Students could receive financial compensation for teaching time lost during the Covid-19 lockdown after the higher education complaints watchdog told an institution to pay an international student £ 1,000.
However, the National Union of Students (NUS) called the process for handling complaints about academic disruptions during the pandemic “ridiculous” and “inadequate,” with the Office of the Independent Arbitrator having released details of a handful of individual cases.
To date, around 200 complaints have been lodged with the Ombudsman. Many more are expected, as students can only bring their case to the OIA if they have exhausted their own university’s internal complaints procedure. The NUS says the system needs to be streamlined to speed up appeals.
Tens of thousands of dissatisfied students have signed petitions demanding reimbursement of tuition fees after the pandemic led to widespread disruption, with classes being moved online and face-to-face teaching limited. Many were forced to self-isolate in residences as Covid infections swept the area.
The OIA has posted details on a sample of cases it has reviewed on its website, primarily relating to the Covid disruption in the past academic year, when the UK first went into lockdown. times, and only begins to receive complaints relating to the current academic year.
The student who received £ 1,000 was a second year international student who paid an annual fee of £ 13,500. The OIA said that four weeks of teaching for a module and a final project worth 60% of the module have been canceled, meaning the student has lost the opportunity to develop their written work and research.
“We concluded that the vendor did not take sufficient action regarding this module to mitigate the disruption to the student’s learning experience or to ensure that the delivery of the module was broadly equivalent to their usual arrangements.”
Three of the ten case summaries concluded that the student complaints were either justified or partially justified. However, other complaints were dismissed as the OIA concluded that universities had taken the necessary steps to ensure that students could still achieve expected learning outcomes.
NUS President Larissa Kennedy said the OIA’s individual complaints process was “complicated” and “niche,” and could not respond to mass discontent among students. “It is absolutely ridiculous that the government seems to completely ignore the level of anger among students. We see, from a wave of student rent strikes and other actions, that students feel neglected and abandoned in the last term.
Earlier this month, the OIA announced its intention to allow students affected by the same events to have their complaints dealt with collectively. According to the proposals, the ombudsman would have the discretion to examine complaints that have not yet completed internal university procedures.
Felicity Mitchell, the Independent Arbitrator of the OIA, said: “We recognize that many people [at universities] have worked incredibly hard to minimize disruption and to support students, and that students and those who support them have faced very real difficulties. We are fully aware that there are limits to what is reasonable or even possible in this context. But students should always be treated fairly.