What is a notification?
A notification is an important part of how we regulate universities and colleges. It allows students, staff members and others to let us know about an issue within a university or college registered with the OfS, which might not show up in the other data or information we receive.
It is important to remember that we do not have a direct role in dealing with individual complaints or with disputes between students and their university or college. Universities and colleges that are registered with us must have a process in place for resolving student complaints. If a student uses this process and is not satisfied with the outcome, they can contact the Office of the Independent Adjudicator.
A complaint is made by a student, former student or another person, about concerns relevant to the university or college. These concerns could include, for instance, its facilities and services. Before contacting the OfS, where possible, you should first raise any concerns you have that are relevant to your university or college using its complaints process, and seek a solution using that process.
A notification to the OfS informs us, as the regulator for higher education in England, about concerns or issues you have about your university or college that are relevant to our regulatory remit.
While we can’t resolve complaints from individual students, we do want to hear from you. In particular we think student representatives and students’ unions can play an important role in helping us understand student experiences on the ground and across the sector.
Notifying the OfS of concerns or issues at your university or college should not replace any conversations that you’re having directly with its staff. We encourage you to continue to work closely and in partnership with your university or college where possible, to develop solutions together.
What kind of issues could you share with the OfS in a notification?
You can tell us about anything that is relevant to our regulatory remit. We are particularly interested in hearing about issues that are affecting whole courses or particular groups of students. For example, the following may be of interest to us:
- A course not being delivered in the way students had expected – for example, unexpected changes to what is taught, or concerns about the quality of teaching, the availability of resources, or the fairness of assessment.
- Academic support not being available in the way students had expected – for example, a university or college’s personal tutoring system not working effectively and in the way set out in the course handbook.
- Complaints from students not being considered on an individual basis or according to the university or college’s complaints policy.
- Concerns about the way a university or college is being managed or run – for example, evidence of fraud, or conflicts of interest in decision-making processes.
- Issues about fairness and equality – for example, if all students regardless of background are not able to participate and succeed in their courses; or concerns about the university or college failing to deliver the commitments made in its access and participation plan.
This is not a full list but will give you an idea of the type of concerns you can tell us about.
Students have experienced a difficult time during the coronavirus pandemic. Universities and colleges should be supporting students and continuing to provide a high quality educational experience, whether or not face-to-face teaching is possible. If you feel that students at your university or college are not being supported sufficiently, receiving the teaching and assessment they were promised, or receiving a high standard of education, you can tell us about this.
We have heard from some students during the pandemic that they were having particular problems with:
- Not being given adequate support – for example, where IT systems do not support effective online or blended learning and the university or college is not taking appropriate steps to address this.
- A university or college introducing a blanket policy on refunds and refusing to consider refunds for students who wish to leave their course as a result of changes that have been made because of the pandemic.
- Self-isolating students in university- or college-owned accommodation not being provided with the things they need to learn effectively – for example, adequate internet connectivity, access to food, or wellbeing support.
- A university or college stopping face-to-face teaching and providing significantly reduced course content or contact hours through online teaching, without a clear plan to make this up later in the year.
If you are experiencing these or similar difficulties as a result of the pandemic, please tell us about them.
Equality, diversity and inclusion
When submitting a notification to us, students unions and student representatives may wish to ensure they have considered the implications of the notification on all students, whatever their background. This is because we, as the regulator, will need to respond in a way that reflects that broader perspective. Does the issue have an even bigger impact on disabled students, for example? Are students from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds disproportionately affected? Have students who stay on campus during the holidays – such as care experienced, estranged or international students – been considered?
Notifications that affect whole courses or particular groups of students should be developed with those students. You should also consider the diversity of your student community. Actions that may help one group may not be suitable for another.