Higher education providers to join complaints handling scheme as stated by the Consumer Rights Bill

According to the amendments of the Consumer Right Bill, higher education providers are required to join a complaints handling scheme in higher…

According to the amendments of the Consumer Right Bill, higher education providers are required to join a complaints handling scheme in higher education.


The Higher Education (“HE”) sector in England has a variety of providers which may or may not receive grant funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). Under the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, the HEFCE is entitled to attach conditions, such as academic standards and financial governance, when attributing funding. Consequently, the funding provides certain guarantees to students with regard to quality and monitoring.  However, some HE providers receive quality assurance on selected courses only and other providers do not receive any (because they are not eligible or by choice). Under the HE Act 2004, universities and higher education corporations are required to join a complaints handling scheme and, in 2005, the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for higher education (OIA) was designated to operate this scheme.  OIA Subscription fees for 2015 are: for institutions with fewer than 500 students: £827 p.a.; for institutions with more than 100,000 students: £100,545 p.a.

Issues that the government seeks to solve

HE students have different possibilities to resolve their academic complaints depending on the type of institution they attend.  This can result in unfairness and ambiguity among students. HE providers that are not obliged to follow the OIA scheme can volunteer to joint it, although very few have chosen to do so (6 as at October 2014). In consequence, the government’s initiative aims at allowing HE students to gain access to a fair and clear scheme for the resolution of academic complaints. In doing so and in accordance with the Higher Education White Paper “Students at the heart of the system” (June 2011), the government proposes that all HE providers should join a single regulatory framework for complaints handling and external dispute resolution which is currently managed by the OIA.

The two options considered by the government to solve the issues

Option 1

Do nothing. This means that universities and HE corporations will be still required to join the OIA scheme whereas alternative HE providers can subscribe voluntarily.

Option 2

Implement legislation which obliges any type of HE provider to join a complaints handling scheme.

Benefits of higher education providers joining the OIA scheme

  • the OIA is a mediation medium which is potentially a cheaper and quicker alternative than the court system;
  • there is an expectation that this policy will reduce court proceedings taken against private providers;
  • subscription to the OIA may enhance the reputation of privately funded higher education providers.

Impacts on students

  • the OIA scheme is free to students. Students may have to take time to explain their cases but it is anticipated that any time cost will be small;
  • the scheme will allow students to have their complaints considered by an independent but knowledgeable body, if they are not satisfied with the internal process;
  • OIA recommendations are expected to lead to improved services.

We will watch these developments and report further.

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