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What to do if you have a complaint at university

What to do if you have a complaint at universityComplaining to your university can be intimidating. Understanding the procedure will make it easier.

Universities are required to have procedures in place to deal with complaints. These aren't just for problems with courses or teaching. For example, they can also help to resolve problems with:

  • Accommodation
  • Bullying or harassment
  • Discrimination
  • Any services provided by the university, such as counselling or advice services

The exact procedures will be different depending on where you study, but this article outlines the basic steps to take if you have a complaint.

Try for an informal solution

If possible, it's a good idea to try to deal with your problem informally to begin with. This doesn't mean you have to speak directly to the people involved if you're uncomfortable: you could go through a personal tutor or programme director, for example. This is often quicker and simpler than the formal complaints procedure, and many universities will expect you to have tried to solve the problem informally before making a complaint.

However, it's worth looking over your university's complaints procedures in advance to make sure that you don't miss any deadlines for making a complaint.

Check your university's procedures

Every university has different procedures for dealing with formal complaints. These will normally be available on the university website. These will let you know:

  • How soon after the incident you have to make a complaint
  • How to make a formal complaint if an informal approach hasn't worked
  • Who will deal with your complaint
  • Where you can go next if you aren't satisfied with the result

Some kinds of complaint be covered by separate procedures, such as complaints about disciplinary action.

Independent resolution

If you have exhausted your university's procedures and your complaint hasn't been resolved, you can go to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator. You'll need a Completion of Procedures Letter - an official letter given to you by your university once you have been through their procedures - and your complaint needs to be something the OIA is able to look at.

The OIA will try to resolve things between you and the university. If that's not possible, they will make a decision which the university is expected to follow.

Get in touch with your union

When you have a problem with a big organization like a university, you can feel like you're on your own. Your students' union is there to help with this. Your union will be able to offer you advice and support you through the complaints procedure, so get in touch with them as soon as possible.

If you have a complaint about your union, there will be a separate procedure for dealing with this. You should be able to find the procedure on the union website or from its offices.

When you can't make a complaint

If you're considering a complaint, be aware that you can't complain about something if it's considered a matter of 'academic judgement'. This means that you can't complain about your exam mark just because you disagree with the result you were given. However, that doesn't mean that you can never make a complaint that involves your results. For example, you could complain if you think the university did not follow its exam policies properly, or if you think the teaching was not good enough.

Universities will also have other procedures for dealing with problems with results. For example, there may be a separate appeals procedure if you think there has been an error in your result, or a simple system to check for administrative errors. You should be able to get advice about these different procedures from a tutor.

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