In December 2014, the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education published its good practice framework for handling student complaints and academic appeals. The framework will be of interest to institutions in the higher education sector which continue to face the challenges arising from increases in the number, sophistication and complexity of student complaints and academic appeals which are due, in part, to the introduction of the new fee regime, increased consumerism and student-centred higher education reforms.

The framework provides a guide to handling complaints and academic appeals in higher education in England and Wales, setting out overriding principles and operational good practice for those universities and colleges which subscribe to the OIA scheme. Its introduction follows consultation with individuals, universities, students’ unions and other organisations with an interest in the higher education sector.

The framework is designed to complement the principles set out in Chapter B9 (Academic appeals and student complaints) of QAA’s UK Quality Code for Higher Education and includes guidance on:

  • the distinction between complaints and academic appeals;
  • complaints and academic appeal processes;
  • factors for consideration when handling complaints and appeals; and
  • recording, reporting, publishing and learning from complaints and academic appeals.

Importantly for institutions, the framework will inform the way the OIA considers complaints and academic appeals from students about matters that first arise and are raised with institutions from the academic year 2015 – 2016 onwards.

The preface to the framework notes that whilst it does not provide an exact template for dealing with every complaint and academic appeal (and institutions remain free to draft their own policies and procedures to fit their academic regulations and broader context, including the size and composition of their student body), where an institution chooses to depart from the framework, the OIA will consider whether the process it follows is reasonable when it reviews individual complaints.

The management of student complaints and academic appeals is a key area of interest for our education sector clients and Eversheds continues to assist institutions in responding to the challenges arising in this area.

We are able to work with you to develop complaints and academic appeals policies and review your existing policies to ensure that they are up-to-date, accord with best practice and are effective in managing the potential challenges. We also have extensive experience of training staff in relation to the management of complaints and academic appeals including the effective application of internal procedures, external complaints and how to navigate the problematic cases in a fair, reasonable and lawful manner.

Institutions may also be interested in our free student issues seminars and webinars, including our seminars on ‘The Student Experience – Lifecycle of a student complaint’. Further details of our 2014/2015 seminar programme is available here.

A copy of the OIA framework is available here.