Guidance on making a complaint about your experience during the pandemic

The Brookes Union Advice Service is available for any Brookes students to access. We are an independent Advice Service, and we can advise you through all of the university and OIAHE procedures.

We know that some of you feel very strongly that your experience has fallen short of what you expected and we want to make sure that you have access to proper advice, information and guidance on what you can do.

If you feel that you have reason to complain to the University about its response to coronavirus and the experience that you have had this year, you’ll need to follow the University’s Complaints Procedure. You need to submit your complaint on a complaints form.

 

It is helpful to understand some context before you decide whether to make a complaint as it is very important that you are able to demonstrate where your experience has fallen short of your expectations with evidence, or your complaint won’t be considered.


Who regulates Oxford Brookes?

The University is regulated by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) and the Office For Students (OFS) who provide the guidance for how universities should approach teaching and learning.

The QAA developed this handy information guide for students’ unions which outlines what universities were expected to provide in terms of online delivery in response to coronavirus: QAA guide on what universities are expected to provide

The key points from the QAA are that:

  • Providers should make all reasonable efforts to provide alternative teaching and support for students, broadly equivalent to usual arrangements; not doing so will raise regulatory concerns.
  • Providers must make sure that they communicate clearly with students about changes and impact, and provide learning support.
  • Providers should make all reasonable efforts for achievement to be reliably assessed, and for qualifications to be awarded securely; not doing so will raise regulatory concerns. Approaches that promise 'no detriment' or a 'safety net' are likely to be appropriate. However, providers should assess students' achievement reliably and awarding bodies should make sound judgements with reliable evidence and secure standards.

 

The QAA has produced a number of other briefing notes for universities which outline the regulatory expectations and requirements universities have been asked to follow in response to coronavirus. The points outlined above are the key principles that universities have been asked to follow whilst responding to this fast changing situation.

Undergraduate students are now also formally considered as consumers of higher education. This means that undergrad students are protected by consumer rights law, regulated through the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). This document here tells you what requirements universities are bound by in relation to consumer rights law: Requirements for universities under consumer rights law

The crux of the CMA’s regulations is that universities have to deliver what they promised during admissions and enrolment, or that where something had to change, that which was provided was comparable, and the changes communicated to students in a timely manner so that students are still able to make informed choices.

The OFS has produced a guide which explains its expectations on universities in response to coronavirus, in relation to consumer law. Page 14 onwards provides a list of things which the OFS would consider to have been breaches of consumer law. The information that institutions must have given you are around the content, location and length of your course, how the course will be delivered and assessed, the cost of your course and what award you would be working towards. However, one of the key principles is that it is not a breach of consumer law if the University has provided a comparable provision in response to coronavirus which still lets you achieve your learning outcomes. OFS guide - expectations for universities during the COVID-19 pandemic


So, in order for a complaint about teaching quality or the quality of your student experience to be upheld you will need to provide evidence that the University fell short of what has been listed above. It’s ok to talk to your other classmates about this and see if they feel the same - you can submit group complaints about your experience - and if it’s affected you, it’s probably affected others. Talk to your Student Rep to see if they are already working on something - many hands make light work and you might be able to get your issue resolved without needing to submit a complaint.

When you submit your complaint to the University make sure you outline what you had expected, and why you had expected it, for example - was it something that was listed in the module guide or handbook but not taught on the course? Then provide an explanation or some evidence to show how your expectations were not met, or where you think the University fell short. It’s quite hard to provide evidence of things which “didn’t happen” so try and be as thorough as you can.

Your complaint is unlikely to be upheld if the University can show that it provided a comparable experience to what was promised, and that you were still able to meet the learning outcomes of your course. You will also have to show how you have been materially disadvantaged in order for your complaint to be upheld.

  1. If you’ve submitted your complaint with evidence and it isn’t upheld at the first stage, you should carefully review the reasons provided by the University. You can request a review of the decision in the following circumstances: If you can provide evidence that the procedures were not properly followed during the first stage
  2. That the outcome was one that “no fair and reasonable person could have made”, on the basis of the evidence
  3. That there is new, relevant evidence which you were unable to provide earlier for reasons beyond your control

If, at the end of those two stages, you aren’t satisfied with the University’s response you can ask for a Completion of Procedures letter so that you can take your complaint to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIAHE).

The OIAHE is the ombudsbody for higher education and they will review your complaint to make sure that the University considered it properly and that any decisions made were fair and reasonable. The OIAHE can also make judgements about whether the University did fall short of its QAA or CMA requirements, based on your complaint and evidence. If your complaint is upheld or partly upheld, the OIAHE can request that the University look at it again, that it offers you compensation or some other reasonable outcome.

It’s important to note that most legal teams will refuse to look at a case until all of these procedures (all the way to the OIAHE) have been completed, however you can get advice from a legal team if you want to and you can afford it.

Below we have provided some links to some of the cases which the OIAHE received in relation to coronavirus to give you an idea of the types of things that are upheld or not.

They have also provided these FAQs to help you navigate your complaint: FAQs about making complaints

Felicity Mitchell, one of the OIAHE’s Adjudicators has also written this helpful blog outlining how you can make your complaint successful: Read Felicity's blog