further & higher education

4th Annual Addressing Student Complaints Forum

further & higher education

08:45 - 15:20

Thursday 4 April 2019

Central London

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 learn what constitutes an effective and robust complaint resolution procedure, as well as strategies to prevent concerns from arising through implementing a comprehensive framework with a view to enhancing the 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 and Residence Officers
  • Complaints and Appeals Managers
  • Registrars and Support Managers
  • Heads of Student Support
Key Speakers Confirmed:
  • Jo Nuckley, Head of Adjudication Team, Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA)
  • Sarah d’Ambrumenil, Head of Office of Student Conduct, Complaints and Appeals, University of Cambridge
  • Dr Ruth Siddall, Student Mediator, University College London (UCL)
View the agenda and additional speakers


Registration, Refreshments and Networking


Chair’s Welcome Address

Jean Grier, Investigations Manager, The University of Edinburgh (CONFIRMED)


Morning Keynote: Outlining the Future Direction of Complaints Resolution in Higher Education

  • 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
  • Emphasising the importance of procedural fairness and regularity in dealing with student complaints, and outlining possible outcomes should a HEI fail to adequately respond to a legitimate complaint

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


Questions and Answers Session


Refreshments and Networking


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

  • Exploring the advantages of early complaint resolution, including how it can have a positive impact on students’ perceptions of the overall complaint process
  • Outlining the measures taken to resolve issues at school/department level and analysing the impact this can have on reducing complaints being passed on to the OIA
  • Examining how the university improved working with the Students’ Union and the impact this has had on complaints as well as in other areas which benefited from positive ways of working together
  • Evaluating the overall success of the pilot initiative and the legacy it has left with the university in resolving student complaints, including the lessons learns and challenges faced along the way

Alison Levey, Director of Student and Academic Services, Aston University (CONFIRMED)


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)


Case Study: Proactively Enhancing Student Engagement to Reduce Complaints

  • Establishing the Centre for Student Engagement in September 2018, a dedicated research institute to further enrich the student experience by enhancing student engagement
  • Understanding how actively engaging students in areas around student voice, co-creating curricula, improving student experience, staff-student partnerships and feedback reduce the likelihood of student complaints
  • Building on the successful best-practice outputs of the two-year collaborative project ‘Realising Engagement through Active Culture Transformation’, which developed engagement among ‘hard-to-reach’ students
  • Sharing guidance around creating a Postgraduate Certificate in Student Engagement to empower HE practitioners to develop an applicable knowledge and understanding of theory and practice surrounding student engagement, and thereby reduce the need for complaints

Tom Lowe, Director – Centre for Student Engagement, University of Winchester (CONFIRMED)


Questions and Answers Session


Lunch and Networking


Afternoon Keynote: Resolving Complaints to Raise Quality in Higher Education Provision

  • Summarising the nature of concerns that QAA investigate, including around academic standards, quality and HEIs’ public information, and actions the QAA can take when quality is compromised
  • Detailing the guiding principles that HEIs should strive to adhere to when dealing with student complaints, as enumerated in the official 2018 Advice and Guidance
  • Supporting HEIs to use concerns, complaints and appeals as an opportunity to enhance their provision, learning opportunities, public information and information management
  • Outlining the structure of the Concerns Scheme, and how this helps in dealing with concerns about academic quality 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 2018
  • 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

Marie-Noël Earley, Academic Registrar, University of St Andrews (invited)


Questions and Answers Session


Refreshments and Networking


Case Study: Effectively Dealing with Complaints of Sexual Misconduct

  • Outlining the informal and formal reporting procedures available to students to report sexual misconduct at the University of Cambridge
  • Exploring the most common challenges to investigating and reaching a ‘successful’ outcome in relation to sexual misconduct complaints
  • Providing tips in handling sexual misconduct complaints, including in relation to sanctions and in implementing precautionary action/interim measures whilst the investigation is ongoing
  • Discussing ‘anonymous’ reporting: What that means and the limits of any investigation and action
  • Detailing the success of the ‘Breaking the Silence’ awareness campaign against sexual misconduct, which resulted in the second largest spike in reports in the university’s history; sharing lessons to replicate effectiveness
  • Running various training events on preventing harassment and sexual misconduct, and to support staff and students who have experienced harassment and sexual misconduct

Sarah d’Ambrumenil, Head of Office of Student Conduct, Complaints and Appeals, University of Cambridge (CONFIRMED)


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 the process of putting a complaint together
  • Utilising the mediator to give students an opportunity to air concerns in a safe and confidential environment, and resolve issues with a minimal amount of stress
  • Emphasising the importance of having a mediator who is independent from any management or other institutional influence, and how this allows students to feel comfortable to engage

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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