Helping you understand Welsh law

Students' rights

Complaints

The Welsh Ministers have a power under section 13 of the Higher Education Act 2004 to designate an independent body to operate a scheme for reviewing complaints by students about higher education institutions in Wales.

The scheme applies to all universities, higher education corporations and designated institutions in Wales, and must allow for the referral of all complaints by current or former students of these institutions about an act or omission of the institution.

Where complaints are referred under the scheme they must be reviewed by an independent person who will then make a decision about the extent to which the complaint is justified. If the reviewer determines that the complaint is justified the reviewer can make a recommendation to the institution concerned about action to be taken, but cannot require the institution to take that action. The reviewer must notify the parties to the complaint of the decision made, the reasons for the decision and any recommendation made to the institution.

Under section 15 of HEA 2004, governing bodies of higher education institutions are required to comply with obligations imposed on them by the designated reviewing body and may be required to contribute to the operating costs associated with reviewing complaints.

In Wales and England the Office of the Independent Adjudicator has been designated under HEA 2004 to operate the student complaints scheme.

Decisions of the Office of the Independent Adjudicator are amenable to judicial review (as was established in the case of R (Siborurema) v Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education [2007] EWCA Civ 1365). Therefore, if a student is dissatisfied with the outcome of the review of a complaint, he or she may be able to apply for judicial review of the decision.

Students’ unions

A 'students' union' is defined in section 20(1) of the Education Act 1994 as being:

“(a) an association of the generality of students at an establishment to which this Part applies whose principal purposes include promoting the general interests of its members as students; or
(b) a representative body (whether an association or not) whose principal purposes include representing the generality of students at an establishment to which this Part applies in academic, disciplinary or other matters relating to the government of the establishment.”

There is no requirement for there to be a students’ union at each institution. However, where there is a students’ union at a university that receives funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, a higher education institution, designated institution or  another educational institution in Wales listed in section 21(1) of the Education Act 1994, its governing body must take such steps as are reasonably practicable to secure that the union operates in a fair and democratic manner.

Section 22(2) of the Education Act 1994 requires the governing bodies of institutions to take steps to secure that their students' unions meet particular requirements. These include a requirement for the students’ union to have a constitution and for students to have the right not to be a member of the union and not to be disadvantaged if they exercise this right.

Governing bodies of institutions are required to prepare and issue codes of practice as to how the requirements set out in section 22(2) are to be met and must bring this code of practice to the attention of students. 

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