Ombudsman reveals student Covid complaints

The Office for the Independent Adjudicator has not yet recommended any student receive tuition fee compensation

The university ombudsman has received 200 complaints from students that relate to the impact of coronavirus but has not recommended any receive financial compensation, it confirmed today.

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) published 10 case studies relating to the coronavirus pandemic. Students complained about the switch to online learning, but the OIA would not uphold complaints based on that alone.

“We recognise that many people in providers have been working incredibly hard to minimise disruption and to support students and that students and those who support them have faced very real difficulties,” said Felicity Mitchell, independent adjudicator.

“We are acutely aware that there are limits to what is reasonable or even possible in this context. But students must still be treated fairly.”

Providers have done better in some cases than in others at finding ways to make up for the learning students missed out on
Felicity Mitchell, OIA

An international student complained to the OIA after their university refused to give tuition fee refunds as a result of the switch to online. The OIA said this was excusable because the university had followed public health guidance and ensured the student was not academically disadvantaged by the change.

A first-year student complained about losing access to campus facilities and teaching time and wanted financial compensation; the OIA did not uphold this complaint because the university had made every effort to mitigate any disruption with online solutions.

A student complained to the OIA that their university had rejected their request for compensation because the provider had a ‘no refunds’ policy; the OIA upheld the complaint because the “provider had not engaged with the student’s individual concerns at all and so it was not reasonable to reject their complaint”. The OIA said the university should reconsider the complaint, but did not recommend a refund.

The OIA made a similar judgement in a case where a request for a refund was rejected automatically by a university, adding, “it was not reasonable for the provider to reject the student’s request for a refund without first properly addressing the issues they had raised”.

Ms Mitchell said it was “to providers’ credit” that the ombudsman had not seen any cases where students had been “directly academically disadvantaged because of the disruption”.

“Providers have done better in some cases than in others at finding ways to make up for the learning students missed out on,” she added.

Read more: Refusal to consider tuition fee refunds next year ‘not reasonable’ – OIA

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