Office of the Independent Adjudicator
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The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) is a Company Limited by Guarantee and a registered charity which has been designated under the Higher Education Act 2004 to run the higher education student complaints scheme within England and Wales. The OIA's Rules outline the complaints that it can and cannot review. The OIA has no regulatory powers over higher education providers, such as universities or colleges, and is unable to punish or fine them.
As a result of recommendations from the Dearing Report, 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 OIA has effectively replaced the role of the Visitor, 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 OIA's Complaints Scheme. The OIA is not a "public authority" and therefore not covered by the Freedom of Information Act 2000 or required to answer requests for information. but is covered by a subject access request.
Student complaints scheme
The OIA is funded by annual subscriptions from higher education providers that are members of its Scheme. The OIA's Board of Directors has 15 members. Nine, including the Chair, are Independent Directors. Six are Nominated Directors who represent the major representative bodies in higher education in England and Wales. One of the Directors is nominated by the National Union of Students.
Making a complaint to the OIA does not prevent a student from bringing legal proceedings against the higher education provider if they are dissatisfied with the outcome of an OIA review. In making a decision about a complaint the OIA may consider whether or not the higher education provider properly applied its regulations and followed its procedures, and whether or not the higher education provider’s decision was reasonable. Disagreeing with the OIA's decision would be covered by a judicial review. Its remit is limited to complaints which have completed the internal procedures of a higher education provider. Under the OIA's Rules, a provider will send the student a letter, called a Completion of Procedures Letter, confirming when the provider's internal processes are completed. The OIA must receive a student’s Complaint Form within 12 months of the date of the Completion of Procedures Letter. In 2017, 24% of complaints reviewed by the OIA were Justified, Partly Justified, or Settled in favour of the student. The proportion not upheld by the OIA, and therefore considered Not Justified, amounted to 53%
The OIA 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. In 2015, 20 complainants in all received more than £5,000. The other 210 received an average of less than £1,500.. 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.
Lord Justice Longmore in R (Sandhar) v OIA considered whether, because the OIA is funded by higher education providers, it is unable to avoid the appearance of bias. Lord Justice Longmore concluded "In all these circumstances I just do not see how it can be said that any fair-minded and informed observer could say that there was a real possibility that the OIA in general or its Independent Adjudicator or any individual case-handler was biased in favour of the [higher education provider] under scrutiny in any particular case or lacked independence in any way".
- Section 20 of the Higher Education Act 2004, http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2004/8/section/20
- Annual Report 2009 Page 62,"Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 29 June 2010.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
- "Universities don't fear the OIA. It would better if they did". Times Higher Education (THE). 28 July 2016. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
- Rule 7.7 http://www.oiahe.org.uk/downloads/OIA-RulesMay2008.pdf>
-  EWCA Civ 1614