Planning, Governance and Compliance

Complaints Procedure (for students)

Level 1

  1. Wherever possible complaints should be raised immediately with the member of staff responsible, or with one of the support services below, with the aim of resolving the problem directly and informally:

  2. Students on Franchise Programmes should seek advice from their college at this level. Details of support services will be set out in the college handbook.

  3. Level 1 will generally be an oral process and a written record will not be made.

  4. If you remain dissatisfied with the response to your complaint at Level 1 you should use Level 2 of the process.

Please also read the General Principles below

Level 2

  1. Where it has not been possible to resolve matters at Level 1 you should contact the Academic Registrar.  Please email your complaint to Alice Robertson at A.Robertson@sussex.ac.uk who manages the process on behalf of the Academic Registrar.  In order for your complaint to be properly investigated it is essential that you are specific about the cause and nature of your complaint. You should present full details, including your name and term-time address and include all relevant documentation. You should detail what attempts you have already made to resolve the complaint, and state what outcome and remedy you are seeking.

  2. Formal (Level 2) complaints should be lodged within three months of the conclusion of the informal (Level 1) phase. Complaints received later than this will not normally be considered. You should expect to receive an acknowledgement of the receipt of your complaint within five working days.

  3. Your complaint, and all relevant documentation, will be forwarded to your Head of School (for an academic complaint) or (for a non-academic complaint) to an appropriate senior member of Professional Services (who has not already been involved in the case).

    • Academic complaints relate to issues that have a direct effect on the provision of teaching, learning, research and supervision.

    • Non-academic complaints usually relate to issues connected with University services but also cover any inappropriate behaviour from University staff, including allegations of behaviour which is discriminatory or harassing.

    If the Head of School has already been involved at Level 1, an appropriately senior alternative member of staff will be identified to deal with the Level 2 investigation.

  4. In some cases you may be contacted for further information or clarification and you have the right to request a meeting with the person investigating your complaint, to discuss the issues in person.

  5. You will be informed in writing of the outcome of your complaint. It is our aim to resolve most complaints at Level 2 within 28 calendar days, however during vacation periods and when the University is closed, this may be extended by up to 10 days. You will be informed if there is likely to be any delay in the process.

Please also read the General Principles below

Level 3

  1. In the event that you remain dissatisfied with the outcome of your complaint at Level 2, your complaint can be passed to the Director of Planning, Governance and Compliance (Academic Secretary) for final internal review. You should lodge your request for Level 3 review of your complaint within one month of receiving the outcome of the Level 2 investigation. Requests for review received later than this will not normally be considered.

  2. Requests to review the outcomes of Level 2 investigations will be considered in terms of whether any of these conditions are met:

    • There were procedural irregularities in the investigation of the complaint; or

    • Fresh evidence can be presented which was not or could not reasonably have been made available to the investigator at Level 2; or

    • The finding of the investigation was against the weight of the evidence.

  3. If the Director of Planning, Governance and Compliance (Academic Secretary) is satisfied that any of the above conditions apply, s/he will undertake a further investigation of the complaint. Where appropriate s/he will consult with Senior Officers, including the Pro-Vice-Chancellors, the Registrar & Secretary, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor or the Vice-Chancellor. Where the Director of Planning, Governance and Compliance (Academic Secretary) has been involved in any earlier stage of the complaints process, or in the events to which the complaint relates, s/he will pass the review over to one of the Senior Officers named above.

  4. You will be notified of the outcome of the investigation of the complaint at Level 3 in writing.

    Please also read the General Principles below

Independent Review

  1. The Office of the Independent Adjudicator (the OIA) provides an independent scheme for the review of student complaints or appeals. When the University's internal procedures for dealing with complaints and appeals have been exhausted, the University will issue a Completion of Procedures letter. Students wishing to avail themselves of the opportunity of an independent review by the OIA must submit their application to the OIA within three months of the issue of the Completion of Procedures letter. The OIA will not normally consider a complaint which has not previously been considered under all the procedures available within the University, and will not normally consider complaints where the Completion of Procedures Letter is issued more than three years after the substantive event(s) complained about.

  2. Further details about the OIA are available from the Academic Office, from the Student Advice Centre, or direct from the Office of the Independent Adjudicator.

Students on Programmes Validated by the University

Students on validated provision at partner institutions must initially follow the partner's complaints procedures.  

The University will only consider complaints that raise specific concerns about matters directly affecting:

  1. the quality of a student’s learning opportunities, and/or
  2. the academic standards of its awards. 

This could be the delivery of teaching and learning or its associated resources (e.g. library provision). Complaints will not be considered where they relate to matters of academic judgment.

The University will not become involved if a complaint covers other aspects of a student’s experience or relates to the partner institution’s services. For example, these might be concerns about pastoral provision, accommodation or finance.

The partner institution will inform a student of the right to escalate a complaint to the University, where appropriate.

For students where the partner institution (delivery provider) is a member of the OIA scheme and criteria 1 and/or 2 above have been met:

  • Level 1 (early resolution at the local level) and Level 2 (formal stage) of the complaints procedure will be with the partner institution.  The Level 3 review stage is the responsibility of the University.   If a student remains dissatisfied following completion of the partner institution’s procedures at Level 2, they can invoke a Level 3 review by the University by writing to the Director of Planning, Governance and Compliance. They must do so within 21 days of the date of the letter giving formal notification of the completion of Level 2.
  • In order to ensure timely consideration of complaints, partner institutions will notify the University of all complaints at Level 2 that meet the criteria for the University to be involved at Level 3.

For students where the partner institution (delivery provider) is not a member of the OIA scheme and criteria 1 and/or 2 above have been met:

  • A student who has exhausted the partner institution’s procedure and remains dissatisfied can invoke the University’s complaints procedure at Level 3.  They must do so by writing to the Director of Planning, Governance and Compliance within 21 days of the date of the letter giving formal notification of the completion of the partner institution’s procedures.

The Director of Planning, Governance and Compliance will consider a Level 3 complaint in terms of whether any of these conditions are met:

  • There were procedural irregularities in the investigation of the complaint; or
  • Fresh evidence can be presented which was not or could not reasonably have been made available to the investigator at Level 2 / the previous level; or
  • The finding of the investigation was against the weight of the evidence.

If the Director of Planning, Governance and Compliance decides to undertake further investigation, s/he will consult senior officers at the partner institution as well as the University's Academic Development and Quality Enhancement office.

Students then seeking an independent review through the OIA should note that any complaint at that stage would be in respect of the University's procedures and not those of the partner institution.

General Principles

  1. Student complaints are normally considered to be complaints from current students registered at the University of Sussex. However, we will consider a complaint from you under this process if you are a former student and you left the University up to six months previously. Otherwise your complaint will be considered under the process for individuals who are not staff or students.
  2. As a general principle the University expects that complaints will be dealt with informally in the first instance. Many complaints can be dealt with quickly and effectively in this manner without the need to follow formal procedures. This complaints procedure has been designed with this in mind.  Advisors in the Student Life Centre and/or the Disability Advice team can advise you on how to deal with your complaint and help to resolve it informally.    If you do decide to make a formal complaint, you can get support from:

    • The Welfare or Education Officer of the Students' Union
    • One of your Student Representatives
  3. If you are dissatisfied about a matter of academic provision on a taught course, the University would expect you to take steps to raise the matter constructively with a combination of the module tutor and/or the course director in the first instance.  If still dissatisfied, you should seek to raise the matter with the Director of Teaching & Learning for the School, and consider getting assistance in the process from either a local student representative, or one of the Students Union officers mentioned above.  These would be the kinds of steps that the University would expect to have been exhausted before a level 2 ‘academic’ complaint is lodged.
  4. The University is committed to providing a high quality service to its students and you are encouraged to let it know when there is cause for concern or a need for improvement. However, the University will not accept complaints which are frivolous (unfounded, trivial) or malicious (with vindictive motivation). Nor will the University accept complaints in relation to matters of University policy and management that are under the active oversight of a properly-constituted University governance body.   The student complaints procedure is not an appropriate route for raising such issues.   Students are able to raise concerns about such matters through their recognized representatives in the Students’ Union, which is represented on most University governance bodies, including the most senior body, University Council.  
  5. You should be assured that no complainant will be disadvantaged by having raised a complaint. Privacy and confidentiality will be maintained in the handling of complaints except where disclosure is necessary to progress the complaint. It is the University's expectation that the confidentiality of any documentation generated by a complaint will be respected by all parties.
  6. The following list indicates examples of the type of complaint covered by the procedure:

    • Poor teaching or supervision

    • Misleading information in prospectuses or in advertising or promotional material

    • A failing in a University service, academic or non-academic

    • Inadequate facilities

    • The behaviour of a member of University staff

  7. The following are not covered by the procedure:

    • A request for a review of a decision of an academic body (e.g. Examination Board) regarding student progression, assessment and award. This is defined as an Academic Appeal and is dealt with under the separate Academic Appeals Procedure.

    • Complaint against another student. These are dealt with under the separate Student Disciplinary Procedures.

    • The complaints procedure cannot be used to challenge decisions relating to either admissions or student fee status matters. Both have their own dedicated complaints/appeal routes. Refer to admissions appeals and complaints or fee status appeals for further information.

  8. It is important to remember that complaints will not always produce the outcome preferred by the complainant. There may be a number of reasons for this, including lack of evidence to substantiate the complaint or the fact that circumstances beyond the University's control may affect the level of service provided. However, whatever the decision, you will be informed of the result of your complaint in writing and will be provided with the reasons for the outcome.

  9. A situation may arise where an intial complaint is made which requires further articulation before a resonably focused investigation can be initiated. If the complainant does not supply a sufficiently detailed statement of complaint within a period of (normally) one  month of the University's request for clarification of the complaint, the University reserves the right to suspend further steps until/unless a statement of complaint is forthcoming which can serve as a basis for investigation.

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator (the OIA) provides an independent scheme for the review of student complaints or appeals. When the University's internal procedures for dealing with complaints and appeals have been exhausted, the University will issue a Completion of Procedures letter. Students wishing to avail themselves of the opportunity of an independent review by the OIA must submit their application to the OIA within three months of the issue of the Completion of Procedures letter. The OIA will not normally consider a complaint which has not previously been considered under all the procedures available within the University, and will not normally consider complaints where the Completion of Procedures Letter is issued more than three years after the substantive event(s) complained about.

NB Students do not need to exhaust both the complaints and appeals processes before complaining to the OIA.  For example, when a student presents a complaint, there may be clearly-separable aspects that are more relevant to be investigated under the appeals procedures: in which case, both the complaints and appeals procedures may be invoked, and progressed in parallel.  In such cases, if a student is not satisfied with the outcome of one process (e.g. complaint), but is awaiting the result of the other process (e.g. an appeal), the student may submit their application to the OIA within three months of receiving the Completion of Procedures letter for the first process to be completed, and does not need to  wait until both processes have been completed.

However, the University continues to also reserve the right to decide, in a given case, which internal procedural route (appeals, complaints, disciplinary, etc.) is most suited to handle the issues presented by a complainant, and not to allow the re-examination of issues that are/ have been appropriately reviewed by one process, to also be reviewed by another process in a way that duplicates and does not add specific value.