Student complaint surge linked to ‘consumer rights’ culture

The OIA reports a surge in student complaints and says ‘students are becoming more aware of their consumer rights and the “cost” of their studies’

A surge in the number of student complaints last year has been linked to a ‘consumer rights’ culture by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA).

In its report, the organisation said: “Students often link complaints about poor quality teaching or lack of facilities to their tuition fees.”

The annual figures reveal a surge in the number of complaints, just shy of the record number received in 2012. Although the number of complaints dipped between 2015 and 2017, this has been linked to a change in procedures.

The EU Alternative Dispute Resolution Directive  stipulated the OIA must extend the complaints window from three months to 12 months. Sarah Liddell, head of leadership office at the OIA, attributed the “noticeable drop” to the longer complaints window because it “led to some students deciding not to pursue their complaint any further”.

Although this change in procedure has distorted the 10-year figures, the report said the high number of complaints, which are double what they were in 2009, was down to better signposting and a greater awareness of consumer rights.

In total, 20 per cent of cases brought to the OIA were settled privately or upheld by the body. More than a half of cases were decided in the providers’ favour.

Non-EU students made up a disproportionately large number of complaints – this group account for 14 per cent of the student body but 21 per cent of complaints. Students from business and administrative studies, and subjects related to medicine accounted for the largest number of complaints overall.

One case brought by a medical student ended in a provider agreeing to pay £20,000 of compensation for “disappointment, distress and inconvenience caused by the incorrect information in the prospectus”. The OIA found that the prospectus had partially misled applicants about opportunities to study aboard.


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