In 2012 the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) introduced the Annual Letters. The Annual Letters are open letters to each Higher Education Institution (HEI) detailing the number of student complaints received by the OIA in respect of that HEI. The purpose of the introduction of the Annual Letters was to create transparency in respect of the types of complaints and the number of complaints each HEI was receiving. It has also been put in place so that students have access to some form of statistics regarding complaints at their HEI. Not only is the purpose of the Annual Letters to provide students with information on the number of complaints that each HEI receives year on year, but the purpose of the Annual Letters is also to tell students just how many of those complaints received by the OIA from their HEI are being justified by the OIA (if the OIA finds a case Justified that means the OIA have upheld the student’s complaint against the HEI). This is the first time that students are obtaining any real form of data regarding internal university complaints.

However, these Annual Letters do not highlight the true extent of internal complaints that are going on at all HEI’s. Where it is a starting point, it is definitely not the full picture. The Annual Letters can only provide data on actual complaints that progress all the way to the OIA. There is no data in respect of how many internal complaints happen at an institution that do not progress all the way to the OIA. For example, a number of issues can be resolved at the first or second stage of any formal procedure within the HEI. In some instances students are happy with the outcome and conclude matters. In other cases students become disillusioned by the often lengthy and complex process (especially if they are trying to resolve the issue without external legal assistance). Students can even be advised against pursuing matters either by university staff, or even the Students’ Union. Students can become conflicted about whether to pursue complaints, or to just keep “their head down” and not rock the boat so to speak. More on Annual Letters next week…

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