How to complain
The University has developed a three stage complaints procedure to provide a clear route for making a complaint.
The first step is to raise awareness of the problem, either by e-mail or verbally, and discuss it with the relevant staff in the faculty or service. If you are unsure who this is, please contact one of the Information Points.
Be brief and to the point, and avoid vague allegations. Substantiate your complaint by referring to specific events, and provide documentary evidence where possible. Be clear and realistic about what you want. It will be more difficult to address your complaint if your goal is unclear, or if you are asking for something that is not possible.
The procedure is monitored and co-ordinated by the Head of Complaints and Appeals. If you have any queries about this procedure, please e-mail email@example.com.
- Underlying principles
- Scope of complaints procedure
- Who can complain?
- Complaints procedure: general background
- Complaints procedure stage 1: Raising an issue close to its origin
- Complaints procedure stage 2: Raising a complaint with a Complaints Manager
- Complaints procedure stage 3: Consideration by the Head of Complaints and Appeals
- Referral to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator
- Resolution of complaints
- Recording, monitoring, analysis and reporting of complaints
- Ongoing review of complaints procedure
- Download stage 2 Submission Form (Word 46KB)
- Download stage 3 Submission Form (Word 45KB)
- Download a 'Consent for Third Party Representation' form (Word 32KB)
The University is committed to providing a high quality educational experience for students, supported by excellent academic, administrative and pastoral support services. The intention is for everyone to be satisfied, within reason, with their experience of the University.
The University receives much feedback, mainly positive but sometimes negative. It is recognised that from time to time problems do arise, and students, staff and others coming into contact with the University may wish to express concern or dissatisfaction with aspects of the University or the quality of services provided. The University’s policy is to welcome feedback regarding perceived problems so that they can be addressed and improvements made, and it seeks to reflect a culture in which complaints are regarded as useful in providing information to improve services and enhance the student experience. The University regards the monitoring of complaints as an important aspect of its quality assurance procedures and wishes to develop a culture in which the handling of complaints is a positive experience for the University and the complainant.
The complaints procedure has a number of underlying principles:
- Complaints will be dealt with efficiently and effectively.
- The complaints procedure will provide a clear and accessible route for complaints, and will be transparent and well publicised.
- The University will respond to complaints in a timely fashion, adhering to published or agreed time deadlines.
- The complaints procedure will observe the principles of fairness and impartiality.
- Complaints will be resolved at a local level wherever possible.
- The complaints procedure focuses on resolving complaints rather than apportioning blame.
- The confidentiality owed to staff and students will be protected. Details of a complaint may need to be shared with relevant colleagues in order for a full investigation to take place, and individuals named in a complaint will be made aware of the allegations and have the opportunity to give their version of events.
- Complaints will be treated seriously, positively and constructively, and can be made without fear of victimisation.
- Advice will be made available to complainants at all stages of the procedure.
- Frivolous, malicious, or unreasonably persistent complaints will not be accepted. The University reserves the right to take appropriate disciplinary and/or legal action against anyone considered to have made such a complaint.
- Complaints may not be accepted if the remedy sought is beyond the power of the University to deliver.
- Complainants, and individuals named in complaints, will be kept informed of the progress of the complaint at all stages.
- Complaints will be monitored and analysed, with a view to addressing the root causes. The University will report on actions taken as a result of complaints.
- Where the University is found to have made a mistake or fallen short of reasonable expectations, an apology will be given, the mistake rectified where appropriate, and actions taken to prevent the same mistake happening again.
- This complaints procedure applies throughout the University and will be followed in all Schools and Services.
What the Procedure covers
A ‘complaint’ is an expression of dissatisfaction requiring a response. In the context of the University, this may relate to programmes of study, facilities or services provided by the University or actions/lack of action by University staff, for example (not an exhaustive list):
- Teaching and facilities
- Student accommodation
- Research supervision
- Procedural irregularities
- Unfair practices
This procedure does not cover:
- Appeals against decisions of examining boards, for which specific procedures exist (see Academic appeals). An 'Appeal' is ‘a request for a review of a decision of an academic body charged with decisions on student progression, assessment and awards'. Appeals have to be based on material and significant administrative error or other material irregularity, or a claim that the student’s performance was adversely affected by illness or other factors which could not be divulged to the board before it met.
- Matters of 'academic judgement', defined by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator as: ‘Decisions about scholarship that only a suitably experienced academic can make’. Examples would be the assessment of a piece of work, or a judgement on whether or not plagiarism had occurred.
- Complaints about student discipline, or harassment by a student, for which the following applies: Student Conduct policy
(N.B. The procedure may be used by staff to complain about students in matters not related to discipline or harassment).
- Grievances brought by employees (for which the grievance procedure applies: for support staff, and for academic staff, or other complaints by employees if covered by formal arrangements for collective bargaining, negotiation or consultation).
- Complaints by students which relate to broad issues of University policy or procedure, which should be raised through the UWESU Student Representative Council in the first instance.
- Negative or critical feedback relating to the content of courses, modules or programmes, which should be addressed through student representatives.
Promotion of ‘complaints procedure’
The complaints procedure will be promoted as a positive means of obtaining feedback from various client groups. It is not specific to students, for example feedback from staff on University services will be welcomed. Complaints from staff will generally be referred to the person directly responsible for the service (e.g. car parking, problems with lifts) or the line manager. This complaints procedure seeks to support this process by providing clarity to staff, students and other complainants on who to complain to and how to complain.
Complaints against a member of staff
It is recognised that a small minority of complaints may be made about actions or behaviour by a member of UWE staff. A student considering making such a complaint is advised to discuss the concern with the Students’ Union Advice Centre in the first instance.
If a complaint refers to a specific member of staff, the complaint will be brought to the attention of that individual (generally by the relevant senior manager) as part of the investigation of the complaint.
A complaint against a member of staff will initially be investigated in line with this procedure. However it may be necessary also to refer such a complaint to Personnel Services, particularly where the complaint is relevant to another University policy, for example:
- Staff Ill Health
- Staff Conduct
- Staff Performance
- Dignity at Work Policy
- Equal Opportunities Policy
- Harassment policy
Separate procedures exist for ‘whistle blowing’ and matters of financial impropriety and fraud. Allegations of criminal behaviour will be referred directly to the Vice-Chancellor’s office.
A member of staff who is the subject of a complaint will be kept informed at all stages of the progress of the complaint, and will have the right to make representations to the Complaints Manager and/or University Complaints Manager if s/he is unhappy with the investigation or proposed outcome of the complaint.
Appropriate support will be made available to any member of staff who is the subject of a complaint. Such support may come from a line manager, colleague, Trade Union or Personnel Services and will be determined in relation to the nature of the complaint.
Complaints require investigation to enable resolution. Where a complaint is made anonymously, it will not be possible to undertake such an investigation. For practical reasons therefore, no action will normally be taken in the event of a complaint made anonymously.
Related policies and guidance
It is noted that many professional bodies (e.g. the Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals) have their own ethical guidelines, which compliment the University’s complaints procedure.
The complaints procedure can be used by the following (but only current and former students have recourse to the OIA):
- An individual student (full or part time, any programme of study)
- A group of students (in which case the group must nominate one person to be the spokesperson for the group, representing the group in all matters relating to the complaint).
- Prospective students
- Visitors to the University
- Contractors working in the University
- Employers and placement providers
- Members of the public
- Staff – for example where the complaint relates to a service (e.g. car parking), but not personal grievances (which are covered by the grievance procedure).
- Other organisations with which the University works.
Anyone wishing to make a complaint is strongly encouraged to do so personally. A complaint received from a third party (including a parent) will be considered only with the express written permission of the person to whom the complaint relates.
Students in the UWE Federation
Students in the ‘UWE Federation’ are expected to use the complaints procedure of their local institution in the first instance. They are however also free to pursue a complaint through this complaints procedure if the complaint remains unresolved through the local procedure and refers to an aspect over which UWE has jurisdiction and power to deliver a remedy. Where appropriate, details on appropriate complaints procedures will be included in agreements with Federation partners. UWE will seek feedback from Federation partners regarding complaints relevant to UWE.
Students on work placement
Students on placement should use the complaint procedure of their placement provider if they have a complaint relating to aspects of the placement itself. They are however also free to pursue a complaint through the UWE complaints procedure if the complaint refers to an aspect over which UWE has jurisdiction (e.g. arrangements for the placement) and power to deliver a remedy. UWE will seek feedback from placement providers regarding any complaints relevant to UWE.
Advice for potential complainants
Before making a complaint, potential complainants may wish to obtain advice about the procedure and the steps they should go through in submitting a complaint. Informal advice can be obtained from Student Advisers, but also Reception/Information Points, Personal Tutors, Module Leaders, Course Leaders, Scheme Directors, Head of School, etc), Central Services staff (e.g. Reception Points) and the Students' Union (Student representatives and Students' Union Advice Centre). Complaints Managers and the Head of Complaints and Appeals can also give informal advice about the Complaints Procedure. Advice may be obtained in person, by telephone or email. Students may particularly find it helpful to approach the ‘Students Union Advice Centre’ in the first instance, as this centre has considerable experience of advising and supporting students wishing to make a complaint.
Stages of the complaints procedure
The University’s aim is to ensure that each complaint is properly investigated and, wherever possible, resolved to the satisfaction of the complainant, and it will seek to do this as quickly and simply as possible. It seeks to resolve complaints through informal rather than formal means wherever possible, and at the point closest to where the complaint originated. However the University complaints procedure outlines several distinct stages through which a complaint may progress if this is not possible. It also provides for complainants who are current students to take their complaint to the ‘Office of the Independent Adjudicator’ (OIA) if the University’s internal complaints procedure has been fully exhausted.
At each stage of the procedure, the response will include an outline of what further steps are open to complainants who remain dissatisfied. These steps must generally be followed in order, and a complaint not taken to a higher level until the lower level is exhausted. However the procedure is also intended to be flexible and there will be circumstances in which it is appropriate to bypass a stage, for example:
- if the complaint is directed at someone with specific responsibility in the complaints investigation procedure, it would be handled at the next stage up, or at Stage 3 by a nominee of the Vice-Chancellor;
- if a serious written complaint (as opposed to a general letter of enquiry) is received from outside the University, it would go directly to a Complaints Manager;
- if a complaint is sent directly to the Vice-Chancellor’s office, it will be re-directed to the Complaints and Appeals Team.
Meeting to discuss a complaint
In some circumstances a complainant might be invited to discuss a complaint with a member of staff, or attend a meeting with relevant University staff, to establish the precise cause of dissatisfaction or explore the remedy being sought. The complainant will have the right in any meeting to be accompanied, by a friend, relative or officer of the Students’ Union, who also has the right to speak on behalf of the complainant. A member of staff who has been the subject of a complaint will similarly have the right to be accompanied in any meeting to discuss the complaint.
The University expects that the majority of issues can be resolved informally through normal contacts and discussion between staff, students and other interested parties without the need to instigate formal procedures. An issue or complaint should therefore initially be raised through someone close to its origin (lecturer, module leader, award leader, personal tutor, relevant administrator, person responsible for a particular service, student representative, etc) or taken to a Faculty Student Adviser (in the case of a complaint relating to a faculty) or the Reception Point of the Service concerned (in the case of a University service department).
An issue or complaint may initially be raised verbally or by email, and should indicate the outcome being sought. A student complainant may wish to consult the Students Union Advice Centre for advice. An issue or complaint should be raised as soon as possible after the actions/lack of actions which prompted it; the greater the time delay from an action/lack of action to submission of the complaint, the more difficult it will be for the complaint to be thoroughly investigated. In any event complaints will not normally be accepted if submitted more than one year after the end of the course a student was undertaking at the time the issue arose (in the case of student complaints) or more than one year after the issue arose (in the case of complaints from non-students), unless there was good reason why the issue could not have been raised sooner.
In all these cases the person receiving the issue or complaint should seek to discover the nature of the problem and if possible resolve it there and then. This person should however be wary of giving information which might be incorrect or exacerbate the complaint, and if in any doubt should seek assistance from an appropriate colleague (such as a Student Adviser). If the complaint is made in writing, an attempt should be made to contact the complainant by telephone to discuss the complaint.
If an immediate solution cannot be found and further investigation is required, the person receiving the complaint or issue should acknowledge receipt within three working days or as soon as is practically possible (recognising that if a complaint is addressed to an individual, that person won’t always be immediately available), giving an indication of the likely timescale for a full response to be given. The response should normally be in writing; even if the original complaint was raised orally it is good practice for the person responding to the complaint to confirm their response in writing. If it is clear that the complainant is not satisfied with the outcome and wishes to pursue the issue further, s/he should be invited to submit a Stage 2 complaint and referred to the Complaints Procedure (via leaflet, Student Handbook or UWE website). A brief record of the complaint and response should be kept.
If a complaint covers more than one area of the University (e.g. because its location is not clear cut or because it covers more than one faculty/service), the person first receiving the complaint must ensure that responsibility for investigating and responding to the complaint is quickly agreed, and will liaise with a third party if necessary to determine this.
The Students’ Union will receive many informal ‘complaints’ via student representatives, Student Council meetings, etc. Such complaints should be resolved through the informal network wherever possible, in liaison with relevant Faculty/Service staff. Where this is not possible, the student should be advised of the formal Complaints Procedure, and invited to contact the Students’ Union Advice Centre for support.
A complaint which is considered to be frivolous, malicious, or unreasonably persistent should be referred immediately to the appropriate Complaints Manager. The Complaints Manager (CM) may refuse to entertain the complaint if s/he considers that it falls into one of these categories, and will respond accordingly. The complainant may request a review of this decision under section 8 below.
If, after receiving a response to a Stage 1 complaint, a complainant wishes to take a complaint to Stage 2, s/he should write to Complaints and Appeals Team.
A Stage 2 complaint should be submitted as soon as possible after receiving a response to the Stage 1 complaint; the greater the time delay, the more difficult it will be for the complaint to be thoroughly investigated. In any event a Stage 2 complaint will not normally be accepted if submitted more than one year after the complainant was notified of the outcome of the Stage 1 complaint, unless there was good reason why a Stage 2 complaint could not have been submitted sooner.
The complainant may wish to consult the Students’ Union Advice Centre for support.
The complaint must be in writing, using the form provided for this purpose through the UWE website or from the University, and addressed to the Complaints and Appeals Team. Complaints submitted by letter or email (i.e. not on the Complaints form) will be accepted provided they include:
- Complainant’s name, address, student number, telephone number, email address and programme (as appropriate)
- The nature of the complaint (in the complainant’s own words)
- The Stage 1 steps already taken
- Details of the response received
- A statement why the complainant remains dissatisfied
- The outcome being sought
A CM will acknowledge receipt of the complaint within three working days, giving an indication of the likely timescale for a full response to be given. The CM is strongly encouraged to telephone or meet with the complainant to discuss the complaint and/or seek more details, and demonstrate that the University is interested in the complaint. The CM will then investigate the complaint, speaking to concerned parties and requesting written statements as appropriate. The CM may consult the Head of Complaints and Appeals for advice, to check on precedents or the sharing of good practice.
The CM will then respond in full within 4 to 6 weeks of the complaint being received, providing there are no undue delays, for example in obtaining further evidence from the complainant. On very rare occasions where this is not possible, for example because a complaint is particularly complex, the CM will contact the complainant at least every 4 weeks to update progress, copying in the UCM who will therefore have an overview of any protracted complaints.
The CM will ensure that a response is sent to the complainant in writing. The response will indicate the outcome, reasons for the outcome, and the conditions under which the complainant can, if desired, take the complaint further through Stage 3 of the Complaints Procedure.
A record of the complaint and response will be kept in the University-wide format adopted.
If a complaint does not fall clearly into the remit of one CM (e.g. because its location is not clear cut or because it covers more than one faculty/service), it will be the responsibility of the CM first receiving the complaint to ensure that responsibility for investigating and responding to the complaint is quickly agreed. In the case of doubt, or lack of quick agreement, the UCM should be consulted. The decision of the UCM on this and all procedural matters will be final.
A complainant who receives a response to a Stage 2 complaint may request an independent review of the complaint, if s/he can demonstrate significant grounds for dissatisfaction with the response, specifically on the basis that there is new evidence for consideration, or that there has been a material irregularity in the investigation of the complaint. Such a ‘Stage 3’ complaint should be submitted to the Head of Complaints and Appeals (HCA), a person identified by the University to oversee the Complaints Procedure and directly respond to Stage 3 complaints.
A Stage 3 complaint should be submitted as soon as possible after receiving a response to the Stage 2 complaint; the greater the time delay, the more difficult it will be for the complaint to be thoroughly investigated. In any event a Stage 3 complaint will not normally be accepted if submitted more than one year after the complainant was notified of the outcome of the Stage 2 complaint, unless there was good reason why a Stage 3 complaint could not have been submitted sooner.
If the complainant is a student, s/he may wish to consult the Students’ Union Advice Centre for support.
A Stage 3 complaint must be submitted in writing to the HCA, using the form provided for this purpose through the UWE website or from the University. Stage 3 complaints submitted by letter or email (i.e. not on the Complaints form) will be accepted provided they include:
- Complainant’s name, address, student number (if appropriate), telephone number, email address and programme
- The nature of the complaint and outcome of the earlier investigation
- The reasons for requesting further consideration of the complaint, i.e. supply of new evidence, or explanation of alleged material irregularity in the investigation of the complaint
- The outcome being sought
The HCA will acknowledge receipt of the complaint within three working days, giving an indication of the likely timescale before a full response is provided. The HCA will inform the CM that the complaint has been received. The HCA will be expected to conduct an impartial review of the complaint, though this will not necessarily mean carrying out a full new investigation of the complaint. The HCA will review the case, the way in which it was investigated, and the response given. S/he will also take into account any new evidence or issues raised by the complainant. S/he is encouraged to telephone the complainant to discuss the complaint, and may arrange a meeting with the complainant and any other relevant persons. S/he may (or may not) seek further information from the complainant and/or those members of staff involved in the earlier investigation of the complaint. S/he may also consult a senior colleague responsible for the area under investigation.
The HCA may decide:
a) That the investigation was properly carried out and the response given was appropriate and consistent with other responses, and no further action is required.
b) That there were shortcomings in the investigation carried out
and/or the response given and/or that new evidence had been
provided which warranted further investigation. In such cases the
HCA may make a decision regarding resolution of the complaint, or
may refer the complaint back to the CM for further action. Any
decision made by the HCA overrides a decision of the CM.
The HCA will ensure that a response is sent to the complainant in writing, copied to all other relevant parties (including the relevant CM). Depending on the nature of the complaint, the HCA may respond directly; respond directly after seeking approval from a senior colleague (e.g. the Academic Registrar or an appropriate member of the University Management Group); or ensure that a response is sent directly by an appropriate senior colleague. In any event it is the HCA’s responsibility to ensure that a timely response is sent, i.e. within 4 to 6 weeks of the Stage 3 complaint being received, provided there are no undue delays (for example in obtaining further evidence from the complainant); on very rare occasions where it is not possible to respond within this time limit, the HCA will contact the complainant at least every 4 weeks to update progress. The response will indicate the outcome and reasons for the outcome, and will confirm that internal procedures are complete; it will outline the right of the complainant to pursue the complaint further through the OIA (in the case of complaints from current and former students) if s/he is not satisfied with the response. The HCA will provide the complainant with a ‘Completion of Procedures’ letter in line with OIA guidance, and inform the Clerk to the Governors that this letter has been issued.
The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) has been set up to provide an independent scheme for the review of student complaints. A complaint by a current or former student may be taken to the OIA once the University’s internal complaints procedures have been exhausted and a ‘Completion of procedures’ letter has been issued.
After a complaint has been referred to the OIA, the OIA will write to the University asking for additional information. Head of Complaints, Appeals and Student Conduct will respond to such enquiries, and will do so in accordance with OIA timeframes.
The OIA will investigate the complaint, and if the complaint is found to be justified may ultimately make recommendations to the University. The University has a specific protocol for considering recommendations from the OIA.
Complainants who are not current or former students are not able to pursue a complaint through the OIA. Any complainant has the right to pursue legal action against the University. Head of Complaints, Appeals and Student Conduct will coordinate the University’s response to such action.
Further information regarding the OIA can be found on the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education website.
The University seeks consistency and coordination in the way that complaints are handled. Where a complaint progresses beyond the initial informal stage, it will normally be investigated through one or other of two approaches, or sometimes a combination of both.
One approach seeks to determine whether a complaint is justified (i.e. there has been a clear failure on the part of the University), partially justified or not justified. There will be situations where a complainant is clearly unhappy, but there has actually been no failure on the University’s part. In the case of justified or partially justified complaints, a suitable outcome will be offered, even if this is simply in the form of an apology by the University.
The alternative approach recognises that there will be some instances in which it would be counter-productive to instigate a long drawn-out investigation as to whether or not a complaint is justified, and instead energy will be put into finding a way forward which is acceptable to all concerned. Acceptable outcomes may include recommendations for change in individual or collective actions.
In investigating complaints, Complaints Managers will use both of these approaches. The balance between the two approaches will vary according to the nature of the complaint, with the emphasis wherever possible being on seeking an outcome acceptable to all rather than apportioning blame. It is recognised that it will not always be possible to resolve a complaint to the satisfaction of the complainant, but the response can at the very least demonstrate that the complaint has been heard, taken seriously and responded to in a timely fashion. It may be appropriate to issue an apology.
It is important that the number, level and range of complaints are monitored in order to improve the student experience. Complaints Managers and the Head of Complaints and Appeals will record complaints on a central database and compile reports from it (without divulging the details of specific complainants) to indicate the nature of complaints and complainants, and resultant action. Such reports will:
- Feed into the monitoring and evaluation procedure at various levels: department, school, faculty, University.
- Feed directly into appropriate University-wide committees (e.g. Learning, Teaching and Assessment Committee, Faculty Boards, Academic Board, Deans/Heads of Service meeting).
- Assist in identifying problems and trends across the University.
- Form the basis of positive publicity, in demonstrating that identified issues have been resolved.
- Be made available to the Students’ Union.
This Complaints Procedure takes effect from 1 September 2007 and supersedes all previous Complaints Policies and Procedures. It will be reviewed during the first year of implementation, and regularly thereafter.