This year’s annual report from the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) reveals that the organisation is now closing over 2,000 complaints per year.
In 2014 the OIA received 2,040 new complaints, rising from 1,972 in 2013 and 2,012 in 2012, “Complaint numbers have stabilised since 2012” says the report compared to a 25% annual increase in earlier years of the OIA scheme. For the second year running, the OIA closed more complaints than they received, closing 2,175 in 2014, slightly less than 2013’s figure, 2,215. Complaints came from students at more than 130 different providers.
Of these cases, 23 per cent were either settled (eight per cent); Partly Justified (ten per cent) or Justified (5 per cent), says the report. 59 per cent of cases were found Not Justified, a slight rise from 55 per cent in 2013. This pattern is broadly consistent with recent years. 14 percent of complaints were not eligible for review, a decrease of two per cent on last year. “14 per cent of cases were not eligible for review by the OIA, typically because they were out of time, a student had not completed internal procedures, or the complaint fell out our remit” the report says.
Common factors to Non Justified decisions:
- Cases where a student submits a request for mitigating circumstances after failing an assessment or appeal, and is unable to give reasons why relevant information was not provided at an earlier stage.
- Cases where a student does not meet clear timescales set by the provider. The OIA found a number of cases Not Justified where the student waited many months to submit a complaint or appeal, or raised matters for the first time only after getting their final results.
- A lack of evidence to support a claim for extenuating circumstances, adjustments for disability or ill- heath, or claims of financial loss.
- Clear breach by the student of regulations or processes.
Failure to engage in process.
By the end of 2014 it took an average of 207 days to close a complaint, less than the average 235 in 2013. The unit cost of complaints rose slightly to just over £1,750 in 2014 from £1,661 in 2013.
The biggest complaint category was academic status (61 per cent). Proportionally more complaints were made about service issues at the provider, with 15 per cent in 2014 up on 9 per cent the year before. Financial issues was the third biggest complaint category.
Looking at academic status, the report says “The OIA cannot look at narrow issues of academic judgment, but has wide scope to review whether procedures are fair and decisions reasonable.” Cases found in favour of the student in 2014 included:
- A Case where the university had failed to investigate a discrepancy in the marks awarded by the original and the review panels.
- A case where a student’s work had not been second-marked in accordance with university procedures.
- A number of cases where it was not clear that the provider had fully considered whether extenuating circumstances might have affected a student’s performance.
- A number of cases where the provider had not kept students sufficiently informed about concerns about their progress or the impact of individual assessments on their overall results.
The highest level of complaints come from students on courses that lead to qualification or professional recognition. Postgraduate and international students continue to be over-represented, says the report. 24 per cent of complaints came from outside the EU and 27 per cent of complaints came from postgraduate students, more proportionally than from undergraduates.
“In addition to practical recommendations the OIA may recommend that providers pay compensation to a student” says the report. In 2014 financial awards were made to more than 200 students, totalling almost £400, 000, in 20 cases payments exceeded £5,000. £6,550 was awarded on settled cases and £392,451 on cases found Justified or Partly Justified.
Rob Behrens, Chief Executive of the OIA, said: “The annual report demonstrates the importance of an independent ombudsman service for students. OIA case-handlers look at every single complaint that students send to us. Of more than 2,000 cases closed last year, 500 were found at least partially in favour of the student. Depending on the case this may lead to the student being given a second chance to submit work or appeal against a decision; cancellation of a penalty imposed by a university; or financial compensation, which in 2014 reached almost £400,000. As importantly, the report shows that overall universities are doing a thorough job in dealing with the majority of complaints fairly.”
Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said: “The marginal increase in the number of complaints received highlights the increased awareness of the independent ombudsman service for students. Universities are learning from complaints and responding to student feedback which helps to improve the overall academic experience.
“The shift in England from public funding to increased fees means that students are understandably, and rightly, demanding more from their university courses. Universities are responding