This section should be read in conjunction with the General Principles for Staff Dealing with Complaints.
A Stage 2 Complaint should be submitted in writing, using the Student Complaint Form (Stage 2) to the Head of Academic Affairs within 10 working days of the outcome of Stage 1 and normally not later than 25 working days after first becoming aware of the incident or issues giving rise to the complaint.
The complaint will be acknowledged by Academic Affairs. Subject to the Head of Academic Affairs being satisfied that the student has taken all reasonable steps to resolve the matter at Stage 1 and that no other University procedure or policy is appropriate, the written complaint will be referred to the relevant Faculty Pro-Vice Chancellor (PVC) or Director of the relevant Service, who will appoint a member of staff (the Investigating Officer) to carry out an investigation
The Investigating Officer may:
- Make a recommendation to the Faculty PVC/Director on the written information only (where the Investigating Officer considers that it may be possible to reach a resolution on the paperwork alone); or
- meet with the student, the person against whom the complaint has been made and/or any other witness and prepare a report for the Faculty PVC/Director setting out any findings and may include a recommendation(s).
Interviews should be carried out in cases where the facts are disputed.
Advice on carrying out interviews can be obtained from Academic Affairs.
Should the Investigating Officer consider it necessary to hold interviews, the student and any member of staff against whom a complaint has been made should be advised of their right to be accompanied (and/or represented where permitted) (see Support and Representation above). It is advisable for another member of staff to attend the meeting as a note-taker. A note of all meetings should be retained.
It is important that the same staff be used throughout the investigation. If the two sides to a dispute are interviewed separately, any fresh allegations made during an interview should be made known to the other party. Complaint hearings should not be adversarial in nature and as far as possible, staff should not be made to feel that they are "in the dock" - they should be thanked for co-operating in the investigation of a complaint.
Investigating Officer's Report
The Investigating Officer will prepare a report, taking into account all the evidence presented, normally within 15 working days of receiving the complaint. The Investigating Officer should refer to the ‘Checklist for staff dealing with Student Complaints’ when compiling the report. The Investigating Officer may make recommendations to the Faculty PVC/Director.
Where it is not possible to meet the deadline for preparing a report, for whatever reason and regardless of the time of year, the Investigating Officer should inform the student and any person against whom a complaint has been made of the delay and should provide them with a revised timeframe.
The Investigating Officer should send the report to the complainant, who will be permitted to respond in writing within five working days of receipt of the report and before the decision is made by the Faculty PVC/Director. A copy of the Investigating Officer’s report should also be sent to Academic Affairs for information. The Investigating Officer should not enter into discussion or correspondence with the student about the content of the report or the recommendation/s at this stage but should ensure that the student confirms that all their issues have been addressed fully and that the report is factually accurate.
Following receipt of the student’s response, the Investigating Officer has the discretion to make further enquiries where they deem it necessary or appropriate.
The Investigating Officer should then forward their report (which may or may not contain a recommendation), with any further comments from the student or any other parties to the relevant Faculty PVC/Director.
The Faculty PVC/Director shall make a decision and may:
- Seek to resolve the complaint through mediation
- Uphold the complaint in whole or in part (and take action accordingly)
- Dismiss the complaint if there is no case to answer
- Dismiss the complaint if it is judged to be frivolous, vexatious or mischievous (in which case action may be taken against the complainant under the University Conduct Regulations).
This decision should be communicated to the student in writing, normally within five working days of the decision being made by the Faculty PVC/Director.
Stage 3: Right of appeal
If a student is dissatisfied with the conduct of the investigation or the decision of the Faculty PVC/Director, they may appeal to the Director of Academic and Student Affairs on specific grounds, on the Student Complaints Appeal Form (Stage 3).
The grounds of appeal are as follows:
- Procedural irregularity in the conduct of the investigation (The student should demonstrate the impact of any such procedural irregularity on the outcome of Stage 2 and should submit any relevant evidence in support of the appeal)
- Evidence is available which was not reasonably available at the time of the Stage 2 determination.
The student must submit the Stage 3 appeal to the Director of Academic and Student Affairs on the appropriate appeal form within 10 working days of the written notification of the decision of the Faculty PVC/Director. The Director of Academic and Student Affairs will consider whether the student has met either one or both of the grounds above and may:
- Uphold the appeal on the basis of the written evidence presented
- Refer the appeal to an Appeal Panel.
The Appeal Panel will comprise a Chair nominated by the Director of Academic and Student Affairs, a Sabbatical Officer of the Students’ Union and two senior members of staff not previously involved in the complaint.
The Appeal Panel may consider the student’s appeal on the basis of the written information alone. However, the Chair of the Appeal Panel will normally request the attendance at the Panel hearing of the Faculty PVC/Director who made the decision at Stage 2, the student or any other person, who in the Panel’s judgement may have relevant information to contribute. The investigating officer may, therefore, be requested to attend. If the attendance of any witness is requested, the student and any person against whom a complaint has been made will be so advised.
A copy of the papers to be circulated to Panel members, the student and any person against whom a complaint has been made, will be sent to the Chair of the Appeal Panel in advance. The Chair will advise Academic Affairs whether the attendance of any witness is required or whether any further information is required. Academic Affairs will make the appropriate arrangements or gather the necessary information, where possible.
Protocol for the Conduct of an Appeal Panel meeting
See the Guidance to Students.
There is no further internal right of appeal. However, a student who remains aggrieved by the Appeal Panel’s decision may submit a complaint to the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman within six months of the Panel’s decision (see below).