering of Visitors including m’learned friends, Privy Council, etc and bishops we held in London ca. 20 years ago and how ridiculous the system was – and to reduce the number of cases otherwise ending up in court. While the OIA has achieved a great deal, personally I think that the contractual issues and the calculation of compensation for lost teaching and learning can only be decided by the courts, and I think this would help all parties.

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