Information for staff

  • The following guidance and information should help you when dealing with complaints. If you need further advice and support, please contact Student Disputes

    Guidance for staff on the Student Complaint Procedure

  • It is almost certain that, at some point during your time at Brookes, a student (or some other person) will express to you their concern about some aspect of the University's facilities or services, or about the behaviour of a member of staff, or even about some aspect of your performance or behaviour. They may do so in conversation, in the form of a letter, or by email (which should be treated exactly the same as a letter). In the increasingly litigious climate in higher education, it is important that you respond to all such concerns appropriately and in accordance with the various relevant University procedures. In particular, it is important that you do not comment on the accuracy or the merits of any of the issues raised unless you are sure that you are the person who should be responding on behalf of the University.

    Please note the following:

    a)   there are some issues which cannot be dealt with through the Student Complaint Procedure; see exclusions in the Complaints Procedure. For example, complaints from former students of the University whose complaint refers to an act or omission which took place after their enrolment has ended. Such issues should be referred to the line manager of the staff member concerned.

    b)   the Student Complaint Procedure only applies to circumstances that occurred to a student while they were enrolled at Oxford Brookes.

    c)   Although a student may obtain advice and guidance relating to an issue, a complaint will normally only be processed if submitted directly by the student and not by someone acting on their behalf. However, if the student feels representation is necessary they may apply for this by writing to the Student Disputes Officer including:

    • why it will be necessary
    • who will represent the student and
    • giving permission for the University to discuss all confidential matters with the representative

    The University distinguishes between a ‘Concern’:

    • an opportunity for a student to bring a matter that they are unhappy about to the attention of the University

    and a ‘Complaint’:

    • a formal statement by a student to which the University must respond and which the student has the right to pursue if they are not satisfied with that response.

    Any issue raised with the University, either orally in writing, will be treated as a concern. If a Complaints and Appeals Form is submitted it will be considered as a complaint. It is hoped that as many issues as possible will be resolved at the informal stage of a concern, through appropriate action being taken by University staff to address and, if appropriate, rectify a situation as raised by a student. Whether at the concern or complaint stage, the University’s intention in establishing this procedure is to seek an appropriate resolution that, as far as possible in relation to the nature of the individual concern or complaint, is acceptable to both parties. In order to minimise anxiety for all parties the University will respond flexibly to resolve situations at the concern stage.

    If you are unsure what advice to give to a student about how they can raise an issue , you can either seek advice yourself from the Student Disputes Officer or you can refer the student directly to that person. In addition, students can receive confidential advice independent of the University from the Brookes Union Advice Service.

    Any student who wishes to raise a complaint should feel able to do so without fear of subsequent victimisation. Raising a vexatious concern or complaint is a breach of the Student Conduct Regulations and may lead to disciplinary action.

    Though not expected, submitting a complaint could affect the relationship between the person making the complaint and the person whose actions are being complained about. Both parties should continue working in a professional way to allow the complaint to be dealt with through the formal procedures. In exceptional circumstances, the student may write to the Student Disputes Officer to request alternative working arrangements. The Pro Vice-Chancellor, Dean of Faculty or Director will consider a complainant’s request for alternative working arrangements while the complaint is being investigated and will respond to the student.

    If a student raises a concern with you and you are an appropriate person to respond, do so. This may involve you in a dialogue with the student, which it would be reasonable to continue as long as it appears to be making progress towards resolving the issue relatively informally. However, if this dialogue does not resolve the issue relatively quickly, the student needs to be told that there is nothing further that will be achieved through the informal mechanisms and they must either accept the situation or formalise their concern into a student complaint. In such circumstances you should you should draw the student's attention to the Student Complaint Procedure and make it clear that you will not respond further to the student on this issue while it remains a concern rather than a complaint.

    The University respects the right to confidentiality. If a student would like a concern to remain confidential, they need to inform the person they are raising this concern with. The matter may need to be discussed between staff in order to investigate issues further, so if confidentiality is to be maintained it may not be possible to pursue the matter. If a student chooses not to allow issues to be discussed with the person who is subject of the concern, no formal action can be taken in respect of this concern.

    All staff and students who become aware of any of the issues involved in a formal complaint are required to keep this information confidential except where it is necessary to progress, investigate or respond to the complaint. Failure to do so may result in formal disciplinary action being taken through the Student or Staff Disciplinary Procedure.

    If a student raises an issue that appears to involve harassment or bullying by a member of staff or another student, you should contact a Student Disputes Officer urgently.

    If it is not appropriate for you to respond to a student concern that has been raised orally or in writing, you should direct the student to an appropriate member of staff or to a Student Disputes Officer. You should inform the student who you have passed the concern to. In all cases, if the concern appears to be significant, you should draw the student's attention to the Student Complaint Procedure (PDF) and associated guidance notes.

    You are far less likely to receive a Complaints and Appeals Form (PDF) than a concern and, if you do receive a Complaints and Appeals Form, it should only come from a Student Disputes Officer and only if they believe that you are the appropriate person to respond to the complaint. If you receive a Complaints and Appeals Form from anyone else, or if you believe that you are not the appropriate person to respond to the complaint set out in the form, raise the issue immediately with a Student Disputes Officer.

    Please carry out appropriate investigations and consult colleagues as necessary before reaching your own conclusions. The Student Disputes Officer will give you a deadline to respond. If you are not able to respond within the timeframe, you should inform the Student Disputes Officer, before the deadline and in writing, of the reasons for the delay and the date by which you anticipate that you will be able to respond. This date should not be more than 40 working days after the date that the Complaints and Appeals Form was submitted. You should note that if the student does not receive any response at all from you within 20 working days of when the Complaints and Appeals Form was submitted, they are entitled to refer the complaint to the next level in the procedure.

    At the conclusion of your investigation, you will have to decide a number of things:  

    a)  the factual findings of your investigations, ie for each of the issues that the student raised, you will need to decide whether you found them to be well-founded, justified, to be disproved, or that there was an absence, or conflict, of evidence;

    b) if you found at least part of their complaint to be justified, any remedy that you wish to recommend (eg that an examination committee allows them to resubmit a piece of work as if for the first time, or that the Faculty waive some proportion of their fees, past or future);

    c) any recommendations that you wish to make to prevent the same sort of complaint arising in the future, either relating to procedures or practices within your Faculty or Directorate or to those within another Faculty or Directorate.

    Your response should include a summary of your findings and the outcome and/or recommendations. The extent to which you inform the student of the nature and/or detail of will depend on the circumstances of the complaint and what the student was seeking from it.

    While the details of what you recommend will depend on the circumstances of the specific case, you are strongly advised always to find out at least informally from the relevant staff whether or not a particular recommendation for remedy is likely to be manageable (e.g. will it align with any applicable external regulations, whether there is another run of the module etc) before responding to the student.

    Before recommending either any monetary payment or a fee waiver of any kind, you should discuss the issue with the Student Disputes Officer to ensure that the specific circumstances of the case fall within the overall University policy for such remedies. 

    You may receive Complaints directly, i.e. when a student has not followed procedure and feels it would have a greater effect to contact a senior member of staff. You will need to explain to the student that there are official procedures to follow and that all students must adhere to these, regardless of the nature of their complaint. You can let them know that you are not the appropriate person to deal with the complaint. Please refer all such letters directly to the Student Disputes Officer, informing the complainant that this is what you have done, as you are required to do by the Student Complaint Procedure.

    It is particularly important that you do not allow yourself to be drawn into commenting on particular circumstances or responding to such approaches before the appropriate member of staff has had an opportunity to respond.

    You are also more likely than most staff to receive letters of complaint from people associated with students, either directly or because they have been referred to you. When responding you will need to bear in mind the importance that the University places on the direct relationship it has with each student, as well as the provisions of the Data Protection Act referred to earlier.

    You should also remember that, at any point, the relevant student can (and, we would hope, will) submit a formal complaint. Thus, while you can explain as much as you wish about the University's and your Faculty or Directorate's general policies and practices in the area of concern, you should avoid making any comment on the specific issues raised and the primary goal of your response should be to try and ensure that the student involved takes responsibility for progressing their own complaint through the system (if indeed the student concerned actually has any complaints).

    Throughout the progress of a complaint the Student Disputes Officer may contact you about a particular case and the relationship between the complainant and those complained of. It will be your responsibility to consider whether it is appropriate to change the normal working arrangements while a complaint is being investigated and, if so, what alternative arrangements to introduce.

    If there is anything about this guidance information that is unclear or if there is anything that you think is missing, please let us know by emailing the Student Disputes Officer (studentdisputes@brookes.ac.uk)

  • Responsibilities of specific staff

    The following staff will normally be involved in the Student Complaint Procedure:

    • Academic Registrar
    • Student Disputes Officer
    • Senior staff members (Pro Vice-Chancellor Deans and Associate Deans, Heads of Departments, Directors and Deputy Directors (or equivalent), Principal Lecturers, Heads of Administration and Support Services

    For details of your role, please refer to the Student Complaint Procedure.

    Additional information and useful documents