You are studying in a UK university to transform your life. You are a home student and receiving student loan which you will have to start repaying when your income is more than the stipulated threshold. You may have also come to study in the UK from abroad and paying your tuition fees privately. Your parents may have invested their hard-earned money into your education to shape and secure your future.
But now you are thinking something is not going right at your university.
What can you do now?
To avoid this kind of situation or to make yourself ready to deal with this kind of situation, it is of great importance for you to be aware of your rights as a student. Once you know this, it will give you the courage to raise your concern by way of making a complaint about poor service you receive from the university and you may be able to achieve a resolution and possibly compensation.
Why? Because education has transformed into a product. By paying a large amount of tuition fees, whether publicly or privately funded, you are actually buying a service from the university. Therefore, you are entitled to have some expectation that the service you will be receiving is up to standard and in accordance with the law.
In view of this, if you think that you have a legitimate grievance against your university, you should take necessary steps to make a complaint. This may enable you to receive hundreds of pounds in compensation!
In doing so, you may find this process very daunting and stressful, but this is not as stressful as you may think or imagine.
Always remember, no one is above the law in the United Kingdom and your rights are protected under various laws. However, the first thing is that you should have a good knowledge of the internal policies of your university that is relevant to your subject matter. Remember, every university has a different way of dealing with student appeals and complaints. These are easily accessible. You can even find them on google. If you cannot find them, you can ask your Student Services or Students’ Union (this is one of the easiest tasks for the students’ union!). Be aware that your university may have a deadline for you to bring a complaint after an incident takes place and you will need to adhere to this. I have seen from my experience that so many students have lost the opportunity to present their cases just because of not bringing a complaint within a certain period.
When you encounter any issues and if you consider that it is not right and is against the policy of the university or any relevant laws, you may try to seek an informal resolution. The reason behind this is that the process of making an official complaint can be a long and stressful process. Therefore, you should try to consider resolving it informally. In this regard, you can raise your concern with your personal tutor or any other person with the relevant authority. This person might be able to resolve the issue on your behalf. This might be a quick resolution for you.
Seeking this informal resolution is also a very sensible thing to do as it is normally expected that you have taken some steps to resolve an issue before making a formal complaint.
If you think your issue has not been successfully resolved having tried informally or the issue is serious enough then do not hesitate to start the process of making a formal complaint or appeal against something which breaches the contract you signed up for or your rights as a student. The particular breach or the issue has to be within the jurisdiction of the university. Remember, if the issue is serious enough then your successful appeal or complaint may benefit other students. Therefore, I would say, don’t just twiddle your thumbs!
There are some of the most common issues for successful complaint against universities:
- Academic misconduct which includes cheating, plagiarism and collusion allegations
- University’s poor facilities for students
- Poor learning resources
- Poor teaching and malpractice which led you to receive bad marks
- Course closure or cancellation
- Cancellation of tutoring or classes which are previously timetabled
- Changing the designed course content, its structure and qualification
- Changes to agreed course fees or imposing extra costs which are unexpected and were not agreed prior to signing the agreement
- Harassment or unlawful discrimination
- Complaint against unsupportive supervision in PhD course
Unfortunately, if you are unhappy about your marks, you will not be able to do anything about it if it is come under ‘academic judgement’. However, your university may have a separate appeals procedure for this, and you will need to ask the relevant department of your university regarding this.
When you make any appeal or complaint, it is always advisable to stay calm and deal with it rationally instead of making it too personal. Also, you will need to gather as much evidence as you can, but they will have to be relevant to the case. Otherwise, you will be wasting your valuable time. I have seen so many student’s cases where they asked me to consider a large number of evidence which are not relevant to their cases. As a result, it was inevitable for them to receive a negative outcome!
If you are considering making a complaint or appeal, you may try to contact your students’ union. (I cannot help but note that students have complained to me that they did not find their students’ union very helpful. But I find it surprising because when I was a students’ union Vice-President, I successfully helped so many students which transformed their life).
In making some complaints you may have to know some laws which protect your rights while you are studying at your university. Since March 2015, the CMA (Consumer and Marketing Authority) has started regulating how universities comply with consumer law in the UK. Therefore, you should check if the complaint is in breach of any of these. In 2016, the CMA has reviewed and warned universities in the UK that many of them were in breach of basic consumer laws. If there is a breach of consumer law, you may have a good case!
After making an unsuccessful complaint or appeal and all the internal steps have been exhausted, you should check whether your university has given you a ‘Completion of Procedures’ letter, otherwise you should ask your university to give you the letter as soon as possible. You can then take your case to the Office of Independent Adjudicator (OIA), if you are studying in England or Wales (or the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman if you are a student in Scotland, or the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman if you are studying in Northern Ireland). I would suggest, you should consider taking your case to the OIA, only if you consider you have a good case (but this might be difficult for you to assess. If this is the case, do not hesitate to seek legal advice from an independent Education Lawyer). Otherwise, it will cause you more stress and waste your time. There is a time period to make a complaint to the OIA. In this case, you will have 12 months from the date of your ‘Completion of Procedure’ letter. In exceptional cases, the OIA will look at your complaint which took more than 90 days for your university to revert to you after you making your initial complaint to your university.
But you will have to bear in mind that the time period for making an application for permission to bring a Judicial Review claim against the unsuccessful outcome of your complaint is still three months from the ‘Completion of Procedure’ letter. In this regard, it is advisable for you to seek independent legal advice from an Education Lawyer as this is a complex legal matter.
Before making my final point, I would like to say that I have noticed that students usually do not consider making a complaint against their lecturers or their university and they think making any complaint like this may somehow disadvantage them in the examination or marking. This is wholly a wrong perception. If you experience anything which infringes your rights as a consumer, you should raise your voice. By doing this you are not only helping yourself but also the university by giving them an opportunity to rectify their mistake so as for them to improve their service which enable future students to enhance their student experience.
Finally, we all know that during the pandemic, most UK universities have moved to online teaching rather than face-to-face teaching which may have affected your degree or standard of service you are entitled to receive. It is also worth noting that this online teaching may have disadvantaged you from enhancing your student experience which you may have had attending your university directly. Therefore, you may consider raising your concern to have a portion of tuition fees returned.
Having said the above, I reiterate that if you have any doubts or you are unsure about your prospective complaint or appeal, it is always advisable to seek legal advice.