Students could receive financial compensation for education time lost during the first Covid-19 lockdown after the higher education complaints watchdog ordered an institution to pay.
The Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA), which reviews complaints in higher education, has recommended that a provider refund hundreds of pounds to a student due to a failure in the lockdown.
The watchdog has so far received just under 200 complaints from students about the disruption to their university experience caused by Covid-19.
The OIA has said there is a delay in registering complaints because students must first submit their complaint to their university.
Three case summaries, published on the OIA website, show that student complaints about Covid-19 disruption in the 2019-2020 academic year were either justified or partially justified.
In one case, the university was told to pay just over £ 1,000 in compensation to an international student because the provider had not taken “sufficient steps” to reduce the disruption to their learning experience.
Four weeks of teaching for a module and a graduation project worth 60% of the module were canceled, leaving the student “lost the opportunity to develop their written work and research.”
In another case, the OIA ruled that a student’s complaint was justified as the university was “uninvolved” in the individual’s concerns about the loss of personal education as a result of the lockdown and industrial action.
But a number of complaints the watchdog was unable to consider because students had not first filed the complaint with their university or had not yet completed the institution’s internal processes.
In other examples, complaints from students demanding a refund of tuition fees – due to a switch to online classes during the lockdown – were dismissed by the watchdog because they considered that the institutions had taken the necessary steps to ensure that students could still achieve their expected learning outcomes. achieve.
The National Union of Students (NUS) is calling for a simplified complaints procedure, claiming that college students have been passed ‘from one pill to another’ and that some universities are ignoring their concerns.
Students have a maximum of one year to file their complaint with the OIA after they have filed a complaint with their university. The watchdog said it is only now starting to have complaints related to the current academic year.
Earlier this month, the OIA announced plans to allow college students affected by the same events to collectively deal with their complaints. Under the proposals, the OIA would be free to accept complaints that the university’s internal procedures have not yet completed.
The watchdog said it wanted to be prepared in case the coronavirus pandemic leads to a large group complaint from university students.
Independent Judge Felicity Mitchell said: “We recognize that many people in providers have worked incredibly hard to minimize disruption and support students, and that students and those who support them have faced very real problems.
“We are well aware that there are limits to what is reasonable or even possible in this context. But students still need to be treated fairly.
“It is up to the providers that we have not yet seen any cases in which the student is directly disadvantaged academically by the disruption, but it is also important that providers deliver what was promised or something broadly equivalent to it.
“Providers have done better in some cases than others in finding ways to make up for the missed learning process.”
Nick Hillman, think tank director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi), said the report could encourage more students to file complaints.
He said, “Going to higher education is a very important life decision and if it doesn’t work out and an institution is at fault, there is a reward as well as some lessons to be learned.
“I suspect the report will show students that complaints can be valid, and therefore it may encourage them to submit more individual and specific complaints.
“But it will also show that students demanding a blanket reimbursement and the like must have all complaints timely, appropriate and reasonable to pass.”
In June, thousands of students who had missed their education as a result of the lockdown were urged to sign up for “mass action” to receive compensation.
The NUS demanded debt relief and compensation for those whose studies were interrupted when college campuses were forced to close.
A spokeswoman for the NUS said: “It is clear that a simpler complaints process is needed.
“Students have gone from hour to hour applying through internal processes, with some institutions ignoring individual needs or concerns, and if their complaints are dismissed by the OIA, they will feel hopeless.”
A Universities UK (UUK) spokesperson said: “Universities have always recognized the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, and have made extraordinary efforts in 2020 to ensure that no student has to suspend their education.”
He added, “Universities have also tried to communicate with students about course variations as quickly as possible; however, the need to react very quickly to national and local changes in official guidelines has at times influenced the usual timeframes for such information.
“Given the disruption caused by the pandemic, it is understandable that some students feel that their university experience is not as they hoped. If students have a complaint, they should contact their university in the first instance. “