Updated information and guidance on student complaints relating to coronavirus and industrial action from the OIA

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) has updated its website pulling together information and guidance on student complaints relating to Covid-19 and industrial action.

This is well worth a read for anyone dealing with student complaints particularly as a new academic year starts with uncertainty over what the winter will bring in relation to Covid and as the University and College Union plan ballots for pre-Christmas strikes.

We will pick up on some of the themes arising from the guidance over the coming weeks but in the meantime here is a summary of what is included:

The OIA recognises that the impact of the pandemic and the disruption of industrial action may have had a cumulative impact on some students. The guidance makes suggestions for institutions to consider when handling these types of complaints.

Of particular note, the OIA suggests it may be reasonable to depart from the 3 stage complaints process set out in the OIA’s Good Practice Framework: handling complaints and academic appeals where an institution has received a significant number of complaints or academic appeals. The OIA is clear that any alternative process should be communicated clearly to students and should still be compatible with the core principles of the Good Practice Framework.  While one suggestion includes delegating decision making to a wider number of staff, an institution should provide a fair and consistent response to students across the institution.

This was published in August 2021 and sets out the OIA’s thinking. The OIA recognises the unpredictable situation and challenges facing institutions and students.

The OIA highlights the importance of clear information and keeping students up to date, the impact of the pandemic on students’ mental health and recognising new students have been impacted over the last two academic years and may have gaps in their learning and less experience than previous cohorts. The OIA indicates that institutions need to be proactive in identifying and supporting students who need additional help. While institutions face pressure on their resources the OIA emphasises the importance of support and advice services.

The OIA manages expectations in the FAQs as to when the OIA can assist and what the likely remedies will be. The OIA is clear that if an institution has offered different but broadly equivalent teaching and assessment opportunities it is not likely that a student will get a refund or fee reduction.

In this note published in March 2018 the OIA outlines its approach to complaints arising out of strike action.

Finally, the OIA also provides an outreach service offering that if an institution is experiencing a high volume of complaints arising from disruption and it is unlikely an agreement will be reached with a large numbers of students, the OIA may be able to help by discussing how best to manage complaints.

If you would like to discuss any of these matters, please do not hesitate to contact Gary Attle or Richard Sykes.

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Every piece of content we create is correct on the date it’s published but please don’t rely on it as legal advice. If you’d like to speak to us about your own legal requirements, please contact one of our expert lawyers.

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