further & higher education

4th Annual Addressing Student Complaints Forum

further & higher education

08:45 - 15:20

Thursday 4 April 2019

Central London

Early Bird Discount Offer

10% off all advertised rates for a limited time only. Discount available to public / voluntary organisations only.


This Forum provides an opportunity to review procedures for resolving complaints across the Higher Education (HE) sector, and discuss how to improve practices to provide better support for students. Participants will engage with policy leaders and best practice case studies to determine the most effective structures and processes for complaint resolution and alleviating students’ concerns in a timely and sensitive manner, as well as strategies to prevent concerns from arising, with a view to improving the overall student experience.


This Forum is specifically designed for the Higher Education Sector. Typical job titles will include:

  • Directors of Academic Services
  • Academic Advisors
  • Student Affairs Officers
  • Heads of Learning and Development
  • Accommodation Officers
  • Welfare Officers
  • Complaints and Appeals Managers
  • Heads of Student Experience
  • Quality Assurance Managers
  • Registrars and Support Managers
Key Speakers Confirmed:
  • Jo Nuckley, Head of Adjudication Team, Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA)
View the agenda and additional speakers


Registration, Refreshments and Networking


Chair’s Welcome Address

Jean Grier, Board Member, Improving Dispute Resolution Advisory Service for Further and Higher Education (CONFIRMED)


Morning Keynote: Overcoming Challenges to Effectively Resolve Student Complaints

  • Reflecting on the OIA’s Annual Report to outline the current landscape of student complaints across higher education
  • Making best use of The Good Practice Framework to effectively address the challenges around resolving student complaints, including around timing and record keeping
  • Understanding how to adapt the process of resolving complaints according to the sensitivity of the complaint or the specific needs and personal challenges of the student
  • Discussing when a complaint should be passed onto the OIA, and how HEIs can ensure this only occurs in the most necessary circumstances after they have done all they can to help resolve the issue

Jo Nuckley, Head of Adjudication Team, Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) (CONFIRMED)


Special Keynote: Delivering Excellence Across Higher Education Accommodation

  • Summarising the standards that must be met across the education, public and private student housing sectors to ensure all accommodation is safe and secure
  • Exploring the different complaints procedures across the various sectors of accommodation providers, and exploring lessons that each sector can learn from each other
  • Sharing the key causes for complaints, and looking at how to prevent these by improving services provided, such as shortening response time to minor issues
  • Promoting regular engagement with student residents to enhance communication and encourage concerns and complaints to be raised and dealt with as quickly as possible

Michael Ball, Vice Chair, Association of Student Residential Accommodation (invited)


Questions and Answers Session


Refreshments and Networking


Case Study: Evaluating the Effectiveness of Early Resolution Methods to Resolve Student Complaints

  • Summarising the Early Resolution Pilots Initiative, supported by the OIA, and Kingston University’s role in providing training in complaint handling to promote early resolution
  • Outlining the key findings of the report produced by Kingston and other HEI partners, A study of the effectiveness of using early resolution methods to resolve student complaints in Higher Education
  • Utilising feedback from the pilot to improve complaints handling processes, for example by promoting the need for investment in champions who deal with various student issues in the first instance to avoid complaints becoming entrenched
  • Exploring the range of informal resolution methods that can be used to address complaints and concerns, and how to effectively collect feedback on these

Susan Watson, School of Social Work and Social Care, Kingston University and St Georges, University of London (invited)


Case Study: Providing Outstanding Student Accommodation to Reduce Housing Complaints

  • Sharing the journey to being crowned the Best Value for Money Student Accommodation in the UK, and achieving a top three place in the award for overall Best Student Accommodation at the National Student Housing Survey Awards 2017
  • Understanding what contributes to an outstanding accommodation experience: Providing vibrant halls of residence that feel safe and have adequate spaces for both studying and socialising
  • Exploring reasons for complaints related to accommodation, and how recognising these has fed into the redesign of Edge Hill halls, including around quality and pricing
  • Discussing the university’s complaints procedure which ensures that students’ voices are listened to, by offering a variety of pathways to submit a complaint such as through a group complaint process

Kate McAdam, Head of Accommodation Service, Edge Hill University (invited)


Questions and Answers Session


Lunch and Networking


Afternoon Keynote: Enhancing the Quality of UK Higher Education Through Addressing Concerns

  • Summarising the nature of concerns that QAA investigate, including around academic standards, quality and HEIs public information
  • Outlining the structure of the Concerns Scheme, and how this helps in dealing with concerns as fairly and as quickly possible, once the concern has already been dealt with through a HE providers’ complaints process
  • Working with HEIs to improve the accuracy of commitments made in prospectuses and other public information, to better manage student expectations and reduce related complaints
  • Ensuring that examiners have adequate marking guidance, and relaying this information to students to increase their confidence in the marking process

Senior Representative, QAA (invited)


Case Study: Achieving Excellent Student Satisfaction By Effectively Dealing with Concerns

  • Outlining the process of becoming the number one university in the UK for student satisfaction and academic experience, as recognised by the National Student Survey 2017
  • Working with students to best understand how and when they feel that opportunities to provide feedback or raise issues and concerns are needed, and acting upon this across all aspects of university life
  • Sharing best practice in training academic staff, personal tutors and student services staff to ensure student feel able to approach them with any complaints, as early as possible, and that they are taken seriously
  • Understanding the benefits of having a separate complaints procedure for academic complaints, and exploring how this differs from the complaints handling procedure, to provide dedicated responses to student concerns

Mairi Stewart, Director of Human Resources, University of St Andrews (invited)


Questions and Answers Session


Refreshments and Networking


Case Study: Effectively Dealing with Complaints of Sexual Harassment and Misconduct

  • Outlining the Breaking the Silence campaign: Allowing students and staff to anonymously report incidents of sexual misconduct to be investigated as the first step in overcoming this problem as a collegiate collective
  • Exploring why the number of incidents submitted under the Breaking the Silence initiative has been almost 10 times higher than through the traditional reporting system
  • Highlighting the need for all staff to be trained on handling reports of sexual misconduct, and for universities to develop robust independent investigation procedures
  • Providing a wide range of online support, guidance and resources for victims who wish to remain anonymous throughout the complaints process

Professor Graham Virgo QC, Professor of English Private Law and Pro-Vice Chancellor for Education, University of Cambridge (invited)


Case Study: Making Best Use of a Mediator to Resolve Student Complaints

  • Summarising the role of the Student Mediator in advising and assisting students to resolve complaints and issues, and how this system can offer targeted guidance to all parties involved
  • Understanding the process that the Mediator advocates for students to submit complaints, including informal discussions, written notes, and liaising with academic and personal tutors, depending on the nature of complaint
  • Sharing a proven structure for one-to-one appointments with students to decide the best course of action in resolving complaints
  • Supporting students in putting a complaint together

Dr Ruth Siddall, Student Mediator, University College London (UCL) (CONFIRMED)


Questions and Answers Session


Chair’s Summary and Close

*Programme subject to change

In 2017, £650,000 in refunds and compensation were awarded to almost 200 students who issued complaints to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA). In their most recent annual report, the OIA outlined the trend of increasing complaints from students, which rose by 8% in 2017 compared to the previous year. With complaints often related to dissatisfaction with poor facilitates and mis-advertising of course content, universities must do more to meet students’ needs and expectations.

International students in particular are more likely to air concerns, accounting for 23% of complaints despite only making up 13% of the student body. With Brexit looming and the UK HE sector facing uncertainly over the impact this will have on drawing international students to the UK, universities must ensure that they are doing all they can to deliver the optimum academic and social experience for this cohort.

While implementing measures to prevent issues from arising is key, such as providing safe and secure accommodation and delivering course content that matches the prospectus, when things do go wrong it is vital for every HE provider to have a robust and effective complaints handling procedure in place, and ensure that all students are aware of the process and how to access support. The OIA’s The Good Practice Framework for Handling Complaints and Academic Appeals provides detailed guidance for HEIs, which it is vital they adhere to in order to demonstrate compliance with consumer law.

At a time where questions around value for money are being heard more frequently, the onus is now on HEIs across the UK to review their overall offer to students to ensure a high-quality experience, and develop effective strategies for responding to complaints and concerns in a timely, sensitive and supportive manner.

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