Calendar 2015/16

I - Student Complaints Procedure




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.


Guiding principles


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.


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


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


(b) investigate fairly and thoroughly;


(c) ensure the process is unbiased.


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


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.


Details of your complaint will remain confidential to the parties concerned.


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.


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


Anonymous complaints or evidence will not be considered.


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.


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


Who may use this procedure and in what circumstances


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.


The procedure is available for you to raise concerns about your University experience for example with respect to the teaching, supervision or support services, the University has provided for you.


This procedure does not cover academic appeals which are dealt with under the Appeals Procedure which can be found at 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.


Nor does it deal with allegations of bullying or harassment which are dealt with under


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. 


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 and Penryn to act on their behalf.


Before you complain


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
  • In Cornwall : FXU at Penryn 01326-255861  or
  • The Student Cases Office – contact : 01392-723112 or
  • 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.


How to complain


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. 


(b) Formal Stage 1


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 Dean (or their nominated representative), stating with whom you attempted to raise the matter informally, the outcome and why you remain dissatisfied.


(c) Formal Stage 2


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.


The procedure


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).


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).


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;
  • 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, however, 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.


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


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.


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. 


Formal Stage 1


In order for the complaint to be considered formally, you must put the complaint in writing on the Student Complaint Form - Stage 1 and send it to the person nominated by the College or Service to deal with complaints. In Colleges this will usually be the Assistant College Manager (Education). 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. 


A formal complaint must be submitted to the College Dean, Head of Service or their nominee no later than 10 working days after the email concluding the informal stage as described in 6.1.5.


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


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.


You, or the spokesperson if a group complaint, will be offered a personal meeting with the College Dean, 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.


The College Dean, 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, notes will be taken by an administrator and you will be entitled to a copy of those notes. Similarly, 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 College Dean or Head of Service. 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 you complaint, for example by the OIA, or by the QAA under its Concerns Procedure, all records, emails and reports linked to the complaint will be made available to them.


You will receive a written decision which addresses the points you have made and gives reasons for the conclusion reached. The letter will also advise you of your right to refer the matter to Stage 2.


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.


Formal Stage 2


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 Dean or Head of Service (or nominee). 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 Student Complaint Form - Stage 2


The University aims to complete Stage 2 within 60 calendar days of receipt of the complaint at Stage 2. If there is likely to be a delay we will inform you of the reasons.


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.


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.


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.


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


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


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


Complaints committee protocol


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.


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 may, at the discretion of the Chair, address the meeting or ask questions on your behalf.


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.


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.


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


The burden of proof will be on the complainant.


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


The committee will then retire to consider its decision and the clerk to the committee will aim to inform you of the outcome of the hearing within 5 working days. A report of the committee, with a Completion of Procedures letter will be sent to you as soon as possible but no later than 15 workings days after you have been notified of the outcome.


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


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.




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.


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).


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 6.1.6)


(b) Stage 1: within 30 calendar days of the College or Service receiving a formal complaint (see 6.2.4)


(c) Stage 2: within 60 calendar days of receipt of the complaint at Stage 2 (see 6.3.2)


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.


Service improvement


Where recommendations are made by a Formal Stage 1 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.


Each year, Colleges and Services will supply an annual report to the Student Cases Office which will include the numbers of cases considered at Formal Stages 1 and 2 whether or not there have been any Committee recommendations for improvement. The Student Cases Office will prepare an annual report to Senate, the Faculty Boards and the University Student Exchange Group.