Understanding Your Rights as a University Student: UK Student Rights & Regulations
It is important to know that whatever situation you face where you feel unfairly treated that there are student rights in the UK that you should be aware of.
There is support out there for you, if you wish to complain about the quality of the teaching you have received, appeal against grades given, or protest about unfair treatment in university or with your student housing.
It is easy to feel lost and alone when you’ve been treated unfairly, but you do have rights and there is support available to you for many different situations.
Rising Student Complaints
In 2021 the OIA (Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education) received 2,763 complaints from students in university education.
The OIA is an independent body that reviews student complaints about higher education in England and Wales. It is a free service for students to use for assistance in these matters.
The number in 2021 was the highest ever recorded, and the total amount recommended by the OIA to be offered to students as compensation stood at a staggering £792,504.
Why Students Make Complaints At University?
There are a few common reasons why students make complaints at university, these include:
Academic appeals – When students are unhappy with the degree classification they have been awarded and feel unfairly treated.
Industrial action – Lost learning or provision of teaching as a direct result of industrial action.
Ineffective service delivery – This covers poor facilities, teaching delivery, or wider student services within the university.
Financial services – This is where students feel funding rules or available financial support packages are incorrectly allocated or inconsistent in approach.
Disciplinary – Where students feel disciplinary proceedings have been unfairly conducted or disproportionate in response.
Fitness to practice – Where higher education institutions have declared a student unfit to practice a course or profession and the student feels the decision is unjust.
Sexual harassment and misconduct – Complaints between students and involving university staff, including the university mishandling the initial complaint procedure.
Equality, access, and disability – 1 in 5 student complaints come from disabled students, who feel there have been inadequate approach to equality and access, or poor complaints handling.
Consumer rights – In some cases, students complain due to the lack of provision when matched with the funding they are expected to pay towards learning.
How To Make A Complaint As A Student
If you are in a situation where you feel you do need to make a complaint, we advise that you follow these steps:
1. Speak To Your Personal Tutor
Always try to come to an informal solution first in a situation where this is a possibility (if we are discussing a sexual harassment complaint this needs to be escalated immediately to the highest point).
Speak to your personal tutor and they might act on your behalf with the university.
2. Be Aware Of The Complaints Policy
Every university will have its own complaints policy with specific procedures for you to follow.
Read through this so you know what it is you need to do to escalate the complaint, whether this is write a formal letter or speak to a specific person within the university.
There might also be a time period in which you need to complain.
3. Take Time To Work Out The Detail Of Your Complaint
Obviously, you know what you are complaining about, but take time to write down the main points in a concise form and know what you want as an end result from the complaint.
Also, make sure that you have evidence to back up your points, as you will be asked to provide this during the complaint’s procedure.
4. Check The CMA’S Rights For Students
You can check whether your complaint relates to any breaches they cover before moving on with the complaint process.
5. Use Helpful Resources
Speak to your student union about the complaint and they will have a wealth of resources to support you during this process, so that you don’t have to do things alone.
They can point you in the direction of student advisers, councillors and those with experience of the complaint system.
6. Submit A Formal Complaint
Write up the formal complaint following the specific process outlined by your university.
Keep things calm, rational, and clinical, and keep personal emotions out of the writing.
Provide specific examples and evidence to back up your claim.
7. Completion Of Procedures Letter
Your university has an obligation to send you a COP (Completion of Procedure) letter outlining the issues and their final decision.
This could take a couple of months in some cases.
8. Consider The Ombudsman
If you are not satisfied with the response and outcome from your university, you have a right to appeal to the ombudsman.
There is a different ombudsman in different parts of the UK:
- England and Wales – The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA)
- Scotland – Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO)
- Northern Ireland – Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman (NIPSO)
You can only go to the Ombudsman if you have been through the full complaints process with your university.
You have 12 months to file a complaint from the date on the COP letter sent to you by the university.
Can I Appeal My Final Grade?
One of the biggest areas of complaint for a university student relates to the final grade awarded.
All universities will allow you to appeal the final awarded grade, and the decision is often related to the exam board.
You’ll need to put your appeal in writing, following the above steps and following the specific university complaints process.
What About Student Housing Rights?
If you live in student hall provided by the university, or with a private landlord, you do have rights relating to the provision of basic repairs, maintenance and safety in your accommodation.
A landlord can only evict you with a possession order from the court, and if you have a periodic agreement, you must be given four weeks’ notice of this intention.
Harassment and illegal eviction are criminal offences, where you could also take civil action against your landlord.
Always remember that you are not alone. As a student, you face some challenging environments and stressful situations even in the best of times.
Student life is hard but enjoyable, living away from home and studying to gain your qualifications.
The life experiences are worth it, but if you feel you have been unfairly treated it can be difficult to know where to turn.
As you can see you do have plenty of student rights in the UK. We hope we’ve been able to help you out with some of the areas in which you might encounter obstacles or unfair treatment.