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These are your rights if you don’t like how your UK university handled your complaint

Grievances and disputes can arise with your university. The Office of Independent Adjudicator offers a review process to help settle or mediate UK university students' claim. Source: AFP/Daniel Leal-Olivas

Unfair treatment by lecturers, arguments over grades, suspensions and dismissals from university – these are just some of the grievances that can crop up as part of student life.

Typically, UK university students can direct their complaints towards the university before considering any other avenue, as suggested by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority. As the student’s contract governs their relationship with their respective institution, this will form the basis of what rights and procedures a student would go through throughout the complaints procedure.

Should a student feel this route did not produce a satisfactory result, they can then take their case to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA).

The OIA is an independent body set up to operate the Student Complaints Scheme, as required by section 13 of the Higher Education Act 2004. The scheme came into effect from May 1, 2005.

Under the 2004 Act, higher education providers (HE providers), i.e. the “qualifying institutions,” are required to be members of the OIA Scheme. This now includes universities, other higher education institutions, further education colleges, sixth-form colleges that provide higher education, alternative providers and providers of school-centred initial teacher training. To find out whether your HE provider is included, click this link.

It functions as an independent and transparent scheme to review student complaints against individual higher education providers acts and omissions on the following:

• A programme of study
• A service provided to a student
• A final decision of a provider’s disciplinary or appeal body

The complaints the OIA can review include the following:

• Academic appeals
• Extenuating circumstances
• Teaching provision and facilities
• Accommodation
• Research supervision
• Welfare
• Discrimination (but see below)
• Bullying and harassment
• Placements
• Procedural irregularities
• Unfair practices
• Disciplinary matters – including plagiarism
• Fitness to practise processes

Matters the OIA will not review include admissions, academic judgment or teaching quality, student employment and complaints that a court or tribunal has considered, unless formally stayed or adjourned.

As a review body, the OIA, for no charge, will consider whether your HE provider had correctly dealt with your complaint and its final decision. It will take into account whether your university has followed its regulations and procedures, as well as whether it has come to a reasonable outcome under the circumstances. However, if the main issue of your complaint took place more than three years before the complaint is received by the OIA, it will not be reviewed.

There are two important things to note at this point: 1) the OIA is not a court and will not investigate or make legal findings that a court or tribunal would, though it may refer to law as guidance in certain cases like discrimination; and 2) the scheme is not a further appeal to your HE provider.

In spite of this, The Guardian reported that students were collectively awarded £583,000 in 2017, with one case alone awarding £47,00 to the complainant. The success rate of student complaints being found in their favour, either partially or entirely, is 24 percent.


You can initiate a review with the OIA once you’ve exhausted your HE provider’s internal complaints or appeals procedure, after which they will issue a Completion of Procedures Letter to you. In this letter, there should be information about the issues considered, its final decision and the deadline for bringing a complaint to the OIA.

You have 12 months upon receipt of this letter to submit a completed and signed OIA Complaint Form (available at www.oiahe.org.uk), together with copies of other supporting documents or evidence.

The OIA will then decide whether your complaint is eligible and will inform you accordingly. If it is accepted, the appointed case handler will gather information and evidence before making a decision.

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