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Concerns relating to study

Concerns relating to study

Concerns relating to study

For students who wish to raise a concern regarding their studies or supervisor, they are first advised to read through the following flow diagram and then to read about the support available below.

PGR Pastoral Tutors can offer confidential advice and support in cases where difficulties arise between students and their supervisors.

The Researcher Development team run training sessions on Working with your Supervisor as well as having online resources to support Working with your Supervisor available on ELE. 

Students should consider the sources of support available via the Students’ Guild Advice Unit/Falmouth Exeter Students’ Union and their Postgraduate Liaison Representative(s).

Dignity and Respect Advisors are also available in instances of harassment or bullying. They provide a confidential and informal service at the University to all students and staff and you should first seek advice from them if this is pertinent to a complaint you are considering making.  

Students are able to request a change of supervisor in instances where they feel unable to continue the supervisor relationship*. Before formally requesting the change, students are expected to have attempted to resolve the issue informally via discussions with their supervisor or Director of Postgraduate Research (or equivalent) at Department level (as above). Requesting a change of supervisor should be considered a last resort.

In some research areas, changes to supervisors may be challenging due to the research specialism and expertise required, sharing of intellectual property, and/or the nature of the project’s funding. Student wellbeing is the primary consideration, however, there are alternative actions short of a formal change of supervisor that are sometimes appropriate, e.g. provision of an academic mediator to facilitate communications between student and supervisor. There is no obligation of the part of the Department to make changes to supervisory arrangements where the Department Director of Postgraduate Research does not consider that a change is justified or indeed possible due to a lack of suitable alternatives with the required expertise.

For more information on making changes to the Supervisory Team, please see the ‘Code of Good Practice: Arrangements for the supervision of research degree students’.

*Breakdown of the student/supervisor relationship should be considered as an inability for the student/supervisor to communicate and work effectively on an ongoing basis, despite reasonable attempts to seek support to mediate and address any fundamental concerns from either side. Please note that in instances where there are alleged bullying or harassment, these should be raised with the relevant Dignity and Respect Advisors in addition to following the change of supervisor process.

Where students are not content with aspects of their supervision they are encouraged to address problems as soon as possible through discussions with their supervisor. In instances where students do not feel able to raise the issues with their supervisor directly, they should contact the Director of Postgraduate Research (or equivalent) at Department level in the first instance. Discussions about the issues should remain confidential if the student requests this.

For more information about complaints please see the Student Complaints Procedure and complaints flowchart.

The supervisor/ Director of Postgraduate Research should consider the issues that have been raised and confirm the actions which can be put in place to reach a solution to the issue which is mutually acceptable to both parties. It is expected that both sides will make a genuine and reasonable attempt to resolve any issues at this stage.

In instances where the informal stage does not resolve a student’s concerns a formal complaint should be made. Please see the complaints procedure and flowchart for more information, noting in particular the time-frames in the procedure for raising a formal complaint. You may also find the sources of support listed above useful – there are also additional sources of advice listed under ‘Before you complain’ in the student complaints procedure:

Managing relations with supervisors can be challenging and can place a strain on a student’s wellbeing, if you are struggling with your wellbeing, please also see the information about wellbeing support on the Doctoral College webpages.

The role of key individuals throughout the Complaints Process:

The role of Supervisors (extract from the Supervision of PGRs: Code of Good Practice)

Supervisors should take note of any feedback from the student, department or Faculty, whether arising from Annual Monitoring Reports or separately.

To refer students to the relevant PGR Pastoral Tutor if they request pastoral advice and support (e.g. concerning accommodation, finance, health and well-being), and to ensure that any such referral is recorded in MyPGR. To inform the relevant PGR Pastoral Tutor if there is any evidence to suggest that a pastoral problem or issue might be affecting a student (e.g. a demonstrable change in their general demeanour and behaviour, the non-submission of work, or a sudden change in academic performance).

The role of Pastoral Tutors (extract from the Supervision of PGRs: Code of Good Practice)

To offer advice and support (where requested) to PGR students who apply for interruptions and extensions, or who are at any stage of any student procedure (e.g. the Health, Well-being and Support for Study, Fitness to Practise, Academic Appeals, Complaints, Unsatisfactory Student Progress and Engagement, Disciplinary, Research Misconduct and Complaints Procedures).

To refer students to relevant academic and/or professional services staff if they raise concerns specifically about their academic programmes. PGR Pastoral Tutors may offer advice and support in cases where difficulties arise between students and their supervisors, but responsibility for any intervention resides with the relevant Director of Postgraduate Research (or equivalent) at the Faculty or Department level.

The role of HR Casework

If HR deem the content of a student complaint to contain grounds for a staff investigation they will commission an investigation under the University Disciplinary Procedure. Only limited information will be provided to the student throughout the process and at the point of resolution and timescales for resolution differ to that of the standard Student Complaints Procedure.

The role of Dignity and Respect Advisors (extract from the Exeter Speaks Out website)

Dignity and Respect Advisors can:

  • provide a supportive, confidential and informal environment in which to discuss issues regarding harassment and/or bullying
  • provide information on the options that are available
  • assist those seeking advice in thinking those options through
  • empathise without judgement
  • accompany individuals at meetings in an informal capacity or under their ‘right to be accompanied’ (providing all parties involved are in agreement)
  • if appropriate, signpost to other sources of support/advice

Dignity and Respect Advisors cannot:

  • make decisions for the individual seeking advice or ‘fix’ their situation
  • take action against the alleged harasser
  • mediate or negotiate between the individual seeking advice and the alleged harasser
  • provide counselling (counselling for students is provided by Wellbeing Servicesstaff can access counselling via Care First)
  • give directional advice
  • meet with individual seeking advice outside of office hours or outside of University premises