I did not mean to write yet another blog piece about the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA), but of late I am noticing increasing murmurings from students regarding the OIA. Needless to say much of what I hear (all anecdotal) is somewhat negative about people’s experiences of going through the OIA process.

What I hear often is whether it is truly independent; it is no secret that the funding for the OIA comes directly from the universities. Each university pay an annual subscription to the OIA, the amount varying depending on the size of the university. The appearance of bias was challenged in the courts by the Sandhar (2012) case. It was argued that the OIA was unable to avoid the perception of bias because it was funded by Higher Education Institutions. This argument was rejected by the courts on a number of grounds, one being that there was no link between the amount of subscription paid and the number of or the outcomes of the complaints made against any particular university.

This has not stopped students encountering the OIA from feeling frustrated and disheartened by the experience. Recently there was an article in the Times Higher Education review about a student in Leeds whose complaint to the OIA was rejected by the OIA (not justified in OIA terminology). The student in question felt that the OIA just did not believe their version of events and just decided to believe the facts as presented by the university. A number of students report that they feel that the OIA just favour the university’s version over that of the student.

In addition to not being believed, the time it takes for the OIA to reach a decision can be exasperating for students.  In the recent article above it had taken the OIA 8 months to come to a decision.  I would love to say this level of delay is uncommon, but that sadly is not the case. If a student has a matter at the OIA they are often left hanging on for months while the complaint goes through the process. I understand that everything takes time; however, the impact on a student can be quite substantial. Their education can be left in a state of limbo while the OIA carries out their investigation.

Some interesting statistics (taken from the OIA’s 2012 Annual Report) –

  • Of all the cases received only 4% were concluded to be fully justified
  • On the flip side 59% of cases were considered unjustified
  • The OIA recommended payments of £189,892 in compensation to the students
  • 64% of complaints were from undergraduate students
  • 69% of complaints involved academic status – this includes academic appeals, progression and grades

If you are going to the OIA, or are already pursuing a complaint to the OIA, get some legal help because it is a lot harder to be successful then you may think.


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