An update for Points of Contacts for the OIA
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In this update, we...

  • Provide some further guidance on the OIA’s approach to handling complaints and academic appeals in the context of collaborative provision;
  • Explain what records member providers should keep about the Completion of Procedures (COP) Letters that they issue in 2016; and
  • Highlight some points for providers to consider in developing their complaints and academic appeals procedures and invite providers to attend a webinar to discuss those points further.

Collaborative provision

To date we have received relatively few complaints which involve two member providers, for example a delivery college and an awarding university. This is not surprising given that the majority of our newer members joined us on 1 September 2015 and their students can normally only complain to us about them in respect of events that happened after that date.

However, in recent months, we have had a number of conversations with providers and sector bodies about our approach to handling complaints in the context of collaborative provision. We have developed the guidance on our website to deal with the queries that have commonly arisen during that engagement. We have also included some further examples to illustrate our approach.

Go to our collaborative provision page on our website.

Keeping records of Completion of Procedures (COP) Letters issued in 2016

We have recently developed our guidance on Completion of Procedures Letters, to include more information on our approach to handling complaints in the context of collaborative provision, and to make the guidance simpler to navigate.

Our developed guidance can be found on our website.

In the Spring of each year, we ask our member providers to send us details of the COP Letters that they issued in the previous year. This information feeds in to the Annual Letters that we publish for each provider, each year, on our website.

In Spring 2017, we will ask you for details of the number of COP Letters that you issued in 2016, in each of the following subject categories: (i) academic status; (ii) academic misconduct, plagiarism and cheating; (iii) discrimination and Human Rights; (iv) welfare and accommodation; (v) service issues (contract); (vi) disciplinary matters (non academic); vii) financial; and (viii) other. If a complaint or appeal falls into more than one category it should be listed under the area that covers the crux of the complaint.

Further information on these different categories can be found on our website.

Developing your complaints and academic appeals procedures

Each year, we ask our member providers to send us copies of their complaints, academic appeals and other relevant internal procedures for inclusion in our database; we then have those documents readily available should we receive complaints from a member provider’s students.

We asked member providers which had recently joined the Scheme to send us copies of their complaints and academic appeals procedures in Spring 2016. Thank you to all of those who have done so – it has been very helpful to us to build up a picture of how procedures are set up in our new members.

There is no single ‘model’ set of procedures which suits all types of provider, and we do not have the resources to provide individual feedback on every member provider’s internal procedures. Each provider is free to design procedures which are suitable for its size and circumstances and the operational guidance set out in our Good Practice Framework supports providers in doing so.

However, in 2016, we have reviewed the procedures sent to us from a sample of different providers across our newer membership. Our review has highlighted a number of points which we have summarised in the table below. These points reflect and complement the principles in the Good Practice Framework and we hope that highlighting them at this stage will be helpful to our member providers as they continue to develop their internal procedures.

Points to consider in developing your complaints and academic appeals procedures

General points

  • Students studying at providers brought into the OIA Scheme by the Consumer Rights Act 2015 may only complain to the OIA about those providers if they are studying on an HE course and this is reflected in our Rule 16.2.
  • Consider including time-frames within which students will normally be expected to submit a complaint or academic appeal. This helps to avoid the situation where a student tries to make a complaint or appeal long after the event.
  • Consider how to deal with frivolous or vexatious complainants or appellants.
  • Consider the type of support and/or representation which students may access during the complaints/appeals process, for example at panel hearings. It is good practice to allow a student to be a supported or represented at a hearing, for example by a student adviser, another student, or family member.  In most cases it will not be necessary or appropriate for the student to be legally represented. 
  • The Good Practice Framework suggests that complaints and academic appeals procedures should have no more than three stages: an “early resolution” stage, designed to address straightforward concerns swiftly and locally; a formal stage; and a review stage. Where a complaint or appeal is escalated to a provider’s awarding university partner for review, that review stage should be included in (rather than be in addition to) those three stages.
  • If a complaint or academic appeal is not upheld, the outcome of the review stage should be communicated to the student by issuing a Completion of Procedures (COP) Letter as soon as possible and within 28 days. This should include a clear explanation and outline the reasons for the decision in straightforward language. This will help the student decide whether or not to pursue the matter further.
  • Where a complaint or academic appeal is upheld, the provider should explain how and when it will implement any remedy, and whether that includes an apology. It is good practice to issue a COP Letter if requested by the student.  
  • More guidance on COP Letters can be found on our website, including in the context of collaborative provision. A COP Letter should:
    • Advise the student about their right to submit a complaint to the OIA for review
    • Set out the time limit for complaining to the OIA (students now have 12 months from the date of the provider’s final decision within which to complain to the OIA)
    • Include the correct contact details for the OIA
  • Any information provided to students about the OIA must be accurate. The OIA is a review body, it does not provide support or advice to students or providers.
  • Many of our SCITT members also offer their trainees the opportunity to study for a PGCE (or Masters’ credits) awarded by a partner university. However, a SCITT will need to develop its own procedures to deal with complaints, academic appeals, fitness to practise issues etc from trainees about matters for which the SCITT is responsible. 
  • Some of our member providers deliver HE qualifications which are awarded by an Ofqual-regulated external awarding body, for example HNCs or HNDs awarded by Pearson (Edexcel). We have agreed with Ofqual that providers will issue a COP Letter to a student (sign-posting them to the OIA) at the end of an internal procedure in the usual way. The OIA will then determine whether it can consider the student’s complaint or should refer it to the relevant external awarding body. Students should not be required to complain to the external awarding body (or Ofqual) before coming to the OIA.  Further information can be found on our website.
  • Some of our member providers have been accredited by the British Accreditation Council (BAC). We have agreed with BAC that HE students at those providers should be issued with a COP Letter in the usual way. Those students can then complain to the OIA; they are not required to complain to BAC before coming to the OIA.  

Academic appeals procedures

  • Clarify whether students can submit an academic appeal in respect of every assessment or just summative assessments.
  • It is good practice to set out the grounds on which an appeal must be made and what is not a legitimate ground for appeal. Grounds for appeal might include: procedural irregularity in the assessment process; mitigating circumstances which for a good reason the student was not previously able to bring to the attention of the provider; bias or perception of bias. 
  • Academic appeals procedures commonly exclude appeals which simply seek to challenge the academic judgment of the provider in question and we consider that to be reasonable.  
  • Many academic appeals procedures include a ‘filter’ stage to consider whether a student’s appeal falls within the grounds for appeal. 
  • In the event of a successful academic appeal, the provider will need to consider a remedy for the student. This will depend upon the circumstances of the case and the relevant academic regulations. For example, in some cases it might be appropriate to offer a reassessment opportunity, to disregard a failed module in the calculation of the overall award or to allow a student to trail a module.  It will not normally be appropriate simply to convert a fail to a pass in the event of a successful appeal as that would be likely to undermine the academic or professional standards of the programme or award.

Other procedures

Our review focused on complaints procedures and academic appeals procedures. However, we have noted the following points in respect of other procedures:
  • Providers should issue a COP Letter at the end of any procedure including disciplinary, academic misconduct, fitness to practise etc where the outcome is unfavourable to the student. If the outcome is favourable to the student, the provider should issue a COP letter if the student requests one. More guidance on the issue of COP Letters can be found on our website. 
  • Some providers have specific procedures for dealing with complaints from applicants about their admissions procedure. 
    • The OIA cannot consider complaints about pure admissions issues, for example a provider not offering a place to an applicant, and so those procedures should not sign-post complainants to the OIA. 
    • However, we will normally consider a complaint if a student, having registered at the member provider, is required to leave because of some irregularity in his/her application for admission. We may also consider complaints from registered students which relate to the information given by member providers to prospective students prior to admission.

Upcoming Webinars

We have scheduled a series of webinars in June 2016 to discuss some of the good practice points set out above. These webinars are open to all of our members. However, given their focus on developing complaints and academic appeals procedures, they may be more suitable for our newer members. You can sign-up to the webinars on our website.
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