Guidance for students affected by industrial action

This note provides general guidance to students whose studies are disrupted by industrial action at their university or college.

It is not for the OfS to get involved in the substance of industrial disputes, but we do have a clear remit to seek to mitigate the impact on students.

Contacting your university

If you have had or will have your studies, assessments or other services disrupted, then you should contact your university or college in the first instance. You should be able to discuss whether it is possible to make up for any lost teaching, and whether any other loss of services and support can be rearranged so as to minimise the disruption that you have sustained.

Where lost teaching has had an impact on assessments or other work that has had to be submitted, you may be able to submit a claim for this to be taken into account as part of your university’s mitigating or extenuating circumstances process. For example, it may be appropriate to agree that deadlines for course work or dissertations should be extended. You should discuss this with your tutors or other appropriate staff. Your student union may also be able to offer advice.

If you’re not happy with your university’s response

If the issue is not satisfactorily resolved, then you have the right to complain through your university’s complaints processes. The process for this should be made clear to you by your university. If you have completed the complaints procedure and you are still unhappy with the outcome, you have the right to make a complaint to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (‘the OIA’).

The OIA is an ombudsman scheme which looks at whether a higher education provider has fair procedures, whether it has followed those procedures correctly, and whether the outcome for the student is reasonable. The OIA has published useful guidance and frequently asked questions about its approach to complaints by students affected by the industrial action. They have also published case studies demonstrating the sort of complaints that have or have not been upheld in the past. There is no charge to students for lodging a complaint with the OIA.

Consumer Rights Act 2015

A summary of the position of students under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 provides clarification about the protection that might be available to students in these circumstances. It is general guidance and does not constitute legal advice to individual students, who are each likely to have different contractual arrangements with their universities or colleges depending on the requirements of their course, the extent of the disruption they have experienced, and their own individual circumstances. If you do wish to explore your legal options, you will need to take your own legal advice.

Read the consumer rights summary

The OfS’s regulatory powers in the event of future industrial action

Although we are unable to deal with the complaints of individual students, the OfS will seek to identify higher education providers who have failed to systematically protect the interests of students in the case of significant industrial action. Universities and colleges have to comply with a number of conditions to register with us, and we have published a note setting out where disruption to students’ studies may amount to a breach of these conditions.

We would expect to see that universities and colleges have taken all reasonable steps to reduce the impact of the strike action on teaching, learning and assessment, and have communicated clearly to students what the impact of any industrial action will be, particularly in relation to exams and assessments.

Universities and colleges should also make clear how certain groups of students, e.g. international students, will be affected and what mitigations will be put in place for them. They should also make clear to students who to contact if they wish to discuss the impact of the industrial action on them and get advice.

Where there is evidence of systematic failure at a registered higher education provider that risks breaching our conditions of registration, student bodies and third parties are able to notify us directly by contacting [email protected]. We may ask you or the provider for more information and will decide whether any mitigations are necessary.

Office for Students, 17 February 2020

Last updated 18 February 2020
18 February 2020
Link to OIA's FAQs added
17 February 2020
Guidance refreshed

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