A complaint under this procedure is an expression of dissatisfaction by a student. If you are uncertain whether a student is making a complaint (as opposed to bringing an issue to the attention of a member of staff), you should explain that the University has a Student Complaints Procedure and ask the student if they wish to make a Stage 1 complaint.
A student may complain about:
A student cannot submit a complaint about:
Students should be referred to other relevant University procedures if appropriate, e.g. the Academic Appeals Regulations if they are seeking an academic outcome.
Students cannot use the Student Complaints Procedure to challenge the decision made under another University procedure.
Where more than one procedure may apply, advice may be sought from Academic Affairs. The decision about which procedure should apply will be taken by the Director of Academic and Student Affairs.
Where the student’s complaint is about the behaviour of a member of staff or another student, you should also refer the student to the Anti-Bullying and Harassment Policy and consider whether the Student Dispute Resolution Policy could be implemented or whether the matter should be referred to People and Culture. You may also wish to advise students of the option of Report and Support. If in doubt, the investigator should seek advice from People and Culture or Academic Affairs.
If the student has a problem with a University Service they should contact the Service directly.
If the student has an issue with the content of a lecture, or with a lecturer or member of staff within a School, then the student should raise the issue with the member of staff involved, or with the Head of School.
If the student is unable to discuss the issues with the staff in the School or University Service, they may submit a formal Stage 2 complaint to the Head of Academic Affairs.
When the complainant is a student on a collaborative programme between the University and another institution, the collaborative agreement should normally state which complaints and appeals procedures the student can access. Students are usually expected to access their local institution’s complaints procedure in the first instance.
If the concern originates during a work or study placement, the student should raise the matter, in the first instance, with the member of staff at the workplace or institution in question who is responsible for the placement. Students sometimes find placements challenging and should be provided with support and assistance. However, where it is not possible to resolve the student’s concerns with the help of the member of staff responsible for the placement, consideration should be given to whether it is possible for the student to complete the placement or for another placement to be found. In certain cases, it may be necessary to terminate a student’s placement where the University has cause for concern about the issues raised by the student. In such cases, the relationship with the placement provider should be reviewed and appropriate steps regarding students’ safety should be taken.
The University’s Student Complaints Procedure cannot be used to pursue a complaint against an external body.
Some cases have to be “disentangled” - separating out the various strands can greatly simplify the investigation. For example, a personality clash or disappointment at a low examination mark may manifest itself in allegations of poor lecturing. It should also help to distinguish the facts (i.e. where the true position can be established) from rival interpretations of events, and to identify any misunderstanding on the part of the student or staff member.
In some cases, the investigation may simply involve establishing whether a particular procedure was correctly followed e.g. assigning CATS points, choice of Master’s projects, use of or access to University facilities etc.
Some students may view their failure in examinations or assessed work as evidence of bias or unfair treatment. In such cases, an explanation of assessment methods may dispel the perception of bias (e.g. anonymous marking, double marking, the role of the External Examiners). Otherwise, complainants should be asked to explain how they believe they have been treated unfairly.
If the nature of the complaint is not clear, the student should be asked to summarise the precise nature of the complaint and the outcome or redress sought. If it becomes apparent that a student is seeking an academic outcome, an academic appeal may be more appropriate (see Academic Appeals Regulations (Taught Programmes) and Academic Appeals Regulations (Postgraduate Research Programmes). You should make the student aware that strict deadlines apply.
If you consider that a complainant has made any unsubstantiated or defamatory allegations or comments about other students, members of University staff or other persons, you may require the complainant to retract the allegation or comment before commencing an investigation.
If a student makes an informal complaint against a member of staff, it is advisable to contact HR for guidance on HR procedure. Advice may be sought without disclosing the names of those involved or the details of the complaint, if necessary.
Whether a complaint is made verbally or in writing, it is important for a record to be kept on the Student Complaint (Stage 1) Pro-Forma.
The student should be advised that this record will be taken and kept within the normal bounds of confidentiality and in accordance with Data Protection requirements.
The School or Service should record the details of every student complaint investigated at Stage 1. This information will be requested at the end of each academic year and Academic Affairs may request, for auditing purposes, to review the student complaint and any relevant documentation. A completed pro forma will also assist with a Stage 2 investigation, should the student wish to escalate the complaint beyond the School or Service.
At the end of the Stage 1 process, students should be advised in writing that Stage 1 of the process has been concluded. The email/letter should also set out the terms of any resolution or agreement reached and advise the student of their right to submit a Stage 2 complaint if they remain dissatisfied, normally within ten working days of the stage 1 outcome, and refer them to the correct procedure and guidance.
It is important that the student:
It is good practice to write to the student following any initial discussion and to set out the nature of the complaint and what, if anything, was agreed.
Stage 1 complaints should be attempted to be resolved within five working days and the decision communicated to the student in writing, again within five working days of the date of the decision. If there is a delay, the student must be advised.
Stage 2 complaint decisions should be communicated to the student within five working days of the decision by the Faculty PVC/Director. Again, if there is a delay, the student must be advised.
The response to the student, regardless of the Stage, should indicate what action is proposed to resolve the complaint, or the reasons for not upholding it, and should advise them of their next steps if they remain dissatisfied.
Complainants should be advised of their right to be accompanied to a meeting or interview by a registered student of the University (including a Sabbatical Officer from the Students’ Union) or by a member of staff of the University (including a staff member from Advice SU) or University Chaplaincy at any stage in the procedure. The role of the person accompanying the complainant is one of support, not representation, and the student will normally be expected to present their own case.
A student against whom the complaint has been made and who has been called to an interview or meeting in relation to the complaint, shall also have the right to be accompanied by a member of University staff or University Chaplaincy or by a registered student.
A member of staff against whom the complaint has been made and who has been called to an interview or meeting in relation to the complaint, shall have the right to be accompanied and represented by a recognised Trades Union Official, a member of University staff or University Chaplaincy.
No party can be represented by another person in their absence.
Students should be advised that they can seek assistance and support from Advice SU.
If you have concerns about a student’s well-being or consider that the student may be vulnerable, you should refer the student to the Wellbeing Service.
The complainant should be reminded of the importance of confidentiality and that the matter should not be discussed with other persons whilst the investigation is on-going so as not to compromise the impartiality or integrity of the process.
Students should be advised that all information provided will be treated by the University within the normal bounds of confidentiality and in accordance with Data Protection requirements.
Students should be advised that, at Stage 1, the person/s against whom they have made the complaint or any other person named by the student may be contacted in an attempt to resolve the matter; however, such persons will not be given information or documentation about other elements of the complaint which do not relate to them. If the student does not wish this to happen, you should discuss other options open to them.
Students should also be made aware that, at Stage 2, any person against whom a complaint has been made, or from whom a response may be required, may be contacted and will normally be permitted to see any allegations or evidence against them. Any person against whom a Stage 2 complaint has been made will normally be advised that a complaint has been made against them and will normally be permitted to see any evidence against them, including the Complaint Form and any documentation submitted by the student or anyone else in support of the complaint. However, the person against whom the complaint has been made or from whom a response is required will not be given information or documentation about other elements of the complaint which do relate to them.
If a student does not want to disclose information, they should be made aware that this may result in the details of their situation not being taken into account during the investigation of the complaint.
The complainant should be told who is carrying out the investigation, and the investigation should be as transparent as possible. All written evidence, including the response from the person against whom the complaint has been made and witnesses (including copy correspondence) should normally be copied to the complainant(s). However, in some cases it may be necessary to withhold or redact extracts of written documents, e.g. because disclosure would mean a breach of the Data Protection legislation. If in doubt, you should seek the advice of the Information Compliance Unit.
Anonymous complaints should not normally be investigated. Complaints from third parties may exceptionally be considered if the complainant has confirmed in writing that the third party is acting on their behalf, that they want the complaint to be investigated and they have given a valid reason for not being able to pursue the complaint on their own behalf.
A complaint submitted by one student (the Lead Student) as representative of a group of named students, where the issue/s raised is the same or substantially the same in each case, will be accepted and investigated in accordance with the Student Complaints Procedure. The Lead Student must provide evidence that they are acting on behalf of and with the consent of the other named students.
Please note: the above list is not exhaustive.
In cases of disagreement between two registered students, it may be possible to reach agreement between the students about some of the facts of the situation to allow the member of staff to focus on the points of dispute. The University will seek to facilitate the continued attendance of both students on their programme of study and, to that end, will encourage agreement between the students about their future behaviour towards each other. This may include an agreement that they will not contact each other or that they will make changes to their study routine.
When a complaint is upheld, either partially or in full, then an acknowledgement and a suitable apology will often be enough to satisfy the student. However, if the student has suffered a detriment and matters cannot easily be rectified, then suitable redress should be considered. In such cases, staff are urged to seek advice from the Head of School or Director of Service who in turn may consult the Director of Academic and Student Affairs. The Director of Academic and Student Affairs should also be consulted when the redress may have academic implications (e.g. for the student's progression).
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