Tuesday, 14 June 2011

The Independent Adjudicator's annual report

Press coverage of this report seems to focus on the rise in complaints (see here and here), but it is so tortuously difficult to raise a 'complaint' with the OIA that I think this language is seriously misleading. More business for the OIA may well mean more complaints in the plain English meaning of the term, but the OIA's business is such a small proportion that there's really no way to tell (were there really just 1,341 complaints about universities last year? Of course not).

I'd rather comment on two different issues in the report. Firstly the (ahem) robust view the OIA takes on the Browne review:

Lord Browne’s ‘Chapter 6’ proposals to create a new, uncosted, ‘super-quango’ of merged regulatory bodies (including the OIA) failed basic tests of evidence-based policy-making. The review ignored the experience of recent regulatory reform in legal and financial service sectors where policy planning effectively combined the need to create joined-up regulatory arrangements with respect for the integrity of independent complaints resolution. Happily, universities and students’ unions have recognised and rallied strongly behind the imperative of a continuing and independent OIA as a central ingredient of validating key aspects of the student experience in the new arrangements.

which certainly isn't the kind of language I'd use in my annual report. Clearly the OIA values its reputation for independence.

Secondly some of the case studies which need to be publicised as widely as possible as indications of just how awful UKHE can still be sometimes.

Case 6: S was pursuing a DipHE in Nursing. At the final placement review meeting S was told that she had failed the placement and the course because she had not met the module outcomes for the placement. S wrote an informal letter of complaint to the Course Leader and her complaint was passed to two other members of staff before being passed back to the Course Leader 8 weeks later. The Course Leader wrote to S stating that she had investigated S’s complaint and reviewed the practice documentation, and had concluded that
S’s complaint was unfounded. S was not told she had the right to proceed to the formal stage of the complaints procedure or that there was a 5 day time limit for doing so. It instead asked S to confirm within 14 working days if she was satisfied with the outcome of her complaint or to contact the Course Leader or Students’ Union if she was dissatisfied. S rang the Course Leader indicating that she would be seeking advice from the Students’ Union. S was not told that she was already out of time to make a formal complaint,
nor was she advised how to make one. 8 weeks later, when S learnt she had been given a lesser award, she made an academic appeal. The University issued a Completion of Procedures Letter saying S’s academic appeal was out of time and that the complaints procedure had been completed because she had not pursued a formal complaint within the 5 day deadline and the matter had therefore been closed.

How poor is that? yet the OIA only found this student's complaint partly justified...


  1. Hi

    Just a note - I've got some correspondence from Willetts which I've been working on. One point in a letter dated 11 May is that the government is considering the HE council idea, but that "We recognise the need for the OIA to remain an independent body."


  2. Thank you for your comment Andrew. If they've already won the argument, that makes the tone even more surprising to me.

    Your new providers post is interesting, although I don't agree with all of it. I shall add you to my blogroll and maybe post a response in a few days, if you don't mind.