International students studying in England and Wales are far more likely to complain about their university’s handling of a grievance than home students, new figures show.
In its latest annual report published on 26 April, the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) states that 29 per cent of complaints that it received in 2017 came from non-UK students, who make up about 13 per cent of the UK’s overall student body.
Unhappiness over disciplinary measures related to academic misconduct, appeals over grades awarded and dissatisfaction over the processing of visas were common themes among the complaints made by international students, who were mostly postgraduates, said the ombudsman.
Almost a quarter (24 per cent) of the 1,640 appeals that it closed in 2017 were settled in favour of students – with 4 per cent found to be “justified”, 11 per cent “partly justified” and 9 per cent settled without need for an OIA ruling, the report said.
Many of the largest compensation payments recommended by the OIA went to international students, with one university asked to pay £47,000 to a first-year PhD student whose studies were terminated abruptly after raising concerns about their supervisors. The OIA concluded it was “not reasonable” to end the PhD course without trying to find an alternative supervisor for the student, who subsequently lost two years of sponsorship. Of the compensation recommended, £7,000 was for “distress and inconvenience”, partly because the international student had a family.
Another international research student was awarded just over £17,000, including £4,000 for distress and inconvenience, for “procedural failings” in the handling of his complaint following the termination of studies because of lack of progression.
Meanwhile, the OIA said that another international PhD student should be awarded £14,000 over a series of administrative mistakes by a provider related to a visa extension that led to a lengthy delay, additional legal costs and loss of earnings from a job that the individual was unable to take up.
Overall, the OIA recommended that providers pay £583,321 in compensation to about 200 students in 2017, of whom 15 students received more than £5,000.
Commenting on the level of compensation received by international students, the OIA report said that “financial implications can be particularly acute – for example, if failure on a course means that they have to repay a sponsoring government”.
Some 50 per cent of appeals made to the OIA, which can intervene once a student has exhausted their internal appeals process, related to “academic status”, such as appeals around degree classifications, and a quarter related to “service issues” such as course quality.
However, the OIA also flagged the issue of mental health difficulties as a common theme among many complaints, including one law student whose complaint around his degree classification was deemed “justified” after his university refused to take medical evidence about a deterioration of his condition during an appeal hearing.