Calendar 2018/19

H - Student Complaints Procedure

 

[Procedures for Partner Institutions: All partner institutions delivering programmes validated by the University of Exeter are required to follow the procedures below, except that 'College Pro-Vice Chancellor' shall be taken to mean Head of the academic unit concerned, who shall keep the Principal of the partner institution informed.]

If you are looking for the 2017/18 procedures, please click here: Student Complaints procedure 2017/18

1

Introduction

 

This procedure provides a mechanism for addressing concerns raised by students promptly, fairly and effectively in order to help the University of Exeter achieve the highest quality in its education and research provision.

2

Guiding principles

2.1

The University seeks to minimise student complaints by ensuring that students have opportunities to participate in formal decision-making processes at all levels and by encouraging regular feedback through Student/Staff Liaison Committees, Postgraduate Liaison Forums or relevant student forums.    

2.2

In the event that you are dissatisfied with a University service, the University will seek to:

 

(a) resolve the matter at the earliest possible opportunity;

 

(b) investigate fairly and thoroughly;

 

(c) ensure the process is unbiased.

2.3

It is the intention of the procedure that complaints are resolved as quickly and at as early a stage as possible.

2.4

In order to achieve this, the University asks that you will have observed your own obligations and raised the problem as soon as it arose.

2.5

The University will ensure details of your complaint will remain confidential to the parties concerned.

2.6

The University expects that you respect the complaints process. In doing so you are required to ensure that details of your complaint remain confidential. Failure to do this could be considered an attempt to influence the outcome of your complaint, and may result in the withdrawal of this procedure (in accordance with section 2.12 below). This does not preclude you from seeking advice/support as appropriate from relevant support services, eg University Welfare Caseworkers/Students' Guild Advice Unit (or see section 5.1 below).

2.7

In the interest of fairness, you, and anyone else directly involved in the complaint, will be entitled to see all evidence to be considered and to put their case.

2.8

If there is to be a hearing, all those directly involved will have the right to attend and to be heard, subject to 3.5 below.

2.9

Anonymous complaints or evidence will not be considered.

2.10

The burden of proof will be on the complainant.

2.11

The standard of proof will be on the balance of probability.

2.12

If there are allegations of a criminal offence, the University may refer the matter to the police and suspend its own proceedings until the outcome of any criminal proceedings are known, other than where the University needs to act in the interests of the safety and wellbeing of students, staff and third parties, including visitors.

2.13

You will not be disadvantaged as a result of making a complaint. However, if it is later discovered that a complaint was frivolous, malicious or vexatious, the University may consider referring you to its Disciplinary Procedure.

2.14

Frivolous, malicious and/or vexatious complaints are defined as:

  • complaints which are obsessive, harassing, or repetitive
  • insistence on pursuing non-meritorious complaints and/or unrealistic, unreasonable outcomes
  • insistence on pursuing what may be meritorious complaints in an unreasonable manner
  • complaints which are designed to cause disruption or annoyance
  • demands for redress which lack any serious purpose or value

2.15

The University has a responsibility to protect its staff against unacceptable behaviour and provide a working environment that is safe, respectful and tolerant. Consequently it is expected that students, their representatives and staff members should act reasonably and fairly towards each other and treat the process with respect. Behaviour that is unreasonable, aggressive or abusive, verbal or written, will not be tolerated and may result in your access to the procedure or to staff connected with your complaint being limited or withdrawn.

The decision to limit or withdraw access is not taken lightly. In the event that this decision is taken we will provide this in writing, including the reason(s) why this decision has been taken.

In the event that your access to staff or to the complaints procedure is limited or withdrawn you may appeal the decision by submitting your grounds in writing to the Director of Compliance, Governance and Risk who will review the appeal with the Academic Dean for Students or Associate Academic Dean for Students, or Director of the University of Exeter Doctoral College or Associate Dean of Postgraduate Research (as relevant).

The Director of Compliance, Governance and Risk (or their nominee) will request copies of all documentation from the College/Service area concerned. 

2.16

Appeals against the decision to withdraw your access to the complaints procedure or to staff connected with a complaint must be made within 10 workings days of the decision being notified to you using the Appeal against Withdrawal of Procedure form.

2.17

We will normally aim to resolve an appeal within 30 calendar days of receipt of the appeal, or otherwise inform you of the expected delay.

2.18

For your appeal to be accepted you will need to demonstrate one or more of the following grounds and provide supporting evidence:

 

(a) Evidence of procedural irregularities 

 

(b) Evidence of bias

 

(c) Decision reached is one that no reasonable body (properly directing itself and taking into account all relevant factors) could have arrived at

 

You should send copies of all relevant documentation with the Appeal against Withdrawal of Procedure form to studentcases@exeter.ac.uk

3

Who may use this procedure and in what circumstances

3.1

You may only use this procedure if you are a registered student at the University of Exeter at the time you make your complaint or, in the case of taught students, your complaint is made within 30 calendar days of ceasing to be a registered student. If you are a postgraduate research student, you may use the procedure for up to 30 calendar days after you have been notified of your final award or your withdrawal.

3.2

The procedure is available for you to raise concerns about your University experience for example with respect to the teaching, supervision or support services or concerns relating to Equality and Diversity and/or Dignity and Respect.

3.3

This procedure does not cover academic appeals which are dealt with under the Appeals Procedure which can be found at  http://www.exeter.ac.uk/staff/policies/calendar/part1/otherregs/appeals/. However, where an appeal depends on the resolution of a complaint, both the appeal and complaint should be submitted within specified timescales but the complaint will normally take precedence and the appeal wait for the outcome of the complaint.

3.4

The complaints procedure is principally for the use of individual students. Where however several students have a common complaint they may raise the matter as a group. To do so they will need to identify one of their number to act as a spokesperson. It will be the spokesperson who will act on behalf of the group and normally only the spokesperson will attend the meetings on behalf of the group. At the formal stages, each member of the group must sign the statement of the complaint for it to be accepted as a valid group complaint. 

3.5

Exceptionally, where a group wishes to complain but no individual is willing to act as the group's spokesperson, its members may collectively ask the Students' Guild or the FXU to act on their behalf.

4

Complaints made by students against other student members of the University community

4.1

The Dignity and Respect policy on 'Formal Action' states, 'It is important to note that, in proceeding with an investigation, the University will need to be satisfied that a complaint of this nature is injurious to maintaining good order within our academic community and is not simply a case of individuals navigating challenging interpersonal relations.' Complaints made by students against other student member(s) of the University community are considered for investigation under the disciplinary procedures. Complainants must note that, as described in the disciplinary procedure, 'the intention will be to focus on a corrective response rather than one which is solely punitive'.

4.2

On receipt of a complaint made by a student against another student member(s) of the University community, consideration will be given to remedies outside of the complaints procedure that may achieve the effect of 'maintaining good order within our academic community'. This could include, but is not limited to, for example:

  • dispute resolution
  • the complainant(s) being offered alternative accommodation
  • the complainant(s) being offered an alternative seminar group
4.3

In considering the grounds of a complaint made by a student against another student member(s) of the University community, consideration will be given to the complainant's acceptance of alternative remedies (such as those described in 4.2); whether the complainant's desired outcome could be deemed to be frivolous, malicious or vexatious (as described in 2.13); whether the desired outcome is necessary to 'maintaining good order within our academic community' (as described in 4.1).

4.4

Students who wish to bring a complaint against another student member(s) of the University community are advised that University investigations cannot take the place of a police investigation, and without charges being brought as an outcome of a police investigation it may be difficult for the University to apply a disciplinary penalty depending on the evidence available to it.

4.5

Students who wish to bring a complaint against another student member(s) of the University community are advised that they may find themselves subject to counter-complaints.

4.6

Students who bring a complaint against (an)other student member(s) of the University community will be informed whether their complaint has been upheld or not and whether their complaint is relevant for consideration under the Disciplinary Procedures. Students are advised that if a complaint has been upheld, due to rights of privacy under the data protection laws, complainants will not be told what penalty has been applied under the Disciplinary Procedures. 

5

Before you complain

5.1

Before initiating a complaint, you may wish to take advice. Amongst those who may be able to help are the following

  • In Exeter: The Students’ Guild Advice Unit contact: 01392 723520 or advice@exeterguild.com
  • In Cornwall: FXU contact 01326-255861 or advice@fxu.org.uk
  • The Student Cases Office contact: 01392-723112 or studentcases@exeter.ac.uk
  • A member of staff who is acting as your personal or pastoral advisor or tutor 
  • If you are a PGR student: your supervisor or mentor
  • The appropriate Student/Staff Liaison Committee, Postgraduate Liaison Forum, or relevant student forum
  • The person nominated to deal with Complaints in the service complained about (please see the relevant webpage for the service concerned).
  • In cases of alleged bullying or harassment, you should also seek the advice of a Dignity and Respect Adviser - seehttp://www.exeter.ac.uk/staff/equality/dignity/advisors/ 
  • Dispute resolution

6

How to complain

6.1

There is one informal and two formal stages to the Complaints Procedure. In summary, they are :-

 

(a) The Informal Stage

 

At this stage you should raise the issue with the person most directly responsible, with the aim of resolving it as soon as possible. Exceptionally if you feel unable to raise the matter yourself, the Students’ Guild Advice Unit, or the FXU in Cornwall, with your consent, will be willing to help you unless there is a conflict of interest. It is expected that both sides will make a genuine and reasonable attempt to resolve any issues at this stage.  In cases of alleged bullying and harassment, you should first seek advice of a Dignity and Respect adviser - see http://www.exeter.ac.uk/staff/equality/dignity/advisors/ . Where your complaint is about a member of staff and you do not feel you can raise this with them directly you should aim to raise this with another staff member of the relevant College/Service area, for example your personal tutor, director of education, programme director, or other professional services staff in the relevant area. Before doing so you should seek advice from the Students' Guild Advice Unit, or the FXU in Cornwall.

 

(b) Formal Stage 

 

If you have been unable to resolve your complaint informally, you should put your complaint in writing, addressed as appropriate to the relevant Head of Service or College Pro-Vice Chancellor (or their nominated representative), stating with whom you attempted to raise the matter informally, the outcome and why you remain dissatisfied.

 

(c) Review Stage 

 

If your formal complaint has not been resolved in a way that is satisfactory to you, you should refer your complaint to the University centrally through the Student Cases Office. 

 

At each stage your complaint should indicate what resolution you are seeking, without prejudice to any final remedy. You are reminded that an informal resolution to your complaint remains possible at any stage.

7

The procedure

7.1.1

The Informal Stage

 

Any complaint should normally be raised directly with the person(s) concerned or responsible for that Service as soon as possible after the experience that gave rise to the complaint. A complaint that is raised more than 30 calendar days after the incident will be difficult to follow up and will not normally be accepted other than where you can show good cause for the delay (such as independently certified medical or other extenuating circumstances).

7.1.2

You should try to arrange a meeting with the relevant person(s). You may wish to be accompanied by a friend, supporter or a member of the Students' Guild Advice Unit or FXU. At the meeting you should state the nature of your complaint and the remedy you are seeking. It may help to put your thoughts in writing and to take notes during the meeting. If a meeting is not possible or appropriate, you should email the person(s).

7.1.3

Normally within 5 working days following the meeting or your email, the person(s) will either:

  • email you (or your spokesperson, in the case of a group complaint) with a summary of what was discussed if a meeting was held, or addressing the points you have raised if by email, what (if any) remedy is proposed and the timescale for its implementation;
    or
  • respond to propose a timescale for resolution.
Unless agreed otherwise with you, this timescale should be no longer than 10 working days from the date of the email. If you have not received an email within 5 working days of the meeting, you should email them yourself using your own notes of the discussion and setting a deadline of 10 workings days from your email to provide a remedy to your complaint.

7.1.4

Exceptionally, where you feel unable to approach the person(s) concerned, you may ask the Students' Guild Advice Unit or the FXU to submit your complaint and act as a spokesperson on your behalf.

7.1.5

Where you have been unable to arrange a meeting within a reasonable amount of time (5 working days would be normal) of contacting the person(s) concerned, or no acceptable resolution has been received within 15 working days following a meeting (unless you have agreed otherwise), you should email the person(s) advising them you will be making a formal complaint.

7.1.6

The informal stage ends when one of the following applies:

  • A remedy that is acceptable to you has been put forward and you consider the matter resolved.
  • You are not satisfied with the remedy proposed within 15 working days (or whatever longer period was agreed) of your informal meeting with the person(s) to whom you complained.
  • You have been unable to arrange a meeting with the person(s) concerned within 5 working days of your contacting them or not received a response to your initial email. 

7.2

Formal Stage 

7.2.1

In order for the complaint to be considered formally, you must put the complaint in writing on the Complaint Form - Formal Stage and send it to the person nominated by the College or Service to deal with complaints. In Colleges this will usually be the Education Business Partner. For Services, the most appropriate person can be found on the relevant website. Your details, the details of the complaint, the remedy sought and any supporting evidence should be included. You should also explain how you have attempted to raise the matter informally and why you remain dissatisfied. You should attach an e mail or other written confirmation to the form that the matter has been raised informally. Unless you can demonstrate that you have been unable to receive an informal resolution of your complaint, you may be asked to return the informal stage before a formal complaint can be considered. 

7.2.2

A formal complaint must be submitted to the College Pro-Vice Chancellor, Head of Service or their nominee no later than 10 working days after the email concluding the informal stage as described in 7.1.5.

7.2.3

You should expect to receive an acknowledgment from the College or Service concerned within 5 working days of your formal complaint being received.

7.2.4

We aim to resolve a formal complaint, which has previously been raised informally, within 30 calendar days of receipt. If there is likely to be a delay you will be informed of this and the reasons for it.

7.2.5

You, or the spokesperson if a group complaint, will be offered a personal meeting with the College Pro-Vice Chancellor, Head of Service or relevant nominee in order that you can explain your complaint and why you remain dissatisfied. At that meeting, which may include a member of academic or professional services staff, an administrator will be present to take notes. You will be given a copy of these notes for your records. You may be accompanied to this meeting by another student, a member of the Students' Guild Advice Unit or FXU, but you should inform the College that you wish to be accompanied and give them the name of your supporter. Your supporter is there to provide moral support, to support you in your preparation for the meeting and to support you with asking and answering questions during the meeting. You are expected to speak on your own behalf, there is no automatic right for your supporter to speak on your behalf and it is at the College Pro-Vice Chancellor, Head of Service or relevant nominee's discretion as to whether your supporter is permitted to address the meeting. Should your supporter act outside those actions described the College Pro-Vice Chancellor, Head of Service or relevant nominee will suspend the meeting and ask your supporter to leave, in the event that you are unable to continue the meeting without your supporter the meeting will continue in your absence based on the documentation provided and any verbal representations received up to that point.

7.2.6

The College Pro-Vice Chancellor, Head of Service or nominee may undertake whatever investigation is considered appropriate in order to establish the facts of the case and, if meetings are held with members of staff, you are entitled to a record of the discussion. This record may take the form of the outcome letter. All evidence considered as part of the complaint, including email correspondence, will be shared with all relevant parties. It should be noted that if an external investigation is subsequently made into your complaint, for example by the OIA, all records, emails and reports linked to the complaint will be made available to them. If your complaint is against another student, the investigation (in accordance with principles set out in section 4) reveals that there are grounds to do so, the matter may be referred under the Student Disciplinary procedure. In this event, you will be informed of this outcome. If the complaint is about a member of staff, he or she will be entitled to see all the relevant documentation, including the notes of your meeting with the Pro Vice-Chancellor or Head of Service. The HR Casework Manager may commission an investigation under the appropriate HR Procedure. The Investigating Officer (IO) will prepare a report into their investigation. Due to issues of confidentiality you will not be entitled to a copy of this report. You will however, be informed if the report, including copies of your complaint, notes of the meeting and any statement you provide, are to be used as the basis for any HR Procedure. 

7.2.7

You will receive a written decision which addresses the points you have made and gives reasons for the conclusion reached (which may include a summary of any investigation report). The letter will also advise you of your right to refer the matter to the Review Stage.

7.2.8

Where recommendations are made as a consequence of your complaint, you will be entitled to know what these may be and when they will be implemented.

7.3

Review Stage 

7.3.1

If your complaint is not resolved under Stage 1, you may refer it to the University centrally via the Student Cases Office within 10 working days of the date of the final response letter from the College Pro-Vice Chancellor or Head of Service (or nominee) under 7.2.7. For your complaint to be accepted you will need to demonstrate one or more of the following grounds and provide supporting evidence: 

 

(a) The new and relevant information is available that for good and independently verifiable reasons was not available at Stage 1 and now ought to be considered.

 

(b) That at Stage 1 the College or Service failed to follow the University's procedures.

 

(c) That the conduct of the investigation into your complaint was subject to bias and/or prejudice against you.

 

(d) The decision reached at Stage 1 is one at which no reasonable body (properly directing itself, and taking into account all relevant factors) could have arrived at.

 

You should send copies of all relevant documentation with the Complaint Form - Request for Review

7.3.2

The University aims to complete the Review Stage within 60 calendar days of receipt of the complaint at this stage. If there is likely to be a delay we will inform you of the reasons.

7.3.3

The Student Cases Office will obtain a copy of the full file from the College or Service concerned and will identify a senior member of the University who has not previously been involved in the case to consider the paperwork. The senior member of the University will consider the complaint, along with a member of the Student Cases team. Together they will decide whether the complaint should be rejected or whether there are reasons why it should be considered by a Complaints Committee. If the complaint is rejected at this stage you will be sent a letter explaining the reasons for the decision. This will complete the University’s internal procedures and the letter will be a formal Completion of Procedures letter which will set out your right to refer the matter to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator if the matter qualifies under its rules.

7.3.4

If a committee is convened, it will be chaired by the senior member of the University (referred to above). The committee will be a (non-standing) committee of Senate and will include an academic member of Senate and a full time sabbatical executive officer of the Student Guild or FXU such as the Guild or FXU President. No member of staff involved in the committee may have been associated with the complaint or the College or Service against whom the complaint has been lodged.

7.3.5

A member of the Student Cases team will prepare the documentation for the committee meeting which will consist of all paperwork relevant to the case. You may submit further documents for consideration only if there are good reasons why they were not submitted earlier. The amount of paperwork must be proportionate.

7.3.6

The file of documents will be sent to you at least 5 working days before the committee is due to meet.

7.3.7

You, or the spokesperson if a group complaint, will be invited to attend the meeting (see 8.2 - 8.5 below). Either party, or the committee, may call witnesses. If witnesses are to attend they will be asked to submit a written statement at least 10 working days prior to the hearing. These statements will be circulated to all parties as part of the committee file. It will be the responsibility of the person calling the witness to ensure the statement is supplied in time to be included in the file of committee papers

7.3.8

The committee Chair may, for good reason, refuse to allow a particular witness to be called.

8

Complaints Committee protocol

8.1

The Committee may review any relevant evidence as well as the way in which the complaint has been handled. It may not act as a disciplinary body.

8.2

You may be accompanied to the meeting by a friend or other supporter who would usually be a member of the University or the Students' Guild Advice Unit or FXU. Your supporter is there to provide moral support, to support you in your preparation for the meeting and to support you with asking and answering questions during the meeting. You are expected to speak on your own behalf, there is no automatic right for your supporter to speak on your behalf and it is at the Chair's discretion as to whether your supporter is permitted to address the Committee. Should your supporter act outside those actions described the Chair will suspend the meeting and ask your supporter to leave, in the event that you are unable to continue the meeting without your supporter the meeting will continue in your absence based on the documentation provided and any verbal representations received up to that point.

8.3

At the meeting, you will be asked first to present your case and you may call witnesses whose testimony you have previously submitted. You, and your witnesses, may be questioned by the committee and the person or the representative of the College or Service which is the subject of the complaint.

8.4

The representative of the Service or College, which is the subject of the complaint, will then be allowed to present the case for the College or Service, respond to your points and may call witnesses whose testimony has previously been submitted. The representative and the College or Service’s witnesses may be questioned by the Committee or yourself.

8.5

Both sides will then be given the opportunity to sum up their case.

8.6

The Committee will then retire to consider its decision. You will receive a summary outcome of the Committee's decision within 5 working days of the meeting with a full report and a Completion of Procedures letter to follow. The Completion of Procedures letter will explain that the case has exhausted the University's internal procedures and will explain the student's right to request a review of their case with the Office of the Independent Adjudicator. 

8.7

This letter will confirm that University’s internal procedures have been exhausted. If you remain unhappy with the outcome you may refer the complaint to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for consideration if it is eligible under its procedures. This must be done within twelve months of the date on which the Completion of Procedures letter was issued. Information on the process can be found at http://www.oiahe.org.uk/about-us/using-the-scheme.aspx

8.8

If you are unable to attend the committee meeting or comply with the timescales this will not invalidate the proceedings and the meeting may be held in your absence - unless there is a valid reason for a postponement (for example absence covered by a medical certificate).

9

Timescales

9.1

The University will not normally consider a complaint which is raised more than 30 calendar days after the incident giving rise to the complaint unless there are good and independently verifiable reasons for the delay.

9.2

In the event that you feel there are good reasons for the delay, you should let the College or Service know of those reasons and should support this with independently verifiable evidence in writing from a relevant professional (eg GP or other registered clinician).

9.3

The University aims to resolve matters as quickly as possible. The University aims to give decisions within the following timescales :-

 

(a) Informal: not normally more than 15 working days of the matter being raised with the person responsible (see 7.1.6)

 

(b) Formal Stage: within 30 calendar days of the College or Service receiving a formal complaint (see 7.2.4)

 

(c) Review Stage: within 60 calendar days of receipt of the complaint at Stage 2 (see 7.3.2)

 

If the matter requires further investigation and the time scales cannot be achieved, you will be informed of the delay in writing and the reasons for it.

10

Service improvement

10.1

Where recommendations are made by a Review Stage Complaints Committee for service improvement, the College or Service concerned will inform the Student Cases Office of the steps that have been taken to remedy the situation within two months of the date of the committee report.

10.2

Each year, Colleges and Services will supply an annual report to the Student Cases Office which will include the numbers of cases considered at the Formal Stage. The Student Cases Office will prepare an annual report to Senate, the Faculty Boards and the University Student Exchange Group.

 [1] This procedure does not affect any individual’s statutory rights under Data Protection Act legislation.  Guidance about this may be found at https://www.gov.uk/data-protection/the-data-protection-act