14. Student Complaints
A pdf copy of this section is available for download: Section 14 PDF
1. Aberystwyth University is committed to ensuring a high quality educational experience for all its students, supported by appropriate academic, administrative and welfare support services and facilities. However, there may be occasions when students are dissatisfied with the teaching and learning facilities, or services, provided. Aberystwyth University believes that students should be entitled to have access to an effective system for handling complaints and that they should feel able to make a complaint, secure in the knowledge that it will be fairly investigated.
2. For the purpose of this procedure, a student complaint is defined as ‘an expression of dissatisfaction by one or more students about a university’s action or lack of action, or about the standard of service provided by or on behalf of the university’.
3.Issues that can be considered under the procedure include aspects of a student’s learning and teaching experience; service issues and facilities offered by the University.
4. Issues that cannot be considered under the procedure include academic appeals submitted against the decision of an examination board; admissions; complaints against the Students’ Union; complaints that question academic judgement; requests to leave University accommodation and associated appeals; complaints arising from decisions made under University Fitness to Attend/Return to Studies Policy, and University Disciplinary Regulations.
5. Any complaints received where it is felt the case could or should be handled under a different University procedure, the student will be notified in writing, and the case passed to the relevant persons/department within the University.
14.2 Who Can Complain?
1. This procedure applies to any registered student of Aberystwyth University. If students are studying under collaborative arrangements at a Partner Education Provider, they should follow this procedure provided the complaint relates to Aberystwyth University (further information is available in the student handbook), but ensure that they attempt to seek resolution with the Partner University before engaging with the formal stage of this procedure. Students who have completed their studies and still wish to make a complaint to the University should normally do so within 90 calendar days of the end of the period of registration. In the case of research students, whose candidature extends beyond the registration period, complaints may normally be made up to 90 calendar days after the final result is issued.
2. Where an issue affects a number of students, those students can submit a group complaint:
(i) The University will ask the group to nominate one student to act as group representative.
(ii) The University will deal with the representative only, and will expect the representative to liaise with the other students.
(iii) Each student in the group will be contacted by the University to provide their name and contact details as confirmation that they wish the issue to be investigated as part of a group complaint.
14.3 General Principles
1. Aberystwyth University seeks to minimise student complaints by ensuring that students have opportunities to participate in formal decision-making processes at all levels and by encouraging regular feedback through Department or Faculty Staff/Student Consultative Committees. In the event that a student is dissatisfied with a service, the university seeks to resolve the matter at the earliest possible opportunity through informal resolution. If, however, it is necessary to pursue a complaint at a formal level, this procedure sets out how students may seek to have complaints addressed.
2. The procedure provides a mechanism for addressing complaints promptly, fairly and effectively. Further advice about this Procedure may be obtained from the Faculty Registrar, Academic Registry (firstname.lastname@example.org) or from a Student Adviser in the Students’ Union (email@example.com).
3. Complaints may be made by individual students or by a representative on behalf of a group of students. A student may appoint a representative to submit the complaint on their behalf. The student would normally be expected to provide written consent, by letter or via their University e-mail account, to authorise someone to act on his/her behalf (there would have to be a good, valid reason for this not to be possible).
4. Students will not suffer any disadvantage or recrimination as the result of making a complaint in good faith. Only if a complaint is judged to have been made frivolously (ie. with no serious purpose or value), vexatiously (ie. they are distressing or annoying) or with malice (ie. the desire to inflict harm or suffering), could disciplinary issues arise in relation to the student. (See Aberystwyth University Disciplinary Procedures).
5. Students, and those against whom complaints are made, may expect complaints to be dealt with confidentially and that their privacy will be respected. However, any person who is the subject of a complaint will be advised, in order that he/she is given the opportunity to respond. It may also be necessary to disclose information to others in order to deal with the complaint and, in these circumstances, the parties concerned will be informed of such a disclosure.
6. Students can have confidence that they will be protected under this Procedure and so it should not be necessary to submit anonymous complaints. Upon receipt of an anonymous complaint, it may only be considered if there is a compelling case, with supporting evidence, for the matter to be investigated further. However, it should be noted that raising a concern anonymously could impede the investigation and communication of the outcome.
7. At any stage in the procedure, the parties involved may be accompanied, in a non-legal capacity, by a friend, representative of the Students’ Union or Trade Union recognised by the University, or any other member of the University community.
8. It is a student’s responsibility to ensure that his/her contact details are correct on the central records system. The University bears no responsibility for letters that do not reach a student due to his/her record not being kept up to date. The primary method of contact will be via e-mail, though letters of outcome at the Formal and Review stages of the procedure will also be forwarded to the address on the forms submitted.
9. For the purpose of this procedure, evidence submitted in support of a student’s complaint, must be independent or corroborative, and sufficient to establish any facts or issues raised. A personal statement of what a student believes to be true cannot constitute evidence. Examples of evidence can include documentary evidence such as e-mails and photographs, and can also include witness statements from University staff or students, support workers, and other professionals. The student is responsible for identifying and submitting appropriate evidence with the complaint. The University will not do this on the student’s behalf, unless someone employed by the University is acting as the student’s named representative. Any complaint made stating that further information can be sought on the student’s behalf will not be actioned.
10. Students have the right to receive reasons for decisions following consideration of a complaint at any stage of the procedure, and to be informed of any opportunity for further review.
11. If there are allegations of a criminal offence, Aberystwyth University may refer the matter to the police and suspend its own proceedings, at any stage of the procedure, until the outcome of any criminal proceeding is known.
14.4 Procedure for Dealing with a Student Complaint
1. The Procedure includes three stages: an informal stage for early resolution; a formal complaint stage for the investigation and determination of complaints, and a final review stage.
14.5 Stage One: Informal Stage - Early Resolution
1. It is anticipated that the majority of concerns, issues or complaints can be resolved easily and quickly on an informal basis, at the time the problem first occurs and with the individual(s) directly involved. Any student with a concern, issue or complaint against a department should, in the first instance, seek to resolve the matter in an informal manner. This could be achieved by arranging a meeting to discuss the situation at hand, followed by an explanation or apology, where appropriate. Students should offer a description of the problem encountered and state their desired outcome at this point, and, where possible, include any available evidence to support their complaint.
2. If the concern, issue or complaint is against his/her academic department, the student may wish to informally raise the matter with his or her personal tutor, another member of the academic staff or other appropriate person. Students studying at the branch campus in Mauritius, should refer the matter to the Dean, in the first instance. In the case of a group concern, issue or complaint (not involving allegations against a named individual) the appropriate departmental Staff Student Consultative Committee may be involved. These Informal proceedings will not prejudice the formal procedure outlined below.
3. If the complaint is against a non-academic department, the student should discuss the matter informally with, for example, the person responsible for the service or facility the student has a concern or issue with, who can then refer the student to an appropriate member of staff within their department, if they are not in a position to resolve the issue themselves.
4. A short written report or response outlining the case and outcome(s) should be drafted by the member of staff addressing the student’s complaint, and be circulated to all interested parties and a copy retained on file. This report should also direct the student back to the Complaints Procedure which sets out what options the student has available to him/her should they remain dissatisfied with the outcome and wish to pursue the complaint further. General advice can be sought from the Academic Registry (firstname.lastname@example.org) on issues relating to the procedures when considering the case and any possible outcomes or redress, if felt necessary.
5. No formal time limit is applied to early resolution, however it is expected that attempts will be made to resolve the informal complaint, wherever practicable, within 10 working days.
14.6 Stage Two: Formal Complaint Stage
1. Where informal proceedings have been unsuccessful, or have been exhausted without appropriate resolution of the matter, the student may make a formal complaint.
2. Every formal complaint must be submitted on the Formal Complaints form normally within 10 working days of the informal procedure being completed. A formal complaint submitted in any other format will not be considered. Students not following the procedure will be directed to the right process and support available to them, where this is felt appropriate. Students will receive a written acknowledgement of the complaint, normally by e-mail, within 5 working days.
3. The complaint should clearly set out the following:
(i) the nature of the complaint: this should be brief and to the point, referring to any specific events;
(ii) evidence should be provided that the student has exhausted the informal stage of the complaints procedure by providing, for example, a copy of the relevant e-mail trail and/or a copy of the written outcome from the person who attempted to resolve the matter;
(iii) a statement as to why the student remains dissatisfied and the outcome they are seeking;
(iv) and, copies of any relevant documentary evidence and correspondence, which support the complaint, must be attached.
4. Upon receipt of a written formal complaint the Head of Department must either arrange to interview all interested parties, or gather further evidence from relevant persons at his/her discretion. The Head of Department must also arrange to meet the student if s/he has requested a meeting at the point of submitting the formal complaints form. Any individual invited to attend an interview or meeting will be entitled to be accompanied, for example, by a friend, colleague, Students’ or Trade Union representative.
5. Upon consulting all the relevant evidence, the Head of Department must prepare a letter addressed to the complainant, detailing his/her investigations, which outlines the process followed, the information gathered, the conclusions drawn and any recommendations. (General advice can be sought from the Academic Registry (email@example.com) on issues relating to the procedures when considering the case, and any possible outcomes or redress, if felt necessary). The letter, together with copies of any written evidence which was used to form the judgement, must be submitted to the Academic Registry (firstname.lastname@example.org), which is responsible for issuing the formal outcome to the student. Copies of the response will be circulated to all interested parties and a copy kept on file.
6. If at any point it is identified that the matter involves the Head of Department in an actual or perceived conflict of interest (e.g. s/he could be the subject of the complaint or have competing interests or loyalties), or if s/he has had any direct involvement in the case, then the matter will be immediately referred to the Pro Vice-Chancellor or Director to which the Head of Department is accountable. The Pro Vice-Chancellor or Director will then proceed as outlined under paragraphs 4 and 5 of 14.6 Stage Two Formal Complaint upon receipt of the complaint and evidence submitted.
7. If the Pro Vice-Chancellor or Director also feels that there is a conflict of interest or has had any direct involvement in the case, the case will be referred to another Pro Vice-Chancellor or Director who will continue to proceed as outlined above under paragraphs 4 and 5 of Section 14.6.
8. Student complaints arising from industrial action by University staff will be considered by three members of a Standing Panel of Pro Vice-Chancellors or Directors (or their nominees) in the first instance. The Panel will operate on the basis of the procedure set out in Paragraphs 4 and 5 of Section 14.6 above. Upon a request for review of the Panel’s decision the Final Review Procedure under 14.7 will be followed.
9. Upon receipt of the fully completed complaint form and associated evidence, each formal complaint should be resolved within 6 working weeks. If it appears that a response will be delayed, students will be informed why this is, and will be kept informed of progress.
14.7 Stage Three: Final Review
1. If a student remains dissatisfied with the decision of the outcome of the formal complaint, s/he can request a Final Review. Students will be directed to this procedure upon receipt of the formal outcome of their complaint and will have 10 working days from the date of this letter in which to submit a Final Review application. Further details can be found at: https://www.aber.ac.uk/en/aqro/handbook/fr/ .