The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIAHE) operates the Student Complaints Scheme pursuant to the Higher Education Act 2004.
In the OIAHE's annual report for 2019 which was recently published, a record number of complaints - 2371 - were made by students at institutions which subscribe to the Student Complaints Scheme. This was a 21% increase on the previous year.
A disproportionate number of complaints were made by graduate students (42%).
The largest category of complaint related to academic appeals (48%). However the highest number of "service" complaints was received in 2019 (29%) and the OIAHE notes that this was related to the industrial action across many higher education institutions in 2018. The OIAHE considered 50 complaints relating to the 2018 industrial action and notes that it is now considering more complaints following the further industrial action in 2019.
The OIAHE - which has no formal power to award compensation - recommended that institutions pay compensation to the tune of £745,388 overall in 2019 (£639,515 in the previous year). Other non-monetary recommendations were also made to institutions following determinations that complaints were justified or partly justified. The highest single recommended payment was £53k.
Of the complaints concluded by the OIAHE, 3% were found to the justified, 11% partly justified, 50% not justified, 9% settled, 17% were not eligible under the Scheme and 10% were withdrawn.
The OIAHE is subject to the supervisory jurisdiction of the High Court by way of judicial review. In 2019, 8 applications for permission for judicial review were made against the OIAHE but permission was not granted by the High Court in any case.
The OIAHE noted in its annual report that it had had to respond to complaints from students following the closure of their higher education provider - GSM London - and that it had shared lessons learned about the importance of student protection. The OIAHE noted that this was even more important in the light of the coronavirus pandemic.