Complaints procedures

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. Students should feel able to make a complaint, secure in the knowledge that it will be fairly investigated.

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Introduction

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, research or apprenticeship provided by the University.

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 guidelines and procedures can be obtained from the Student Services Information Desk (SSiD), in the Students' Union Building.

Time limits

The University is unlikely to consider a complaint from a student or former student that has not been raised within three months of the issue about which a student wishes to complain. In exceptional circumstances complaints submitted beyond this time frame may be considered if there is deemed a valid reason to do so.

The University aims to deal with formal complaints, including case review requests, 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.

Group appeals

If the issues being raised in an academic appeal have affected a number of students, the University will normally allow a group appeal to be submitted.

In order to effectively manage the progression of the case, groups should nominate one student to act as a representative for the group. The University will normally deal with the nominated representative, who will be expected to liaise with the other members of the group.

Anonymous complaints

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. An anonymous complaint may be considered when a faculty accepts that there is a compelling case, supported by evidence, for the matter to be investigated. However, raising concerns anonymously could impede an investigation.

Third-party complaints

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


Informal discussions

Most difficulties can be resolved at an early stage by talking informally with the individual(s) concerned at the earliest opportunity. 

For example, if your complaint concerns academic matters, you might wish to talk to their tutor or another member of academic staff. If the complaint is about a University service, then you should talk to an appropriate member of staff from that service. You may also wish to consider raising the matter via your department´s staff-student committee or the Student Advice Centre.


Making an informal complaint

If you've attempted to resolve an issue with an informal discussion but aren't satisfied with the outcome, you may wish to initiate an informal complaint. 

At this point, you might find it beneficial to seek advice from the Student Advice Centre based in the Students' Union. You should also fill in a complaints form (PDF, 154KB) and send it to the head of the department or service concerned. 

You should include the following information in the form:

  • Details of the complaint.
  • An explanation of the steps that have already been taken to try to resolve the complaint informally.
  • Details of the responses received, and why they aren't satisfactory.
  • Where applicable, the form of resolution or redress you're looking for.

It is important that you keep a copy of the form, and any other documentation submitted, for your personal records.

You should expect an acknowledgement of your complaint within five working days, and a full written response within 30 calendar days. If this is not possible, you will be informed in writing of the progress being made towards the consideration of your complaint.

The complaint will be investigated by the head of the department or service concerned. If the complaint is considered justified (upheld), you will be told what steps will be taken to resolve it. If the complaint is not upheld, then you will be given an explanation of why.


Making a formal complaint

If the problem still hasn't been resolved to your satisfaction, you may wish to make a formal complaint.

To do this, you will have to complete a second complaints form (PDF, 154KB) and send it to the address shown on the form. A formal complaint must be made no more than 30 calendar days after you received a written response to your informal complaint, although a faculty officer or senior member of Academic Services may extend this time limit.

If your complaint relates directly to the head of a department or service, then you should complete a complaints form (PDF, 154KB) and send it to the Student Engagement and Progress team as a formal complaint. In these cases, the head of the department or service will not conduct the investigation or respond to the formal complaint themselves. Instead, they will delegate their role to another member of staff.

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. You should expect an acknowledgement of the complaint within 5 working days.

Facts and evidence

You should set out the facts of your case clearly and succinctly. It is your responsibility to provide evidence to substantiate the issues raised wherever possible. Evidence should be provided in English.  If this isn't possible, then you 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 as part of your complaint will be shared with the appropriate member(s) of staff within the relevant academic department or service, as well as the faculty officer or senior member of Academic Services considering the case.

If the complaint is considered justified (upheld), you will be told what steps will be taken to resolve it. If the complaint is not upheld, then you will be given an explanation of why. If a department or service provides written comments in response to your complaint, you will receive a copy of these comments with your written response.

Monitoring

Without breaching confidentiality, all formal complaints (as well as any responses and outcomes) will be monitored by the head of the appropriate department or service.


Case review

If you are still not satisfied with a decision taken in respect of a complaint or appeal, you may submit a Case Review Request Form requesting that your case be reviewed by a Vice-President.  You may only request a case Review on one or more of the following grounds:

  • There was a procedural irregularity that made the initial complaint or appeal unfair.
  • Material which you 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.
  • The decision taken as a result of a formal complaint or academic appeal was manifestly unreasonable.

You must request a case review within 10 working days of receiving the full written response to your formal complaint, although a Vice-President (or their nominee) may extend this time limit. Case reviews can be requested by submitting a case review request form.

The request will be considered by a Vice-President (or their nominee) who may decide

  • to uphold the complaint
  • to establish a case review panel
  • that the matter should be referred for consideration in line with another University procedure (for example, the general regulations for academic appeals)
  • that there are insufficient grounds to take further action, thus concluding the consideration of the matter under these procedures

if a department or service has made written comments in response to a request for a case review, you will receive a copy of these when a decision is made.

Case review panels

A Case Review Panel will comprise a Vice-President or their nominee (in the chair), a faculty officer from a different faculty to the one in which you are registered, and another member of the University, normally a sabbatical officer from the Students' Union.

You will be told who is sitting on the Case Review Panel, and the procedure to be followed, at least 15 working days before the review date.

The review will be conducted in private, and all relevant facts will be taken into consideration.  You are allowed to attend, and you can be accompanied by a friend or representative who may speak and act on your behalf. You can also ask for any person to give evidence on your behalf. Members of staff named in a complaint will also be invited to make their case to the panel.  A secretary will be appointed to take notes of the meeting.

You will be notified of the panel's decision in writing. If the complaint is upheld, you will be told what steps will be taken to resolve it. If the complaint is not upheld, then you will be given an explanation of why.


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 you are unhappy with the outcome of your appeal, you may be able to ask the OIA to review your 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.

You will normally be required to have gone through the student complaints procedure at the University before you can refer to the OIA. Once you have reached the end of the procedure, and there are no further steps they can take internally, you will receive a 'completion of procedures' letter.

Students taking a University of Sheffield Apprenticeship can also contact the national Education, Skills and Funding Agency (ESFA) Helpdesk regarding apprenticeship concerns, complaints and enquiries:


Unacceptable behaviour

The University may exceptionally terminate or suspend consideration of a complaint or academic appeal where a student's behaviour is vexatious, frivolous, disruptive or otherwise unacceptable; for example 

  • where aggressive or unreasonable demands are made
  • where demands for redress lack serious purpose or value
  • where repeated representations are made on matters which have already been considered 

Where a student’s behaviour appears to constitute misconduct in line with the regulations relating to the discipline of students, action may be taken in line with those procedures.

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

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