Office of the Independent Adjudicator
The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) is a company that handles students' complaints against universities within England and Wales . The OIA does not investigate the merits of the original complaint, which can only be done through a court. It does however review if the higher education institution followed their own procedures. Their remit is limited to those complaints that have first been taken through the procedures of a higher education institution's own internal system without reaching a satisfactory conclusion in the view of the complainant. All complaints to the OIA must be made within three months of the conclusion of the internal investigation by the higher education institution, which should usually have resulted in issue of a 'Completion of Procedures' letter.
The OIA is the operator of the students complaint scheme as established in the Higher Education Act 2004. The OIA has effectively taken on board the powers of the visitor of an higher education institution as student complaints were specifically excluded from the remit of the visitor in the Higher Education Act 2004. By law, all higher education bodies are required to abide by the rules of the scheme.
As a result of recommendations from the Nolan and Dearing reports, consultations began about an independent body to which students could make complaints. A white paper in 2003 set out the government goal of establishing the body via legislation. The OIA was established in 2003 and began running a voluntary scheme in 2004 with it becoming the designated operator of the student complaints scheme in 2005. The first independent adjudicator was Baroness Deech. Following her retirement in May 2008, Robert Behrens was appointed Independent Adjudicator and chief executive.
Prior to the establishment of the OIA, universities offered internal processes there was a widespread belief that these were frequently ineffective and often perceived by students as impractical. However, the students claim the current system is also frequently ineffective, biased, and often perceived by students as impractical. Some cases taking more than two years to be decided on.
The OIA is not classed as a 'public authority' but is classed as a private company. The OIA is not covered by the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and not oblidged to answer requests for information.
The OIA's looks at a wide range of "procedural issues" but it does not adjudicate on issues of "academic judgment". It functions by seeking information from both complainant and the Higher Education Institution and allowing each party to comment. Results can include payment of compensation from the higher education institution where the complaint is upheld and so far compensation payments have exceeded £700,000 with the largest single award being £45,000 compensating a student for legal expenses. The independent adjudicator is required to report to the board and publish in his annual report any non-compliance with recommendations by a university. There is widespread dissatisfaction with the remedies awarded to successful students at the OIA. There is also widespread dissatisfaction with the remit of the OIA.
The OIA claim not to be able to review or comment on already closed cases as it affects their independence. However, in a recent judicial review they reviewed an already closed file. The OIA reached a new judgement before the judicial review hearings commenced.
The Office of the Independent Adjudicator complaints procedure
It is very difficult to complain about procedural issues and customer service within the OIA as a complainant due to its apparent remit on being fair, independent, and unbiased. Students have criticised their policy and due difficulty in complaining about cases, which the OIA consider in all circumstances closed after their judgments. It has also been condemned by independent reviewers hired by the OIA.
An OIA decision can be reviewed by judicial review. The application for judicial review must be made promptly and in any event within three months from the date when the grievance arose.
- Mills & Reeve: Update on the law relating to student complaints and appeals in higher education, http://www.qaa.ac.uk/education/roundtable/COPsection5/MillsReeveMain.asp
- Section 20 of the Higher Education Act 2004, http://www.opsi.gov.uk/ACTS/acts2004/40008--c.htm#20
- Student Satisfaction with the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education
- Annual Report 2009 Page 62,http://www.oiahe.org.uk/downloads/OIA-annual-report-2009.pdf
- Rule 7.7 http://www.oiahe.org.uk/downloads/OIA-RulesMay2008.pdf>
- R (on the application of Tiago Cardao-Pito) v Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education