Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA)

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator (The OIA for short ), is an independent ombudsman dealing with student complaints.
Although largely funded by Universities it promotes itself as an independent mechanism permitting students to utilise an option other than the court when involved in a complaint against a higher education institution. Sinclairslaw are specialists in Higher Education Law. Our team of specialist solicitors are here to help.

Higher Education Law Solicitors – we can help

The Higher Education Act 2004 was the legislation that brought the OIA into existence. The aim was to create an independent body to investigate and deal with students complaints against universities. The Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) for higher education was created to deal with all claims made by students against universities. The OIA do not have the same powers as the court. It rarely hears live evidence although does have the power to do so. It will issue advisory recommendations to the University which the institution will generally comply with.

Who can complain to the OIA?

Students can complain if they are or were formerly registered as a student at a university or higher education establishment. The Office of the Independent Adjudicator will hold a list of institutions that are on its list of bodies whose decisions it can review.

The OIA provide examples of things that a student might wish to issue a complaint about. This list includes

Unfair practices and procedures by a higher education institution
Disciplinary matters, including academic misconduct including plagiarism
Fitness to practice panel decisions
Poor decision making and maladministration
University or school (ie medical school )Placements
Procedural irregularities and or unfairness in the decision making process.
Academic Supervision ie on a Phd or Masters degree
Student Welfare issues
Discrimination claims (Breach of Equality)- race, sex, disability, age, sexual orientation or religious belief. However due to the decision by the court in the case of Maxwell, the OIA will rarely declare that a University has breached the Equality Act 2010 mainly because it argues that it is not a court, and accordingly is not equipped to address matters in which there might be a conflict in the evidence requiring a finding of fact. It will usually not permit cross examination via live oral hearings but will address its decision making via a paper process.
Bullying and harassment perhaps by another student or staff
Any final decision of the university
A service provided by the university
Teaching and facilities
Student accommodation

When should you consider using a University law Specialist Lawyer – and when should you use the OIA scheme

The OIA will not usually consider a complaint unless a student has first engaged in the University internal complaint or appeal processes. Generally where a student has exhausted the internal remedies open, he/she might then consider using the OIA scheme.

The OIA will generally ask itself whether the University has followed its procedures properly, and whether its decision was reasonable. It is important to familiarise yourself with the University rules that govern the dispute in hand. If you consider that the decision reached was unfair or unreasonable or perhaps a breach of procedure the OIA is a route open to the student. Remember students do have rights and it is useful to consider the obligations owed to the student by the institution as issued within the student handbook.

Legal aid and the University student before the OIA

Generally for OIA appeals legal aid is not available. However see below

How to complain to the OIA

If a student has completed the internal complaints procedure and remains unhappy with the decision they must complete a “complaint form”. There are however strict time limits. This form must be received within 12 months of the student receiving the Completion of Procedures letter. This is usually the letter issued at the end of the internal appeal processes afforded by the University or Higher Education establishment.

Once the documentation has been received the OIA will consider whether the claim is eligible under the scheme. If a positive decision is made that the claim is eligible the case will usually be assigned to a case worker and the student will receive an acknowledgment. Student complaints might take time to decide and usually this might involve waiting for 6 months or so. It is possible to request a quicker decision but the matter is generally left to the OIA to decide. The case handler will gather information from both parties before deciding the result. The decisions open to the OIA are usually whether the case is justified , unjustified or partly justified. If the students claim has been deemed justified the OIA will usually tell or at least advise the university to alter its decision. It cannot however compel the University to do something. If the University ignores the ruling it might publish the information which can , for the higher education institution be somewhat embarrassing. Universities generally will comply with the decision.

Unhappy with the decision of the OIA? Judicial review?

After the OIA has issued a final decision (after initially issuing a provisional ruling upon which parties are usually invited to comment on factual matters) the OIA will rarely reopen the case. It will not offer any further appeal route, although the court does exercise overall supervisory authority over its decisions through a process known as judicial review.

The court might decide that the OIA decision was irrational or unreasonable or perhaps simply unlawful The judicial review process however must first be applied for as there is no automatic right to proceed to the High Court. Firstly permission must be obtained. Sinclairslaw have been involved in one of the leading cases as against the OIA. The High Court decision of Gopikrishna -v- The OIA and the University of Leicester set an important precedent as to when academic immunity should apply to University decisions. Sinclairslaw in that case successfully argued that the OIA should re consider its decision.

Why get specialist University law solicitor help?

To put succinctly, these cases are often highly specialist and complex. Sinclairslaw have specialised in the subject of Higher education law for over 20 years.

Is legal aid available for a judicial review against a University or the OIA

In short “yes”. Although this is subject to financial eligibility.

If you would like more information please contact us today or complete an online enquiry form and a member of our specialist University law team will contact you

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