Complaints to the University
What is the University’s complaints process for?
The University considers a complaint to be an expression of dissatisfaction by one or more students about the standard or provision or a service, or the University’s action or lack of action that has impacted on the complainant. This process covers both academic and non-academic services or situations.
The complaints procedure details the way in which you can raise a complaint with the University. This webpage should help you to navigate the University’s complaints procedure, and assist you in determining whether the complaints process is right for your situation, how to submit a complaint, and who you can get support from.
Is the complaints procedure the right option for my situation?
The complaints procedure may consider issues raised relating to the following areas:
- The quality and standards of a service provided by the University, including learning and teaching provision, advice, resources and facilities.
- Failure to apply an administrative or academic process.
- Unfair treatment or inappropriate behaviour by a member of staff.
- Concerns about the impact of a University policy, even if it has been correctly applied.
- The University applications/admissions process or its outcome.
As a rule, it would not be the most appropriate or viable route to consider the following types of issues:
- A review of an academic progress decision (assessment mark, failing a module, calculation of your degree). This is covered by the Academic Appeals procedure.
- A decision relating to academic judgement, meaning where the matter requires academic expertise (e.g. marking and feedback for an assessment).
- Complaints about another student. This is covered by the student misconduct procedure.
- Complaints from staff or the public.
This list is not exhaustive, if you are unsure about which procedure to follow, you can contact the advice services at the YUSU or the GSA (for postgraduates) for independent advice and guidance on your circumstances and potential options (see contact details below). Alternatively you can contact the University’s Complaints Officer for guidance or clarity about the process at email@example.com
If a student is seeking to challenge an academic decision or outcome (e.g. failure of programme, results of assessments, academic misconduct decision or outcome of an exceptional circumstances claim) the Academic Appeals process would be the most appropriate route to do so. For further information about the distinction between the complaints and appeals processes, you can read the University’s ‘Complaints and appeals’ webpage.
Who can submit a complaint?
- Current students (including those on Leave of Absence)
- Graduates and students who have left the university within the last three months.
- Students on programmes offered by other institutions that lead to a University of York award, once the partner institution’s complaints procedures have been exhausted.
Groups of students can complain, but must nominate one person to act as a representative. All students in the group must consent to being included in the complaint. (eg a group petition cannot be submitted as a group complaint where those that have signed the petition have not agreed to be party to a complaint.)Complaints from third parties or anonymous complaints are not normally accepted, but some exceptions may apply. Any such exceptions must have a compelling reason that can be clearly evidenced, then agreed by the University. You can get in touch with the Complaints Officer to discuss your situation and how you might submit a complaint. Alternatively you can seek independent and confidential advice from the Students’ Union (details below).
Raising a complaint
Complaints should ideally be raised as soon as possible after any issue or event has occurred so that consideration, and possible resolution, can be made at the earliest opportunity.
Complaints would normally only be investigated if:
- They are submitted within 6 months of the event/s they relate to
- Within 12 months of the event/s if the complainant can provide evidence/good reason for why they were not able to submit the complaint within 6 months
Complaints received after these timeframes would not normally be considered, except in exceptional circumstances (e.g. if serious health issues have delayed the student’s ability to submit a complaint sooner).
* Please note that some University departments and services have their own specific contact details and processes for submitting complaints or feedback, as follows:
- Accommodation Services
- IT Services
- The Library and Archives
- Commercial Services (bars, food outlets, nursery etc)
Stage 1 – Informal Resolution
You should normally first raise any issues or concerns with a relevant member of staff in the academic department or professional service concerned to provide the opportunity for informal and swift resolution of the issues raised, if possible.
Usually the most appropriate person with whom to raise the informal complaint would be the head of the relevant department or service about which you wish to complain. For example, if the complaint relates to an academic issue or the provision of teaching then the first point of contact would be the head of the academic department and/or the chair of Board of Studies.
If your complaint relates to the relevant “head of” staff member you would normally get in touch with, you may need to proceed to the ‘formal stage’ of the complaints process to ensure that the complaint is considered by someone independent from the issues being raised. You can contact the Complaints Officer if you are unsure who to contact about your complaint or whether your complaint should be submitted via the informal stage, or you can contact the advice services at YUSU or the GSA (for postgraduate students) for guidance on potential options.
Informal stage complaints can be raised via a meeting or telephone call with the relevant member of staff, or via email. It can often be helpful, however, for complaints to be submitted via email so that there is a clear record of communications that can inform a formal stage complaint if necessary. We would also recommend that an email specifically clarifies that you are raising an informal complaint so that it is clear to the recipient that the issue is considered under the complaints procedure and that a response is required. Where a student raises an informal complaint via a meeting or telephone conversation we would suggest that they request a follow-up email communication that outlines any key points covered and any follow-up actions or resolutions that may have been agreed.
Information to cover in a complaint
You should give details of the complaint and any remedy sought. Be as detailed as possible and provide examples of how the issue has impacted you and include any information, documentation or evidence that you might have to support your complaint.
Some general guidance that we would suggest with outlining your complaint would be:
- To outline the details of your complaint in chronological order and include dates where relevant, to ensure that the sequence of events is clear to follow
- To summarise the key issues of the complaint, including which staff member/s, service/s and/or policies and processes the issues relate to. E.g. does the complaint relate to the application or misapplication of a University process, the provision of teaching or a particular University service, or communications or conduct by a specific staff member?
- Outline the impact that any issues raised have had on you. E.g. as a result of these issues has there been a practical impact on your ability to study/academic performance, your health or wellbeing or your personal or financial situation?
- Are you able to provide any supporting evidence with your complaint that provides context and supports the key points of your complaint. Such evidence might include, for example, email correspondence with University staff or services, screenshots, records of meetings or conversations. Evidence can be attached as files to your ‘informal stage’ complaint email, and we would recommend naming these files clearly so that it is apparent what each item of evidence relates to and to also use common file formats such as PDF or PNG/JPEG files or Word documents.
- Be clear to set out details of the proposed outcome/remedy that you would like as a result of raising this complaint. For example, possible proposed outcomes might include: an acknowledgement of an error or oversight and practical correction of this where possible; an apology for any issue acknowledged and the impact that it has had; other practical suggestions such as a change of academic supervisor, re-running of a process or reconsideration of a decision; financial compensation.
You should receive an initial response to your complaint at the informal stage within ten working days. In some cases this may take longer, you should be informed if this will be the case. Prior to an outcome, the recipient of the complaint may wish to discuss with you the details of your complaint or request some further information or details from you if they feel there is the need for additional context, details or clarification in order to make an informed decision about their prospective response.
You should receive an outcome to your informal stage complaint via email, and this should set out the reasons for why that particular outcome has been determined. If you are dissatisfied with any or all aspects of the outcome or resolution proposed at the informal stage you can then submit a ‘formal stage’ complaint.
Stage 2 – Formal Complaints Procedure
The Formal Complaints Procedure should be used:
where the informal resolution stage has been completed, and you remain dissatisfied with the outcome or proposed resolution
where the complaint relates to the specific actions or inactions by the head of department, service, or college, themselves
where the nature of the complaint is too serious for informal resolution.
Sometimes too, where a complaint is wide-ranging or involves a range of different issues or services and the first point of contact for resolution is not clear or apparent it may be appropriate to submit a formal stage complaint.
You can contact the University’s Complaints Officer if you’re unsure whether your complaint needs to be raised at the informal stage first or if the formal stage is more appropriate.
For confidential and independent advice on taking your complaint to the formal stage, you can also get in touch with us at the GSA Advice Service or the YUSU Advice & Support Centre (for undergraduate students).
Formal complaints are submitted via completion of the University’s Formal Complaint Form (a link to which can be found on the University’s complaints webpage) which can then be sent by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The general principles and guidance outlined above for setting out the details of an informal complaint also apply to the formal stage of the complaints process. Within the formal complaint form though there are also several specific sections to complete about the background of your complaint and the response that you’ve received up to this stage.
The sections of the form are as follows:
Description of Complaint
- Outline the background of your complaint including all facts and events that are pertinent, with dates. (It is also recommended within the form guidance to set out a timeline of events at the end of the form.).
- Note the specific issue(s) that you would like to be investigated.
- Also include details of the impact of any issues that occurred.
The History of your Complaint at the Informal Stage (if applicable)
- Describe the steps you have taken to resolve the complaint so far i.e. submission of informal stage complaint or any meetings or conversations that you had about the issues included in your complaint.
- Give details and names of the people with whom the complaint has been received and the response you received.
- Explain the reasons why you feel that your complaint remains unresolved or that any outcome or resolution offered is unsatisfactory or unreasonable.
- Is there any new evidence or additional information that you were not able to provide or raise at the informal stage? If so, it will be helpful to both provide this and also explain why you were not able to provide this at the informal stage.
- List any evidence you are including with your complaint to support it. You should include everything that you submitted at the informal stage of your complaint, as well as any outcome or response you received to your complaint. You can also provide any additional or new evidence that was not (or could not be) provided at the previous stage.
The remedy you seek
- What is the outcome you are looking for from the formal complaints process?
- Why you feel that this proposed remedy is appropriate (e.g. if specifying financial compensation, is this due to any direct financial impact that the issue/s within the complaint have had on you, or on the basis of inconvenience or distressed caused?
It is helpful where possible to give a clear indication of the remedy you are looking for to help inform the University’s prospective response and to reduce the possibility of an outcome that is unsatisfactory or does not align with your proposed resolution.
What happens next?
An investigator will be assigned to your complaint in order to review your case– this is commonly the Complaints Officer, and would always be someone who has not previously been involved in the investigation or consideration of the previous stage of the complaint. The investigator may get in touch with you to seek further information and provide the opportunity for you to discuss the details of your complaint. They may also consider use of mediation or conciliation where they deem it appropriate, and where this option is agreed by both/all parties.
If you are invited to attend a meeting as part of the investigation, you have the right to be accompanied by someone from YUSU or the Graduate Students’ Association and may wish to contact either YUSU or the GSA’s Advice Services for advice, guidance and support at this stage. However, anyone accompanying you cannot speak for you or attend in your place. Legal representation is not normally allowed.
You will normally be contacted by the investigator within 10 working days of submitting your complaint. The investigator will let you know the date by which they expect the investigation to be completed. This should normally be within five weeks of the complaint being received. Where the timescale becomes extended, which may be dependent on the scope and complexity of the complaint and investigation, you will be kept informed as to progress. It may be deemed necessary for the investigator to contact you for further information or clarity throughout the investigation process, and/or to give you the right to reply to any information that arises as a result of the investigation, as appropriate.
After the investigation is completed, you will receive a letter stating the outcome and giving reasons for any decision made and brief details of how it was arrived at.
If you accept a proposed remedy, it shall be in full and final settlement to resolve the complaint and will be implemented as soon as reasonably practicable.
If you are not satisfied with the outcome or proposed resolution of the formal stage complaint investigation, you may have the opportunity for your complaint to be reviewed, though there are specific, limited grounds on which a review can be requested and considered.
Stage 3 – Review
If you are not satisfied with the outcome of the formal complaint stage, it may be possible for your complaint to be reviewed by a senior member of staff at the university (Academic Registrar or delegated an assigned member of staff such as a Dean, Associate Dean, Pro-Vice-Chancellor or Associate Pro-Vice-Chancellor)
The possible grounds to request a review of the complaint outcome are as follows:
- If you have new evidence that you were unable to provide, with good reason, during the formal complaint investigation.
- If you have evidence of bias or conflict of interest on the part of the Head of Department or Head of Professional Service or complaint investigator involved in the consideration of your complaint.
- If you have demonstrable evidence that the complaints procedure was not properly followed.
If you feel you have grounds for a review of the decision, you should set this out via email the Academic Registrar via email@example.com to request a review within 10 working days of the date of the outcome letter from the formal complaints stage. The Complaints Officer will normally acknowledge receipt of the request within 5 working days.
Your request must set out the grounds for the proposed review and provide the evidence to support it (and any explanation of why it was not possible to provide such evidence earlier, if this evidence is new).
The Academic Registrar may reject a request for a review if no evidence or substantive grounds for a review is provided. If it is determined that there is no case for a review of the decision, at this point you will be issued with a Completion Of Procedures (COP) letter and will have the option to submit a complaint to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) (see below for further details).
The review stage should normally be completed within five weeks under normal circumstances. As with previous stages timescale may vary depending on the complexity of the complaint. Where the timescale becomes extended, you will be kept informed about progress of the review.
The following outcomes are available to the reviewer:
- to uphold the findings of the stage 2 complaint
- to overturn the findings of the stage 2 complaint and substitute a new decision
- to uphold the findings of the stage 2 complaint but offer a different remedy
On completion of the review, you will be provided with a Completion of Procedures (COP) letter which confirms that the routes via which the issues can be considered and investigated by the University have been exhausted.
If you are not satisfied with the outcome of the review stage of the complaints process, you may be able to seek an independent review of your complaint from the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA)
Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA)
The Office of the Independent Adjudicator is an independent body, separate from the University, which reviews student complaints about higher education providers. Consideration of complaints submitted to the OIA takes into account the University’s procedures and policies, along with best practice across the sector, and then makes a decision as to whether the University has done anything wrong in the consideration of your complaint or if there are any issues with the process by which this decision was reached.
The OIA can consider a complaint submitted by a current or recent student if:
- They have been issued with a Completion of Procedures (COP) letter
Once you have exhausted the university’s complaints process, they will issue you with a Completion of Procedures Letter. This letter should set out clearly the matters that have been considered and the university’s final decision. This would usually be issued when at the end of the formal stage of the complaints process or, if the complaint is eligible for review, upon completion of the review stage.
If you think you have completed the university’s procedures and they have not issued a COP letter, you should contact the Complaints Officer and ask them to send you one, or to confirm what you need to do to complete the university’s procedures
- It is submitted within 12 months of the date of your COP letter.
The deadline and details for submission will be included in your COP letter.
- The complaint is something the OIA can investigate
There are specific guidelines about what matters the OIA can investigate, as determined by their rules. You should review these to ensure your complaint fits into one of these categories.
The issues that OIA can and most commonly will look into are complaints related to the following:
- Academic appeals
- Bullying and harassment
- Disciplinary matters (including plagiarism)
- Exceptional circumstances
- Fitness to practise processes and outcomes
- Procedural irregularities
- Research supervision
- Teaching provision and facilities
- Unfair practices
- Welfare (including provision of support, or lack thereof, by the University)
When completing the OIA’s complaint form it will be necessary, in particular, to be able to provide an overview of the complaint itself and the reasons why you are dissatisfied with the outcome and/or feel it is unfair, unreasonable or was subject to any procedural issues or irregularities.
Further Advice and Support
The Student Union advice services are able to provide confidential and independent advice and guidance about the complaints process including advising on possible grounds for appeal, setting out the details of your complaint and reviewing and providing feedback on your draft complaint prior to submission.
GSA advice service (for postgraduates) GSA website email: firstname.lastname@example.org
YUSU Advice and Support Centre (ASC)YUSU
email: email@example.com (undergraduates)
If you have questions or queries about the complaints procedure you can also contact the University’s Complaints Officer directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Key documents and info:
- Complaints webpage
- Academic appeals and complaints webpage
- Academic appeals webpage (including links to a comprehensive set of guidance documents to help you navigate the appeals process)
- Exceptional Circumstances webpage
- University Guide to Assessment, Standards, Marking and Feedback
- University ‘Help and Support’ webpages