The OIA is the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education, an independent body established to handle and investigate students' complaints against their university. It was created as a mechanism that allowed students to further complaints that their university had been unable to resolve. It is also considered an alternative to court.
Once the OIA has reached and issued its final decision (after first having issued a provisional decision that both parties are permitted to review and check for factual accuracy), it will only very rarely revisit its decision or reopen the case. Indeed, no options for any further appeal will be given by the OIA itself.
Therefore, in cases where students do not agree with the OIA's decision and still don't feel that their complaint has been satisfactorily dealt with, they may now turn to the court, which has supervisory authority over the OIA's decisions. This challenge, generally will be against the decision of the OIA and the way in which the OIA made its decision. The next course of action would be to apply to the court for what is known as a Judicial Review. It is worth bearing in mind, however, that Judicial Review has two stages; the permission stage and the hearing stage, with the permission stage acting as a filter.
Zahid vs University of Manchester
It is important to point out that a recent judgement handed down in the case of Zahid vs University of Manchester in February 2017 has fundamentally changed the procedure for students who want to make a challenge against decisions made by their universities. The case involved three medical students who challenged the decisions of their respective universities who wanted to terminate them from their courses. The students had applied to stay Judicial Review proceedings against the University decision to end their studies so that they could submit a complaint to the OIA and try and resolve their respective disputes. This meant that if the OIA didn’t reach a positive outcome for the students, they could still challenge their universities in court, which in the previous procedure, they couldn’t do because of time limitations.
In short, this is the process that now needs to be followed when one receives a Completion of Procedures letter from a university:
- The student has one month in which to write to their university explaining that they intend to complain to the OIA requesting that the University take no issue with time in relation to a Judicial Review challenge.
- The student must then submit their complaint to the OIA within 3 months (as opposed to 12 months).
- When the OIA have made their decision, the student has 1 month thereafter to issue Judicial Review proceedings against the university’s decision, whereas before, the only challenge by way of Judicial Review available to the student would be the OIA’s decision.
What are your chances of success?
When applying for Judicial Review, it is of prime importance to do so as quickly as possible and at the very latest within three months of having received the OIA decision. The deadline is ‘promptly and in any event within 3 months of the date of the decision.’ Therefore, even if an application is lodged within 3 months, a Judge can still rule that it is out of time should they consider that the matter was not brought promptly. It goes without saying that you should also prepare your appeal meticulously, detailing precisely why you think that the OIA/University has made a mistake in reaching their decision.
The court will look at the way the public body came to make their decision. It may decide that the public body acted irrationally or unreasonably, or even that their decision was unlawful. What is notable is that it took eight years before the Administrative Court ruled in favour of a student who was challenging a decision made by the OIA. This is not to say that you shouldn’t proceed with an application, but be aware that based on these statistics, chances of success are not guaranteed and may be slim depending on the facts of your case. If you still wish to continue, Match Solicitors can help you.
How can the Match team help you?
Match have a highly experienced team of lawyers who specialise in complaints to the OIA and can advise you on the chances of your application for Judicial Review. We can also help you prepare available evidence to give you the best chance of success.
If you feel disappointed by the OIA decision and would like to apply for Judicial Review, call us at Match for advice and assistance about the next steps you should take.