Developing a Good Practice Guide for Student Complaints - Rob Behrens


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  • Campus Ombudsmen - Impractical to graft on to English and Welsh HEIs a campus ombudsman concept which sits uneasily with existing arrangements, not available at European universities. Mediation - – an under-used and not always understood process in HEIs
  • Developing a Good Practice Guide for Student Complaints - Rob Behrens

    1. 1. Developing a Good Practice Framework for student complaints Penta Hotel, Reading Thursday, 6 June 2013 Rob Behrens Chief Executive and Independent Adjudicator A Strategic Approach to complaints resolution “Comrades! The first principle of the Revolution is effective time-keeping.” - Govan Mbeki, after being released from Robben Island after 25 years 1
    2. 2. THE OIA AS A STRATEGIC PARTNER • A Classic Ombudsman Scheme – independent complaints handler of last resort established under 2004 Higher Education Act • With experience of 10,000 cases and (almost) universal compliance • Sensitive to special features of Higher Education (R (Mustafa) v OIA [2013] EWHC 1379) • Free to students and with a year-on-year lowering of unit costs for universities • Use of Transparency to generate scrutiny, understanding and public trust • Member of the Regulatory Partnership Group (and partner in developing the sector Operating Plan) • Engine of Good Practice 2
    3. 3. EVIDENCE OF HIGH VOLUMES AND TRENDS - COMPLAINTS RECEIVED BY THE OIA 34 42 52 41 76 56 114 508 544 682 859 931 1285 1491 542 586 734 900 1007 1341 1605 Over 2000 0 500 1000 1500 2000 2500 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 Combined for England and Wales England Wales 3
    4. 4. WHAT IS COMPLAINED ABOUT: 2012 OUTTURNS 4 71% 9% 6% 3% 3% 3% 2% 1% 1% 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% Academic statusService Issue (Contract)Academic Misconduct, Plagiarism & CheatingFinancial OtherDiscrimination & Human RightsDisciplinary matters (not academic)Welfare & AccommodationAdmission
    5. 5. REASONS FOR RISE IN COMPLAINTS • Discussion about rise in fees and then the rise in 2012 • Students as consumers • Decline in deference • Rise in expectations – fall in status of 2.2 • Tightening of labour market • Rise in vocational subjects (medicine, law, social work, teaching – double qualification needed) • OIA becoming more widely known 5
    6. 6. IMPACT OF INSTITUTION SIZE ON COMPLAINT NUMBERS 0 20 40 60 80 100 120 Smallest institution Largest institution Trendline Number of complaints 6
    7. 7. RELATION BETWEEN INTERNAL COMPLAINTS AND APPEALS AND COMPLAINTS RECEIVED BY OIA 0 100 200 300 400 500 600 700 800 900 1000 Number of complaints received with COP Letter dated 2012 Number of COP Letters issued Institutions which issued least COP Letters Institutions which issued most COP Letters 7
    8. 8. EVIDENCE OF HIGH VOLUMES AND TRENDS - COMPLAINTS CLOSED BY THE OIA 8 213 381 639 786 886 825 1443 Around 1800 0 200 400 600 800 1000 1200 1400 1600 1800 2000 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
    9. 9. Informing strategic and operational planning through:  Comparative engagement and analysis to learn from other sectors and countries  The Pathway Series  Complainant surveys  Round-table meetings  Routine visits to HEIs and students unions ADDRESSING HIGH VOLUMES: 1. CONTINUOUS LISTENING AND LEARNING 9
    10. 10. ADDRESSING HIGH VOLUMES: 2. ADJUSTING MISSION AND VISION Contributing to high quality student experience by the independent and impartial adjudication and resolution of complaints. And promoting good practice in complaints and appeals handling. 2013 Mission By 2015 recognised as a key driver of high quality student experience through: exemplary dispute resolution of student complaints; the dissemination of a sector-wide good practice framework for complaints and appeals handling in universities; and effective contribution to the risk-based regulatory framework of higher education. Defining Mission and Vision builds on analysis of Present- State, Mandates and Resources, and Evidence-based approach. 2013 Vision 10
    11. 11. ADDRESSING HIGH VOLUMES: 3. DEVELOPING BUSINESS PROCESSES  Increasing front-line capacity  Decentralisation of responsibility for case decisions – risk based Approval and Management  (Early) Assessment Team developed and expanded to assess Eligibility and explore Settlements  Triage and Settlement Processes to resolve cases as early as possible  Targets for monthly closures  Element of Outsourcing 11
    12. 12. ADDRESSING HIGH VOLUMES: 4. FEEDBACK AND PUBLICATION (I) Errors and lack of consistency in appeals process o Student appealed degree award on grounds of errors in the examination questions and issues related to final year project. The university: o Applied different regulations at different stages in the appeal; o Made errors in the documentation concerning the appeal, for example naming the wrong module; o Did not produce written minutes of the appeal hearing; o Took four months to inform the student of the results of the appeal; the regulations stipulated seven days o Gave the student and the OIA inaccurate information about the frequency of Examination Board meetings. Consideration of relevant information o Appeal by international postgraduate student against award of a Masters rather than a PhD. From our review: o Evidence that the appeal did not consider documentation put forward in support of the student. o Required personnel absent from the appeal, in breach of university regulations. o Evidence that the student had not been given appropriate notice or time to make suggested corrections to his PhD; o No evidence that the exceptional circumstances of the student, who was facing serious criminal charges, then dropped, while in his home country, were taken into account. Threats to student Text of email to student: I spoke with your mother this afternoon because she called pleading for us to somehow reverse the decision of the Board of Examiners regarding your failure, which is not going to happen….. I do not know what you mean by "consider this for my appeal" but if you choose to waste your time (and ours) by appealing, the Department will prepare a case to explain its decision, which I do not believe will be overturned. All evidence would be considered, including your performance in the first project, which your mother knew nothing about… I will not respond to further emails from you and I will also not engage in more telephone conversations with you or any member of your family…” 12
    14. 14. IMPERIAL COLLEGE LONDON – good practice Imperial College London changed its procedures to allow a student to bring an appeal that did not fall within the grounds listed in the College’s procedures. While the appeal itself was unsuccessful, leading to the student’s complaint to OIA, the College’s flexibility in adapting its procedures created opportunities for other students in the future. LONDON SOUTH BANK – shortfalls in practice The OIA upheld a case brought by a student of the University where it was found that: The University’s procedures for dealing with extenuating circumstances claims were inconsistent. The University was unable to demonstrate that it had taken full consideration of the student’s disability. FEEDBACK AND PUBLICATION (III) – PUBLIC INTEREST DECISIONS 14
    15. 15. ADDRESSING HIGH VOLUMES: 5. INCENTIVISING INTERNAL RESOLUTION • Broad support for revised funding model in context of trend of significant annual increases in complaints, and a growing interest of ‘alternative suppliers’ in joining the Scheme. • Important to create a user pays principle without closing off complainant access to the OIA. • Revised model retains, the simplicity and clarity of the current arrangements based on core subscription calculated by numbers of enrolled students, • And builds on them incrementally to include initially a small case-related element from 2014. • Letter to Vice-Chancellors in December 2012 announced revisions. • Case-related element based on points relating to 2013 case profiles and provide an estimated 10 per cent of OIA income. • Each band has a ‘free’points threshold with 3 points for cases reviewed to Complaint Outcome, 2 for cases Settled or Withdrawn and 1 for Not Eligible. • Cost per point above the thresholds is £200. 15
    16. 16. HOW THINGS GO WRONG • University failed to follow its procedures • Breaches of the duty to act fairly (natural justice) • Information not properly considered (or not demonstrated that it was) • Delay or maladministration • Non-implementation of appeal panel decision • Cohort dealt with inconsistently • Inadequate supervision/tuition/equipment • Poor communication or misinformation • Discrimination issues, especially disability 16
    17. 17. EARLY RESOLUTION INITIATIVE  Campus Ombudsmen as suggested by 2011 HE White Paper ?  Diversity of existing provision  Student Services Offices  Students Union Advice Centres  Student Conciliators  Graduate Interns  Complaint Mediation Schemes  Mediation  No “one size fits all”  Canterbury Christ Church – wider use of mediation  University of South Wales – Student Conciliators  Sheffield – facilitated discussion  Kingston – training in complaint handling and mediation  Huddersfield – student conciliators  ARC linking pilots to good practice procedure 17
    18. 18. FRAMEWORK OF GOOD PRACTICE (I) 80 per cent of Pathway 3 submissions agreed that a framework focusing on operational complaints and appeals resolution would be extremely useful. This framework will be:  Consultative  Jointly developed  Non- statutory  A living document (web- based) and  Complement QAA Quality Code 18
    19. 19. FRAMEWORK OF GOOD PRACTICE (II) • Project steering • Comparative analysis – Scotland compared with England and Wales • Scope of Framework • What non-statutory means • Time-lines • Consultation • Implementation 19