Union Advice guidance on Industrial Action complaints – 2019/20

Union Advice are an independent source of advice at City. We provide free, confidential and impartial advice to all students, including advice on making complaints.

We have provided some impartial guidance below on the current industrial action at City for students who feel they have been affected.

More information about the industrial action can be found here.

You will note that we do not use the term “strike” on this page as it is important to consider that the action taken by UCU does not end with the strike. Your studies could be disrupted beyond the strike action.

 

The Students’ Union has voted to back the strike action. How can you provide independent advice?

Union Advice are independent, impartial and non-judgemental. These are three of our core values, which can be found here.

The Office for the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) recommends that while some Students’ Unions may be sympathetic to the industrial action, they consider having provision for some members of staff to take a neutral position. At City this is our team.

While City Students’ Union formally backs the strike action, our Advisors do not have an opinion or position on the strike action and we are neutral in this matter.

We advise on a wide range of topics and never take a judgemental position when providing advice.

Table of contents

How can you assist me with making a complaint?

Our step by step guide for addressing Industrial Action related concerns

  1. Measuring the impact on your studies
  2. Wait until the initial strike has finished before considering a complaint, or seeking advice from us
  3. Are you the only person affected?
  4. Raise your concerns informally
  5. Raise an informal complaint (Stage 1)
  6. Raising a formal complaint (Stage 2)
  7. University level review (Stage 3)
  8. The Office for the Independent Adjudicator (OIA)

I want a refund of my tuition fees/compensation

My School are rearranging missed teaching, but the rearrangements are not accessible to me as a disabled student

Helpful sources of information

 

How can you assist me with making a complaint?

We can’t complete a complaints form for you or provide a template. You must write any complaint yourself based on your own specific circumstances.

However, don’t worry. We are here to advise on how to write complaints, what you may want to consider, and writing a complaint need not take long. We are happy to check drafts.

If you would like support from an Advisor please complete our Case Form here.

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Our step by step guide for addressing Industrial Action related concerns

 

1. Measuring the impact on your studies

Before considering any action, such as making a complaint, it is very important to log how your studies have been affected. If you do need to make a complaint later then this will form part of your evidence.

We advise that you keep a short note of each time the industrial action has affected your studies. This could be on a piece of paper, in your phone, or a spreadsheet.

You should record:

  • The date
  • What was affected (e.g. seminar, lecture, revision session, supervision session, personal tutoring etc)
  • A short note of any concerns you have about how this could affect your studies (e.g. material might arise on an exam, or in coursework, learning needed for professional placement)
  • If the disruption has cost you in some way then keep evidence of this. This could be travel costs, or a paid notetaker from your DSA, for example.

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2. Wait until the initial strike has finished before considering a complaint, or seeking advice from us

The strike will take place between the 25th November 2019 and 4th December 2019.

Until this initial strike has completed, it will be too early for you to start any complaint process. You will not be clear about the whole impact of the strike until it is finished.

UCU members will also be “working to contract” or “working to rule”. This will mean the full impact of industrial action will stretch into 2020. We are not suggesting you wait this long to complain, but only for the strike to finish.

In the meanwhile, ensure you are following step 1.

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3. Are you the only person affected?

If you have had lectures cancelled or your studies have been affected in some other way, you are unlikely to be the only one in your cohort to be affected.

We can help and support you to come together to make a complaint collectively. This is known as a group complaint.

City is more likely to be able to respond quickly and consistently to student complaints where students affected in the same way set out their concerns together. 

You do not have to complain collectively, we can also advise individuals.

All you have to do is speak to your classmates. If you agree that you would like to make a complaint together, nominate one person to act as the “lead complainant”.

 We would recommend they complete our Case Form so they can receive direct support from an Advisor.

This person would:

  1. Help collate any concerns and evidence from the group (see above)
     
  2. Submit the complaint
     
  3. Act as the main point of contact between the University, the group, and your SU Advisor.
     
  4. Further the complaint through Stages 2, 3 and to the OIA if necessary (see below).

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4. Raise your concerns informally

The University have said that throughout the action, they will seek to:

“take reasonable steps to minimise disruption (e.g. reschedule missed sessions, combine sessions, extend deadlines) where relevant and possible”

The idea of resolving a complaint is to put you back in the position you were in had the issue not occurred. Schools will be seeking to mitigate the impact of the industrial action as much as possible.

If you have not heard from your School about how the impact of the strike is being mitigated, then you should contact your Course Officer or Programme Director to ask.

You should provide your list of missed sessions from step 1.

You do need to be realistic about what City can do. For example some classes may be rescheduled later in the year or delivered in other formats. This could be through additional guided reading or recordings of previously delivered classes.

If any alternative arrangements do not meet your needs (i.e. as a disabled student) then you should make this clear to the School and ask what adjustments can be put in place.

If you are not satisfied with the response (or you receive no response within a reasonable timeframe) then you should move to the next step.

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5. Raise an informal complaint (Stage 1)

This is known as Stage 1 of the Complaints Policy. You can find more information about the Complaints Policy here.

This should normally be done within 28 calendar days of becoming aware of the issue you wish to complain about. This can be the last event in a chain of events, and is not necessarily the first issue to arise.

For example, it is possible that you don’t feel that you have been affected until a missed session is not rescheduled, or you receive your results. The 28 calendar days would start from this point.

This complaint should be written to your Course Officer and can take the form of an email. You should include:

  • An introduction to your concerns.
  • Your list of missed sessions and other information as per step 1 above.
  • How you feel your studies have been affected.
  • Concerns about whether your assessments have been, or will be, affected. List the assessments and explain what has happened. For examples were deadlines not postponed or extended sufficiently?
  • Was any feedback not provided on time or yet to be provided?
  • Were you not able to meet or contact supervisors?
  • If there is any teaching or content set out in the course prospectus that will no longer be delivered you may wish to express your dissatisfaction at not receiving this if it was a significant factor in choosing your programme.
  • If you are not happy with your department’s attempt to mitigate the impact on your studies you could also mention this and explain why you think the steps they have taken are not enough.
  • Refer to any evidence such as emails received from your department about cancellations of lessons or changes that have had to be made due to the strike action.
  • If you have any other evidence that relates to the impact or inconveniences caused you should mention that: these may or may not include:
    • not feeling comfortable about crossing the picket lines.
    • Late cancellation of teaching after travelling to university and incurring travel costs/inconvenience incurred attending university only to be informed classes were missing?
  • You should clearly and realistically outline what you believe the School can do to resolve this issue.

Don’t forget to attach any supporting evidence you have to your email.

If you want advice on your draft then we are happy to provide this. You would need to complete our Case Form at this page and send a copy of the draft to unionadvice@city.ac.uk.

Please bear in mind that our normal response time is up to three working days. This can be longer during busy periods.

The School should get back to you within 21 calendar days, but considering the number of potential complaints during this period this may be longer.

Once you have your outcome, if you remain dissatisfied or wish to seek compensation, then you will need to escalate the matter to Stage 2 of the process.

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6. Raising a formal complaint (Stage 2)


If it has not been possible to reach an acceptable informal resolution during Stage 1, it is possible to begin a more formal process.

This allows for further and more structured investigation, and is described under Stage 2 of the Student Complaints Regulation.

In order for a complaint to be considered at Stage 2, you would need to complete the Student Complaints Form (SCF).

This complaint form should be submitted within 21 days from the last correspondence which has left you dissatisfied.

The University will consider any requests for refunds of tuition fees as a result of the impact of the industrial action. However, you will need to clearly demonstrate why the School’s initial response is not satisfactory and/or the ongoing detriment to your studies.

Most students do not study at higher education providers purely to gain a qualification. Other things are important to them too, such as attending lectures and seminars led by academics.

If a considerable amount of teaching time has been cancelled and:

  • The learning outcomes modules are not or cannot be delivered in full
  • Key elements of the Programme as promised before you started the course are not delivered
  • Key elements of the course, or modules are not delivered to expected standards

Then you may wish to request compensation. You would need to provide clear evidence of the above, similar to the informal stage of complaint.

 

Filling in the form:

 

Section 1 – Details. This is self-explanatory complete list all your details.

 

Section 2 – Complaint summary. You can submit your complaint as an individual or as a group complaint. If you are complaining on behalf of your cohort or programme you need to make clear it is a group complaint. When summarising your complaint you only need a brief description making clear that you are complaining about the impact of industrial action.

If there are any other aspects of your student experience that have been affected due to the strikes you would also briefly mention this here.

Keep it brief as you will provide more details in Section 3.

 

Section 3 – Background. This is where you explain what happened and why you believe the industrial impact has had a detrimental impact on your studies.

  

Section 4 - Previous Actions – You should briefly summarise what you have done so far to try and resolve this complaint. This includes any informal efforts, as well as your Stage 1 complaint.

 

Section 5 - Your Preferred Outcome. This is where you ask for exactly what you want. You should consider:

  

  • Do you want financial compensation or extra/different learning opportunities to make up for teaching lost and/or other contact that was lost?

 

  • If asking for additional or other learning opportunities, state clearly what you want. For example do you want to be able to be offered the chance to receive key course content/opportunities from your module/programme that you missed at a later date? Are their equivalent short courses you feel should be offered at a later date? If so make this clear and list any relevant courses or module content.

 

  • If asking for financial compensation, a good starting point could be to work out from the fees paid for the term, how much you may have paid for the module(s) affected etc. You could then factor in any measures taken by your department to reduce the impact before deciding what amount you consider to be appropriate compensation. You may also wish to consider if you have evidence of any unexpected additional costs incurred directly as a result from the circumstances of the strike action and/or the measures taken by the university to reduce the impact.
  • For any amount you request, you should consider then reducing this number by 50% to take into account that higher education providers have to provide and maintain buildings, IT and library facilities, wellbeing and other student support and administration. This is the approach taken by the OIA when awarding compensation/fee refunds for industrial action.

 

Section 6 – Student Declaration and Checklist. This section is self-explanatory.

 

Submitting the Complaints Form. The complaints form along with any accompanying evidence should to be submitted to the Head of Academic Services in your School:

 

 

What happens next. Your School should acknowledge receipt of your complaint within 7 days and provide you with an outcome within a further 21 days. If you do not receive a response within this timeframe you may wish to email to ask for an update on your complaint.

 

At this stage it is recommended you seek advice from us by filling in Case Form.

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7. University level review (Stage 3)

If you receive a response and remain dissatisfied then there is a further stage. You would need to demonstrate that either:

a. there has been a procedural irregularity in the conduct of the Stage 2 investigation, or

 

b. new information has come to light, which you were unable to disclose previously and which would have had a material impact upon the investigation previously undertaken

If you require advice about this you would need to complete our Case Form.

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8. The Office for the Independent Adjudicator (OIA)

After Stage 3 your complaint will have “exhausted” the internal complaints procedure at City.

You can, at this stage, take the matter to the Higher Education ombudsman, the Office for the Independent Adjudicator (OIA). You would have 12 months to do so.

The OIA have a bespoke Strike Action Complaint Form which you can find on their website.

You can complaint to the OIA as a group.

Again we can assist you in making a complaint to the OIA.

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I want a refund of my tuition fees/compensation

You can submit a complaint to request a refund of fees, or for compensation for disruption. However, you should bear in mind that City are taking steps to replace the lost learning opportunities and mitigate the effect of the industrial action.

It is unlikely that students will receive a refund of their tuition fees where adequate and reasonable steps have been taken to replace lost learning opportunities.

If this has not happened, you are still seriously affected by the industrial action, or you are not satisfied with City’s attempt to mitigate against the action, then you will need to follow the process we have outlined in our step by step guide above.

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My School are rearranging missed teaching, but the rearrangements are not accessible to me as a disabled student

If any alternative arrangements do not meet your needs as a disabled student then you should make this clear to the School as soon as possible and ask what adjustments can be put in place.

If you are not satisfied with the outcome or feel you have been disproportionately impacted by the industrial action then consider raising a complaint following the above guidance.

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Helpful sources of information.
City’s FAQ and information on strikes can be found here.

Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) – Briefing note on strikes can be found here.

Office for Students Guidance can be found here.

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