More and more universities in the UK are seeing an increase in student complaints not being addressed before they leave an institution leading them to leave with a bitter taste in their mouth and their overall satisfaction with their higher education experience low. Between 2019 and 2020, the Office of Independent Adjudicator’s annual report received a record high of 2,763 complaints, primarily related to the impacts of the pandemic. Compensation awarded for these complaints was “significantly higher” than in previous years, according to OIA’s statement to the BBC.
The report found that the complaints centered on staffing issues, industrial action, and delays in submitting complaints from 2020. While the majority of the complaints to the office were about how courses were delivered, that doesn’t paint the whole picture. Not having access to in-person facilities and strong technology, also made up these complaints. The National Union of Students (NUS) pointed to, as they told the BBC, “digital poverty” being one of the biggest issues facing students today and that students are now at a “breaking point.”
Additionally, with the increase in cost of living, students today are not only struggling with mental health, but also financially. A survey from HSBC UK of 1,000 current and prospective university students, found 54%, more than half, of university students say their finances are “having a negative impact on their mental wellbeing.” The uncertain economy and the lasting impacts of the pandemic have had many students losing their on-campus jobs, parents losing wages/jobs, and left international students unable to work during the pandemic. On top of this student accommodation prices have increased by 61% in the last decade.
Over 3 in 4 students are worried about finances with 1 in 4 students having less than £50 to live off of for a month, according to research from NUS. Students entering and currently enrolled in university will continue to face financial hardships so additional support from institutions will be needed to support them with anxiety and worsening mental health. Addressing these student concerns will mean implementing more part time jobs on campuses and more case management support for students as maintenance loans are at their lowest levels in seven years.
The rise in formal complaints to the OIA are concerning because the OIA only hears appeals from students after their formal institutional procedures are exhausted and are unhappy with the institutional response. Which means thousands of students in the last two years have not felt that their institution has properly addressed their needs meaning repercussions for institutions in their student satisfaction ratings, overall rankings, and more.
As a spokesperson from the NUS told The Guardian, “These statistics will underestimate the number of those who aren’t happy with their experience – their disapproval will have been shared by thousands more students who either don’t know about or weren’t able to access this complaints mechanism.”
Technology can play a key role in effectively addressing student concerns. With the summer holidays coming up, institutions can take the time to reevaluate their complaints processes and administrative effectiveness. With robust technology and reporting tools, institutions can not only easily track student complaints, but also forward those complaints to the right offices and persons with the correct workflows. If your institution doesn’t have anything in place to adequately track and manage student complaints, now is the time to think about revamping your procedures, ensuring that students can file complaints and concerns without hassle, with the knowledge that it will be taken seriously and properly addressed.
It is now more important than ever to ensure that institutions are properly equipped to support their students and reform their practices to rebuild student confidence with reportable and ethical data that ensures they know what is happening on their campuses.
With Symplicity Advocate, university student conduct, complaints and appeals teams can rely on accurate reporting, workflows, and proactive solutions to ensure that incidents are properly followed up on. For this reason, accurate reporting is essential to give students the knowledge that their university is ensuring the safety of all students and is accountable. Students need to feel confident that the systems in place are there to support them throughout the process, with streamlined communication and documentation gathering, while also giving confidence to the university that should a crisis occur they are prepared. With Symplicity Advocate, wellbeing advisors and student services managers can proactively identify and support students who need help. Having all of the information in one place enables universities to help students faster and build a safer community.