The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) has published its Pathways 3 report this month.

The OIA's key findings from its consultation and its proposals are as follows:

  • While there is recognition within the sector of the value of early resolution of student complaints, it is felt that there is no merit in limiting early resolution to a single campus ombudsman. The OIA 's view is that it already performs an ombudsman function and that many institutions have some sort of mechanism for resolution at an early stage (eg via the students' unions , student conciliators). The OIA will meet with universities and students' unions which are interested in undertaking pilots to test various early resolution mechanisms for student complaints, including mediation.
  • The OIA proposes to begin work on a standard good practice framework for handling student complaints and appeals . It proposes to publish a draft time-table for the process by the end of 2012 and proposes that the framework will be voluntary, non-regulatory and designed to complement the QAA Code of Practice.
  • The Pathways 3 report suggests that there is general consensus within the higher education sector that guidance on time targets for internal procedures is desirable. The OIA will consider appropriate time targets for institutions' procedures as part of its work on a standard good practice framework.
  • The OIA will develop guidance in relation to the "exceptional circumstances" in which it will review a student complaint even though a Completion of Procedures Letter has not been issued.
  • The issue of introducing a kite-mark for complaints and appeals procedures will be revisited by the OIA after the good practice framework becomes operational.
  • From 2013, the OIA proposes to move to a "hybrid" funding model, retaining the current core subscription from subscribing institutions and introducing a smaller (10% of the OIA's income) case-related element. It is proposed that the case-related element will be based on a points system. Points will be allocated according to whether cases are ineligible, settled or withdrawn or fully reviewed. The latter will attract more points than the former (on a sliding scale of 3 to 1) and there will be discounts for complaints which are deemed to be vexatious.

We will be particularly interested to see the outcome of the proposed pilots on early resolution and the detailed proposals for a standard good practice framework for complaints and appeals. It will be helpful to have clarity on the circumstances in which the OIA considers that it may intervene even though an institution's internal processes have not been completed.