The University Complaints Procedure is evolving in the light of experience. It is unlikely that any complaints procedure can be prescriptive and at the same time allow flexibility to respond to the many different issues which arise. However, the following protocols have been developed.
Third party complaints
The Student Appeals and Conduct Officer does not investigate issues raised by a third party on behalf of another individual without that individual's written permission. If, for example, a parent makes a complaint on behalf of a student, the Student Appeals and Conduct Officer acknowledges the complaint and writes to the student to ask their permission to investigate the issues and respond to the parent.
If the student does not wish another individual to complain on their behalf the Student Appeals and Conduct Officer will inform the third party of the student's wishes but may in some instances respond to any general issues raised by that third party.
Anonymous and confidential complaints
The Student Appeals and Conduct Officer can not respond to anonymous complaints but issues raised in anonymous complaints may be investigated if such investigations would be justified. The University does however recognise that complainants may wish to raise concerns in confidence. In such cases the Student Appeals and Conduct Officer will try to resolve the issue without disclosing the complainant's identity. It must be borne in mind that:
- It may be difficult to investigate complaints without revealing the identity of the complainant.
- It may be possible to make preliminary investigations without revealing the identity of the complainant but if the allegations are serious or the case is complex, the complainant may need to be identified if the case is to be pursued further. In such instances the Student Appeals and Conduct Officer will discuss the situation with the complainant before the case proceeds.
- The person or department which is the subject of a complaint may recognise the complainant because of the issues or allegations raised.
- Procedures exist to protect students from reprisals (eg by ensuring fair marking of assignments).
Student discipline and fitness to practise
The Student Appeals and Conduct Officer normally refers complaints likely to lead to disciplinary action against students to the University Head of Security, unless asked to conduct an investigation him/herself by the Vice-Chancellor or Director of Student and Academic Services.
The Student Appeals and Conduct Officer refers complaints likely to lead to an investigation under the provisions of a fitness to practise procedure to the relevant Head of School or PVC Dean.
In submitting a complaint, a student consents to the university accessing all relevant data to investigate that complaint including, where necessary, sensitive personal data from otherwise confidential services. Any such data will be used solely for the purposes of investigating the student complaint, responding to the student (or their representative) and facilitating communications to try and seek successful resolution of any and all issues raised.
If a student has any concerns or queries in relation to their personal data (in this regard) these should be raised directly with the Student Appeals & Conduct Officer.
Complaints to the Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor or Pro Vice-Chancellors
Occasionally complaints are addressed to the Chancellor, the Vice-Chancellor or a Pro Vice-Chancellor, such complaints will be acknowledged and referred to the Student Appeals and Conduct Officer, sometimes with a request for a particular course of action. The Student Appeals and Conduct Officer keeps the original recipient informed of the progress and outcome of these complaints.
Complaints subject to court or other legal proceedings
Complaints which are subject to court proceedings or where a complainant is represented by an organisation such as the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) or the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) are dealt with by the Student Appeals and Conduct Officer under the direction of the Director of Student and Academic Services and in consultation with the relevant Dean or Head of support department. The Student Appeals and Conduct Officer may seek legal advice as necessary.
In cases subject to court proceedings the complaint will not be heard by the Complaints Committee unless court proceedings are stayed. Where court proceedings have been concluded the complaint will not be considered further, the decision of the courts taking precedence over the university's internal procedures.
In cases where the complainant is represented by an organisation such as the DRC or the CRE the complaint may be heard by the Complaints Committee, depending on the nature of the complaint. In deciding whether a hearing should be convened the Student Appeals and Conduct Officer may consult with the student's representative to agree the most appropriate route to resolution.
Conduct of a Complaints Committee meeting
The university's Complaints Committee may conduct itself as it sees fit in order to reach a satisfactory resolution to the complaint. However, a proposed protocol for the conduct of a meeting has been drafted (see appendix A). All those attending the meeting are given an opportunity before the meeting to consider whether they are willing to follow these protocols.
Allegations concerning the behaviour of staff
The university takes allegations of unprofessional behaviour on the part of its staff very seriously and any such allegations will be rigorously investigated.
If appropriate, the university will seek to resolve any such complaints informally in the first instance. If it is not possible to resolve the matter informally, or informal action is not appropriate in the circumstances, the university will consider whether to refer the complaint to a formal university procedure, for example the “Disciplinary Procedure” which is managed by the university’s Human Resources department. If a decision is taken to refer the matter to another procedure, you will be advised of this as part of our response to your complaint. Please note that due to the confidential nature of any such proceedings you will not be entitled to know the details of any subsequent action taken or the final outcome of any such proceedings.
Frivolous or vexatious complaints
The university reserves the right to terminate consideration of a complaint if it considers it to be frivolous or vexatious. In such instances the Student Appeals and Conduct Officer will write to the complainant or his/her representative explaining why he/she is terminating consideration of the matter. In such circumstances the Student Appeals and Conduct Officer's decision is final and not subject to review by any other university body.
Issue 9, September 2015.