Student Complaints Procedure

1. Introduction

The University believes that students should be entitled to have access to effective systems for handling any complaints that might arise during the course of their studies, as one way of ensuring the highest possible academic and service standards. Students should feel able to make a complaint, secure in the knowledge that it will be fairly investigated.

1.1 The complaints procedure comprises a number of stages and can be used for complaints about the delivery and quality of services, teaching, tutorial/supervisory provision or any other matters relating to a programme of study or research.

1.2 Please note that there are separate guidelines for dealing with complaints about personal harassment and matters relating to the University Health Service. There are also separate procedures for academic appeals and services provided by the Students' Union. Information on relevant University guidelines and procedures can be obtained from the Student Services Information Desk (SSiD), in the Students' Union Building, and via the links for Current Students on the University's home page at http://www.shef.ac.uk/

1.3 Where an academic appeal has not been resolved to the student´s satisfaction, there is an opportunity for review under Section 5 of this procedure.

1.4 Where it is clear that the issues raised in the complaint have affected a number of students the University will normally allow a group complaint to be submitted.  In order to effectively manage the progress of the case the group will be expected to nominate one student to act as a representative for the group.  The University will normally deal with the nominated representative and the nominated representative will be expected to liaise with the other members of the group.

1.5 Students should be assured that the University will deal with complaints appropriately so it should not be necessary to submit an anonymous complaint.  As such, the University will not normally accept anonymous complaints.  Exceptionally, however, an anonymous complaint may be considered when Faculty accepts that there is a compelling case, supported by evidence, for the matter to be investigated.  Raising concerns anonymously, however, could impede the investigation and communication of the outcome.

1.6 The University will not normally consider a complaint made on behalf of a student or former student by a third party.

1.7 The University aims to deal with formal complaints, including the Case Review Request stage, within 90 calendar days of receipt of the formal complaint.  If this is not possible, the student will be informed in writing of the progress made towards the consideration of the complaint.

2. Informal Discussion

Most difficulties can be resolved at an early stage by talking informally with the individual(s) most concerned with the issue at a local level, at the earliest opportunity.  For example if the complaint concerns academic matters, the student might wish to talk to their tutor or other member of academic staff.  If the complaint is about a University service, then the student should talk to an appropriate member of staff from that service. The student might also wish to consider raising the matter via their department´s staff-student committee or the Students' Union Student Advice Centre.

3. How to Make an Informal Complaint

3.1 Where a student has attempted to resolve matters by informal discussion but is not satisfied with the outcome, the student may wish to initiate an informal complaint.  At this point, the student might find it beneficial to seek advice from the Student Advice Centre based in the Students' Union. A Complaints Form (available from the SSiD website) should be completed and sent to the Head of the Department or Service concerned. See Section 4 below if the complaint relates to the Head of Department or Service personally.

The following information should be provided:-

  1. details of the complaint;
  2. an explanation of the steps that have already been taken to try to resolve the complaint informally and why the responses received are not considered satisfactory;
  3. where applicable, the form of resolution or redress sought.

3.2 It is important for the student to keep a copy of the form and any other documentation submitted, for their records.

3.3 The student should expect an acknowledgement of their complaint within 5 working days and a full written response within 30 calendar days. If this is not possible, the student will be informed in writing of the progress being made towards the consideration of the complaint.

3.4 The complaint will be investigated by the Head of Department or Service concerned. If the complaint is considered justified (upheld), the student will be informed of the means to resolve or redress the complaint. If the complaint is not upheld, then the student can expect to be given an explanation.

4. How to Make a Formal Complaint

4.1 If the problem still has not been resolved to the student's satisfaction, or if the complaint relates to the Head of Department or Service personally, then the student should complete a Complaints Form and send it to the address shown on the form. If the complaint concerns an academic matter, it will be referred to the appropriate Faculty Officer: other matters will be dealt with by a senior member of Academic Services. The student should expect an acknowledgement of the complaint within 5 working days.

4.2 The student will be expected to set out the facts of the case clearly and succinctly.  It is the student's responsibility to provide evidence to substantiate the issues raised wherever possible.  Evidence should be provided in English.  If this is not possible then the student should provide an authorised transcript of the relevant document(s).  Copies of original documents will normally be accepted and can be scanned but they must be in a format that can be printed and copied.  All information provided by the student as part of the complaint will be shared with the appropriate member(s) of staff within the relevant academic department or service and the Faculty Officer considering the case.

4.3 If the complaint is considered justified (upheld), the student will be informed of the means to resolve or redress the complaint.  If the complaint is not upheld, then the student can expect to be given an explanation.  Where a department or service has provided written comments in response to the complaint, a copy of those comments will normally be sent to the student with the full written response.

5. Case Review

5.1 If the student is not satisfied with the decision taken in respect of the complaint or academic appeal they may wish to request a Case Review. The student may only request a Case Review on one or more of the following grounds:

(i) that there was a material procedural irregularity which rendered the process leading to the decision taken in respect of the formal complaint or academic appeal unfair;

(ii) that material which the student could not reasonably have been expected to produce at the time of the decision taken in respect of the formal complaint or academic appeal casts substantial doubt upon the appropriateness of that decision;

(iii) that the decision taken in respect of the formal complaint or academic appeal was manifestly unreasonable.

5.2 The request for a Case Review must be made within 10 working days of the full written response provided in relation to the formal complaint or academic appeal, although a Pro-Vice-Chancellor, or their nominee, may extend this time limit.  Case Reviews can be requested by submitting a Case Review Request Form (available from the SSiD website).

The request will be considered by a Pro-Vice-Chancellor, or their nominee, who may decide:

  1. to uphold the complaint;
  2. to establish a Case Review Panel;
  3. that the matter should be referred for consideration in line with another University procedure (for example the General Regulations as to Academic Appeals);
  4. that there are insufficient grounds to take further action, thus concluding the consideration of the matter under these procedures.

5.3 Where a department or service has provided written comments in response to the request for a case review, a copy of those comments will be sent to the student at the time the decision is notified.

5.4 A Case Review Panel will comprise a Pro-Vice-Chancellor or their nominee (in the Chair), a Faculty Officer from a Faculty other than that in which the student is registered, or their nominee, and another member of the University, normally a Sabbatical Officer from the Students' Union.

5.5 The student will be informed of the membership of the Case Review Panel, and the procedure to be followed, at least 15 working days in advance of the review date.

5.6 The review will be conducted in private and all relevant facts will be taken into consideration.  The student may attend and be accompanied by a friend or representative who may speak and act on the student's behalf.  The student may request any person to give evidence on their behalf and members of staff named in a complaint, or their representative, will also be invited to make their case to the Panel.  A secretary will be appointed to take notes of the meeting.

5.7 The student will be notified of the decision of the Case Review Panel in writing.  If the complaint is upheld the student will be informed of the action to be taken to resolve the matter.  If it is not upheld, then the student can expect to be given an explanation.

6. External Review

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) runs an independent scheme to review student complaints. The University of Sheffield is a member of this scheme. If the student is unhappy with the outcome they may be able to ask the OIA to review their case. Information about making a complaint to the OIA, what it can and cannot look at, and what it can do to put things right is available on the OIA website:

The student normally needs to have completed the Student Complaints Procedure before they can complain to the OIA. The student will receive a “Completion of Procedures Letter” when they have reached the end of the procedure, and there are no further steps they can take internally. The Student Advice Centre can advise on the OIA review process.

7. Monitoring

Without breaching confidentiality, all formal complaints and their associated responses and outcomes will be monitored by the Head of the appropriate department or service.

8. Time Limits

The University is unlikely to consider a complaint from a former student who has not been registered for the relevant programme of study or research for a period of six months or more at the time of making their complaint.

9. Unacceptable Behaviour

The University may exceptionally terminate or suspend consideration of a complaint or academic appeal where a student's behaviour is unacceptable or disruptive, for example where aggressive or unreasonable demands are made or where repeated representations are made on matters which have already been considered under these procedures.

Note: These procedures do not affect a student's legal rights in any way.