Complaints Procedure

1.   Introduction

Swansea University is committed to ensuring a high quality educational experience for its students, supported by appropriate academic, administrative and welfare support services and facilities. However there will be instances when students may feel dissatisfied with the teaching and learning, facilities or services provided by the University, or with the way the University or its staff have acted or omitted to act. It is expected that students and staff will make reasonable efforts to resolve matters informally at the outset. The vast majority of student complaints can be handled fairly, amicably, and to the satisfaction of all concerned through informal channels.

If, however, it is necessary to pursue a complaint formally, this Complaints Procedure (known as the ‘Procedure’) sets out how students may seek to have complaints addressed. The aim of this Procedure is to deal with student complaints as expeditiously and fairly as possible.

Advice about this Procedure may be obtained from Academic Services or, in confidence, from the Students’ Union Advice Centre.

A summary of this procedure and contact details for the Students’ Union Advice Centre are provided within the Student Complaints Frequently Asked Questions factsheet.

2.   General Principles

The following principles shall apply when dealing with student complaints:

2.1

Complaints may be made by individual students or by groups of students; they may not be lodged by a representative, a parent or any other third party (Unless it can be shown that there are exceptional grounds why the student cannot make the complaint themselves).

2.2

The University expects all parties to act reasonably and fairly towards each other, and with respect. If a complaint is not upheld, the reasons for the decision will be communicated to the complainant.

2.3

Complainants 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, vexatiously or with malice, could disciplinary issues arise in relation to the complainant. (See Disciplinary Procedures, regulation 7.)

2.4

Complainants, 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 normally be advised, and the complaint normally copied to them, in order that they are given opportunity to respond - unless the complainant requests and can demonstrate that there is a good reason for not doing so.

2.5

Students can seek free and independent advice and support, in confidence, from the Students’ Union Advice Centre.

2.6

Staff implicated in a student complaint may seek support from their line manager and/or Human Resources.

2.7

A complaint made to the Vice-Chancellor will be referred to the Academic Services nominee, who will ensure that it enters the Procedure at the appropriate point.

2.8

Where a complaint also contains within it an appeal and vice versa, it is possible for the complaint or appeal to be reclassified (at whatever stage they may have reached) and processed under the most relevant regulations or procedures if this is likely to lead to a more appropriate outcome for the person(s) complaining or appealing.

2.9

It is a student’s responsibility to ensure that their contact details are correct on the central records system. The University bears no responsibility for letters that do not reach a student due to their record not being kept up to date.

3.   Who Can Make a Complaint and Time-limits

3.1

This Procedure will apply to every student, defined as an enrolled student of Swansea University (the University), including those studying on degrees offered jointly with other partners and students studying at another university as an integral part of the programme - provided the complaint relates to Swansea University or to a holder of a sabbatical office at Swansea University.

3.2

This Procedure will also apply to former students of Swansea University who have withdrawn from their programme or have completed their programme, as long as the complaint is made within 3 months of the date of their withdrawal/completion or within 3 months of the date of the event(s) giving rise to the complaint – whichever is the earlier date.

3.3

Complaints should be made as early as possible. Students should be aware that any lengthy delay may limit the way in which the University can investigate the complaint or the University’s ability to put things right.

3.4

The University will not normally consider complaints received more than 3 months after the event(s), giving rise to the complaint, first arose, unless the complainant shows there to be a compelling reason why the complaint has been submitted late.

3.5

If a complaint is not received within the time limits stipulated, the complaint will normally be treated as not eligible for consideration on the basis it is ‘out of time’, unless the complainant shows there to be a compelling reason for not having submitted the complaint within the time limits. Where it is decided that a complaint is not eligible for consideration, the complainant will be advised of this outcome by letter, and will be informed of their right to request a final review of the outcome under the Final Review Regulations

3.6

The University may deem part of the complaint to be not eligible for consideration relating to any issues of complaint which had arisen more than 3 months before the complaint was submitted, but proceed to deal with any remaining issues of complaint in accordance with this Procedure.

4.  What is a Student Complaint?

A complaint is defined as an expression of dissatisfaction by one or more students about action or lack of action by the University, or about the standard of service provided by or on behalf of the University.

This Procedure applies to the following situations which are listed for illustrative purposes only and not meant as an exhaustive list of possible student complaints:

  1. complaints arising from a failure by the University to meet its obligations, such as those outlined within the Academic Regulations and student handbooks;
  2. complaints about the delivery of a programme, teaching or administration (including supervision arrangements);
  3. complaints about the facilities, learning resources or services provided by the University.

5.  Student Complaints Not Covered by Procedures

       Which Student Complaints will not be dealt with under these Procedures?

5.1

Appeals against academic assessment and progress decisions. These are dealt with under the Academic Appeals Regulations.

5.2

Complaints which question ‘academic judgement’. The experience and knowledge of a student, the student’s performance and whether he/she has reached the required academic standard, and an awareness of best practice in higher education are combined to allow an examiner to make an academic judgement on the ability of a student. Academic judgement is the decision made by academic staff on the quality of academic work or the criteria being applied to mark work (rather than the administrative marking process). Complaints or Appeals which question this academic judgement shall not be considered.

5.3

Complaints of harassment, bullying and discrimination which fall within the University’s Dignity at Work and Study (Combating Harassment) Policy. In such cases, students are encouraged to seek advice from one of the University’s trained Harassment Advisers.

5.4

Complaints arising from decisions made under specific University regulations such as: 

Fitness to Practise;

Disciplinary Regulations;

Car Parking Regulations;

Library Regulations;

Regulations for the use of computing, networking and related facilities.

Students are referred to the review / appeals procedures of the respective regulations. 

5.5

Anonymous complaints. Staff who receive anonymous complaints will be expected to use their discretion and judgement as to how to handle such complaints. However, any member of staff who is unsure as to how he/she should deal with an anonymous complaint should refer it to his/her Head of College in the first instance or to the Academic Services nominee. Due to the nature of the complaint, it will not be possible to provide a response to the anonymous complainant.

5.6

For candidates studying under collaborative arrangements, complaints shall normally be through the partner institution’s complaints procedure in the first instance where the complaint relates to the partner institution. 

5.7

Complaints against student elected officials, other students or life members of the Students’ Union will be referred to the Chief Executive of the Students’ Union and/or the Disciplinary Committee, and student complaints made against Students’ Union staff members are referred directly to the Students’ Union, telephone number: 01792 295 484.

5.8

Complaints relating to admission applications and queries. Please refer to the Admissions Complaints and Appeal Procedures.

6.   Procedure for Dealing with a Student Complaint

The University believes that complaints should be resolved as expeditiously as possible. For this reason, the Procedure contains both informal and formal stages of the complaint process. At each stage of the process, the person to whom the complaint has been referred shall, if it is upheld, wholly or in part, apply such remedies as are within their powers. If they consider that the remedy is outside their powers, they shall refer the matter to the appropriate authority/person.

6.1 Stage One: Informal Resolution

It is anticipated that the majority of 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.

If possible, the student should first raise their complaint, either orally or in writing, with the individual who is the subject of the complaint. Alternatively, the student may wish to discuss their complaint with the relevant Head of Department, Programme Director or Personal Tutor.

Informal complaints should be raised by the student as early as possible and within 3 months of the date of the event(s) giving rise to the complaint.

If a complaint is of a general rather than a specific nature, it may be more appropriate for the student to ask the relevant student representative to raise it at the Student-Staff Forum or other College Committee.

The University expects that attempts will be made to resolve the informal complaint, and the student to be notified verbally or in writing of the outcome, wherever practicable, within 21 days of the receipt of the informal complaint. Mediation is also available to the parties - See Section 6.2.1 for details.

If the student is dissatisfied with the outcome of their informal complaint, they may escalate the complaint to Stage Two (the Formal Stage) of the Procedure within 21 days of the date of the notification of the outcome of their informal complaint (see Section 6.2).

6.2 Stage Two: Formal Written Complaint to Head of College or relevant authority (via Academic Services)

If the complainant is unable to resolve their concerns informally (in accordance with Stage One above) or they feel unable to approach the relevant individual(s) directly, they should submit a written complaint to Academic Services ‘Complaints Nominee’ within the following timescales:

  • within 21 days of the date of the response to the complainant’s informal complaint (if applicable), or
  • (where no informal complaint had been submitted) within 3 months of the date of the event(s) giving rise to the complaint.
    If a complaint is not received within the time limits stipulated, the complaint will normally be treated as not eligible for consideration on the basis it is ‘out of time’, unless the complainant shows there to be a compelling reason for not having submitted the complaint within the time limits (see also Section 3).

If the complainant is unsure about the procedures, they may seek advice from Academic Services or Students’ Union Advice Centre

The written complaint should set out the following:

  • the nature of the complaint – this should be brief and to the point, referring to any specific events;
  • any informal steps already taken to include the names of any staff involved and the outcomes;
  • a statement as to why the complainant remains dissatisfied and, without prejudice to any formal remedy which might be determined, the resolution/ outcome they are seeking;
  • copies of any documents/ correspondence which are relevant to, or support, the complaint.

Any complaints submitted directly to the authority to which the complaint relates should be initially copied to Academic Services nominee.

The Academic Services nominee (referred to below as “the nominee”) will confirm in writing safe receipt of the complaint within 5 days of their receipt of the complaint. The nominee may ask the complainant to clarify and/or provide any further information in support of his/her complaint. The nominee will not however investigate or assess the complaint.

6.2.1 Mediation/ Alternative Dispute Resolution

Following receipt of the complaint and receipt of any further information or clarification from the complainant, the nominee may, at their discretion and with the agreement of the complainant and an appropriate representative from the College or Department (referred to below as “the representative”) nominated by the Head of the College/Department, refer the parties to mediation/ alternative dispute resolution.

In such circumstances the Stage 2 Complaint will be put on hold (and the nominee will take no further action) whilst the mediation/ alternative dispute resolution takes place.

Where the parties are referred to mediation, a copy of the written complaint will only be disclosed to the representative with the mediator’s prior agreement. If the issue(s) raised through the complaint is resolved through mediation, the mediator will assist the parties to draft a written agreement that will be signed by both parties.

In the event that no mutually acceptable solution is reached through the mediation/ alternative dispute resolution process, the nominee will process the complaint under the Stage 2 Complaint Procedures after having received from the complainant, by a prescribed deadline, written permission to do so.

6.2.2 Formal Investigation by relevant Head of College/Department

If it is determined by the nominee that mediation / alternative dispute resolution is not appropriate or this is attempted but no mutually acceptable solution is reached, the nominee will (unless 6.2.3 below is followed) forward the complaint to the relevant authority to which the complaint relates, namely to:

  • The Head of College (if it relates to an academic matter) or, if the Head of College is the subject of the complaint, a Chair of the Academic Regulations and Cases Board (or nominee); or
  • The Head of the Professional Services Department concerned, e.g. the Director of Information Services and Systems etc. or if the Head of the Professional Services Department is the subject of the complaint, the Registrar or their nominee;
    The relevant authority (or their representative) shall investigate the complaint and may gather further evidence from relevant persons at their discretion.

If the investigation involves a face to face meeting between the Head of College/Department or representative and the complainant, and/or the person against whom the complaint has been made, the latter two shall both be entitled to be accompanied by a friend or colleague (who is a member of the University and has no material interest in the complaint), or a Students’ Union representative.

At the conclusion of the investigation and following a review of the evidence received, the Head of College/Department (or representative) shall provide a decision on the complaint, to include either:

Upholding the complaint, in full or in part (and confirming any action to be taken accordingly); or

Dismissing the complaint where it is found to be unsubstantiated.

The representative shall notify the complainant in writing of their decision normally within 20 working days of the receipt of the complaint by the College/Department. If it should prove impracticable to respond fully within 20 working days, the complainant shall be informed in writing of the timescale for the receipt of a full response.

Where the complaint is dismissed, the complainant shall be provided with full reasons for the decision and (unless there are compelling reasons for any documents or communications to remain confidential) copies of relevant documentation considered. The Head of College/Department or representative’s decision will represent the formal outcome of the Complaint Procedure. The complainant will be informed of their right to request a final review of the outcome of the complaint procedure under the Final Review Procedure.

The Head of College/Department or representative shall provide a copy of his/her written response to the student’s Stage 2 complaint to Academic Services (via the nominee).

6.2.3 Formal Investigation by a Senior University Officer

If it is considered by the nominee that the issues raised in the complaint relate to several different Colleges/Departments, are of an extremely serious nature or are of relevance to the institutional as a whole, the nominee may, at their discretion, refer such complaint to a senior officer of the University (e.g. the Registrar, a Pro-Vice-Chancellor, the Chair of the Academic Regulations and Cases Board (or nominee)).

In such cases, the senior officer shall arrange to investigate and determine the complaint in accordance with the procedures outlined under 6.2.2 in place of the Head of College/Department. A member of Academic Services may assist the senior officer with their investigation and determination of the complaint.

7.   Final Reviews

For final reviews of the outcome of the Complaint Procedure, students are referred to the University’s Final Review Procedure.

8.   Monitoring Of Student Complaints

Academic Services will advise a Pro-Vice Chancellor or the Registrar of complaints against members of staff which are upheld. The Pro-Vice Chancellor / Registrar may refer the outcome of such cases to the relevant Head of College, line manager and/or Human Resources if they consider that disciplinary action may be required in accordance with the Staff Discipline Procedures.

Heads of Colleges/Departments will be responsible for implementing, or recommending to the appropriate authority, any changes to academic provision, systems or procedures resulting from the outcome of a complaint.

Academic Services shall monitor all complaints. The Academic Regulations and Cases Board shall receive annually from Academic Services a report on the outcome of the monitoring processes. It shall be the responsibility of the Academic Regulations and Cases Board to monitor the data and make recommendations as appropriate.

It shall also be the responsibility of the Academic Regulations and Cases Board to review the Regulations for complaints and their effectiveness and make recommendations for changes, where appropriate, to be considered by Senate.