Student complaints

Procedure for dealing with comments, suggestions and complaints from students 

1. Overview 

1.1 The College welcomes comments and suggestions from students about any aspect of College provision. Students wishing to make a suggestion or comment about the College's provision, either academic or non-academic, can do so informally by contacting the person in charge of the relevant area (see Appendix 2) or, where it seems appropriate, by raising the matter with the Senior Tutor, their Director of Studies or a Tutor. 

1.2 Occasionally, however, students may wish to make a complaint about College provision. The College subscribes to the guidelines agreed by the Senior Tutors' Committee for the handling of student complaints, and this document sets out the procedure for making a complaint to the College. It is in four parts: informal procedure, formal complaints procedure, guidance on matters falling outside the complaints procedure or for which there is supplementary provision, and monitoring and review provisions.

1.3 The College recognises that it has a duty to provide fair and objective procedures for examining and resolving complaints, and to ensure that its procedures are free from partiality arising from personal or institutional conflict of interest or other sources of bias. No student will be disadvantaged by having raised a complaint in good faith, even if it is not upheld, but the College expects that students will not make frivolous, vexatious or malicious complaints. Where a complaint is against a person, It must be recognised that the rights of the complainant and the rights of the person complained against are equally important. Every effort will be made to ensure that both parties are treated with equal fairness and dignity. 

1.4 The College anticipates that complaints will normally be dealt with informally in the first instance. Students with a complaint should seek to bring it to the attention of the College using the procedure outlined here as soon as possible following the occurrence of a problem and ideally within one calendar month. Many complaints can be dealt with quickly and effectively in this manner, without recourse to formal procedure. The College's procedures have been developed with this in mind. 

1.5 Every attempt will be made to maintain the confidentiality of a complainant. However, where a complaint is of a personal nature against an individual, it is likely that the complainant's identity would have to be revealed at some stage in all but the most exceptional cases in order for there to be a fair investigation. The College will endeavour to inform an individual complainant of the extent to which his or her identity is likely to be revealed at each stage of the procedure. To assist in the process of auditing the quality of its services and responsiveness to student comments, suggestions and complaints, the College will monitor complaints. The College undertakes to respect the confidentiality of complainants in this exercise; they will be consulted before their identity is divulged to any interested party. 

1.7 A student may of course wish to complain about a matter that is not within the control of the College but within that of another institution, e.g. the University or another College. The University has established a student complaints procedure that will cover Faculties, Departments, and other University institutions, and Colleges have established written procedures. In this case the first thing to do will be to identify the appropriate point of contact within the Faculty, Department or College. You may either contact that person directly or ask the Senior Tutor of St Catharine's College, your Director of Studies, or a Tutor to take up the matter on your behalf. The College has a responsibility to help students identify mechanisms and to offer appropriate assistance in making a complaint within the University. If it is unclear to you where responsibility for the matter lies you may seek advice from any of the persons listed in Appendix 1. 

1.8 Complaints relating to the behaviour of contractors and others working for the College should not be taken up directly with the individual concerned but should be made either by the student herself or himself or through the Senior Tutor or a Tutor to the College Office responsible for the contract (generally the Bursar's Office). 

1.9 Complainants will be invited at the outset to indicate the form of remedy they are seeking, without prejudice to the final remedy determined. Where a complaint is upheld, appropriate remedies may include one or more of the following: 

  1. A written and/or verbal explanation and/or apology; 
  2. A change in practice or policy; 
  3. Financial compensation; 
  4. Disciplinary or other appropriate action against students, staff or Fellows. 

1.10 If she or he wishes, a student may seek advice from a person of her or his choosing, when considering making a complaint or at any stage of the procedure. Persons from whom advice may be sought include (but are not limited to) those set out in Appendix 1. A complainant shall also be entitled to be accompanied by another person of his or her choosing at any interview or meeting during any stage of the procedure. During the informal stage, both the complainant and any person accompanying her or him will be expected to respect the informal nature of that stage of the procedure. 

2. Informal procedure 

2.1 Stage one: A student who experiences a problem with any aspect of College provision should where possible first raise the matter with the individual who has handled the matter or the person responsible for the area to which the complaint relates, either directly or, if preferred, through his or her Director of Studies or a Tutor. Complaints should be dealt with promptly (normally within 7 days) and reasons will be given for any delay. 

2.2 Stage two: In cases where a student feels that the nature of the complaint is too serious to be dealt with informally by herself or himself or through his or her Director of Studies or a Tutor, or where, after the relevant Head of Department has been approached, a satisfactory conclusion has not been reached, a complaint should be made in writing to the Complaints Officer (who shall normally be the Senior Tutor). The written complaint should if possible comply with Appendix 3, although this is not essential in the informal procedure. 

2.3 In some cases the first stage of the informal procedure may already involve the Senior Tutor as Head of Department. Should the complaint remain unresolved at the end of that stage, or in the event that a complaint is against the Senior Tutor, the complaint should be sent to the Master, who will appoint another Senior Member of the College to act as Complaints Officer. 

2.4 The Complaints Officer will investigate the matter as soon as possible. If the written complaint does not comply with Appendix 3, the Complaints Officer will after an initial interview with the complainant (who shall be entitled to be accompanied by another person of her or his choosing), ask her or him to amplify it as necessary, in particular so as properly to record in writing the nature of the complaint and the remedy sought. The Complaints Officer will also invite a written statement from the person or persons complained against. An initial response to any complaint can be expected within 7 days of its receipt, and a considered response to the complaint, in writing giving reasons for the decision, and setting out the details of any remedy, should be received within three weeks. Any subsequent remedy will be implemented with the minimum of delay. 

3. Formal complaints procedure 

3.1 It is hoped that very few complaints would remain unresolved after the informal stage. However should this be the case, the complainant can request that the Complaints Officer refers the matter to the Master; such request should be made in writing. If the written complaint provided at the informal stage did not comply with Appendix 3, the complainant must now also provide a written complaint that does so. 

3.2 The Master will ask the Governing Body to appoint a Student Complaints Committee to undertake an independent assessment of the case and come to a conclusion on the matter. The Committee shall consist of the Master and either two Fellows, or one Fellow and one junior member of the College (who shall normally be the President of the JCR or the MCR) it being up to the complainant to decide whether or not she or he wishes there to be student representation on the Committee. No person who has had, or may have had, any personal involvement in the matter to which the complaint relates shall be a member of the Student Complaints Committee. In the event that the Master is thus debarred from acting, his place on the Committee shall be taken by a Fellow chosen by the Governing Body; in the event that the President of the JCR or the MCR is debarred from acting, her or his place shall be taken by another junior member chosen by the Governing Body. 

3.3 The timetable to be adopted for the formal procedure, including the date(s) of the Committee's meeting(s), shall be determined by the Committee; however, it is the intention that the Committee shall give its decision as soon as practicable, but in any event within four Full Term weeks of the date when the matter was first referred to the Master under this procedure. 

3.4 The Master (or his deputy on the Committee) shall write to the complainant informing her or him of the composition of the Committee and the date on which it is to meet, and soliciting any further submissions in writing that the complainant may wish to make. The Master (or his deputy) shall at the same time write to any person or persons against whom the complaint is made, informing them of the complaint which has been made, of the composition of the Committee and the date on which it is to meet, and inviting them to make submissions in writing for the Committee to consider. The complainant and any person or persons against whom the complaint is made shall have the right to challenge the appointment of any person as a member of the Committee. The Governing Body shall consider any such challenge and may remove and replace the Committee member concerned if they think it appropriate to do so. 

3.5 The Student Complaints Committee shall receive a copy of all documentation relating to the informal stage of the complaints procedure, any written complaint provided under paragraph 3.1 and any further submissions in writing provided pursuant to paragraph 3.4. Copies of all written submissions and other paperwork relating to the complaint shall also be sent both to the complainant and to any person complained against at least 7 days before the meeting of the Committee. No documents will be taken into consideration as evidence, which are not made available to both the complainant and any person complained against. 

3.6 Both the complainant and any person against whom the complaint is made shall have the right to attend in person at the meeting of the Committee in order to make oral submissions, although the Committee's deliberations, following hearing of the submissions, shall be held in private. The complainant and any person against whom the complaint is made shall, if attending in person, be entitled to be accompanied by another person of her/his choosing: this might be e.g. a Director of Studies, a Tutor or other senior member, a student including one of the officers of the JCR or MCR , an officer of CUSU or the Graduate Union, or any other person. The Committee may require the attendance of, and hear evidence from, any other person or persons as it thinks fit. The procedure to be adopted at the meeting shall be determined by the Committee. 

3.7 The Committee shall come to a decision as soon as possible after the hearing of the case, and shall, as soon as practicable, but in any event within four Full Term weeks of the date when the matter was first referred to the Master under this procedure, give to the complainant and to any person or persons against whom the complaint is made a full written statement of its response to the complaint, giving reasons for its decision, and setting out the details of any remedy. Any such remedy shall be implemented with the minimum of delay. 

4. External Review 

4.1 Should a complainant or the person complained against not be satisfied with the decision made by the Student Complaints Committee under the formal procedure, he or she may appeal to an independent individual (the Expert). The Expert shall be appointed jointly by the College and the complainant, or (in the absence of agreement as to such appointment within 7 days after the first nomination of a proposed Expert by either the College or the complainant to the other) by the chair for the time being of the Colleges' Standing Committee, on application to the said chair by either the College or the complainant. 

4.2 The Expert shall act as an expert and not as an arbitrator and his or her decision shall be final and binding on the relevant parties. The Expert shall determine his or her own procedure, provided that the complainant and the person subject to the complaint shall each be allowed a full and fair opportunity to make representations and to comment on any relevant evidence. The Expert shall form his or her own judgment of the merits of the complaint after full and careful review of all available evidence and in the light of the representations made by the parties. The Expert shall be required to provide to the relevant parties the reasons for his or her determination. The Expert shall have the power to confirm, amend or rescind the original decision. 

4.3 The costs of the Expert and, if appropriate, of the said chair, shall be borne by the College. Each party shall bear his or her own costs. 

4.4 The College Statutes do not provide for appeals by students to the Visitor, who is the Lord Chancellor. 

5. Matters falling outside the Complaints procedure 

5.1 College Discipline 

College Statute XXIII deals with the procedure relating to College discipline, including decisions to require students to go out of residence either temporarily or permanently. 

Students should be aware that a separate procedure exists is for appealing to the University in a case where a student feels that he or she has been disadvantaged or unfairly classified in a University examination (a copy of this document is attached). 

5.2 Bullying and Harassment 

Students with a complaint relating to harassment of any kind can find additional information in the College's Policy and Guidance on Bullying and Harassment. This document contains an agreed process for dealing with such issues at both an informal and (if necessary) a formal stage. Only if this process fails to produce a resolution satisfactory to all parties involved would the process itself be potentially subject to challenge under the Student Complaints Policy.

5.3 Criminal offences 

Where a complaint includes an allegation that an offence has been committed of a criminal nature it may of course be reported by the complainant to the police; there may be circumstances where it would be better for the matter to be handled by the police rather than through these procedures. In so far as there is no conflict of interest the College will seek to offer advice and support in such cases, and the complainant may wish to seek legal advice. In cases of physical assault, please see the College's Policy and Guidance on Harassment. 

5.4 Matters of College Policy 

Complaints on matters of College policy should be directed to the appropriate College committee (see Appendix 4) through student representatives. These may be contacted through the JCR and/or the MCR. The College Consultative Committee has a particular function in facilitating discussion of matters of interest to students: the dates of its meetings are listed in the College Calendar. 

6. Monitoring and review 

6.1 The Complaints Officer shall keep a record of all complaints reported to him or her, including the nature of the complaint; the ethnic origin/identity and gender given by the complainant; the procedure followed in dealing with the complaint; the time taken to resolve the complaint; and the outcome of the complaint. 

6.2 The Complaints Officer shall report to a meeting of the Governing Body at the beginning of each academic year in respect of the complaints received during the previous academic year. The report shall in all cases observe the principle of confidentiality: in particular, neither the complainants, nor any persons complained of shall be identified in the report. 

6.3 The Governing Body, in conjunction with student representatives shall, at the beginning of each academic year, review: 

  1. The adequacy of information, advice, guidance and support for students on making complaints; 
  2. The adequacy of understanding amongst Fellows, staff and students of the grounds on which a complaint might arise; 
  3. Action which may usefully be taken to prevent the recurrence of a situation which led to a successful complaint. 

APPENDIX 1: Persons from whom help may be sought 

Help and advice may be sought from anyone; listed below are those contacts with a specific role to assist students. 

For undergraduates:

  • Senior Tutor 
  • Director of Studies (for any matter, but especially those relating to supervision or other academic provision) 
  • Tutor (for any matters) 
  • Chaplain 
  • Dean 
  • JCR President, Welfare Officers, Equal Opportunities Officer 
  • CUSU Academic Affairs Officer, Welfare Officer 

For graduate students: 

  • Graduate Tutors 
  • Senior Tutor 
  • Chaplain 
  • Dean 
  • Supervisor 
  • Secretary of the Degree Committee or other Departmental Graduate Adviser 
  • Board of Graduate Studies 
  • MCR Officers 
  • Graduate Union 

APPENDIX 2: Heads of Departments/Services 

Academic

Senior Tutor

 

Director of Studies

Accommodation

Senior Tutor

 

Junior Bursar

Accounts Department

Chief Clerk

 

Senior Bursar

 

Senior Tutor/Financial Tutor (for mattters relating to college bills

Admissions

Admissions Tutor

Alumni/Development Office

Development Director

 

Master

Catering

Catering & Conference Manager

 

Junior Bursar

Cleaning

Domestic Supervisor

 

Junior Bursar

College Computing

Computer Officer

 

Senior Bursar

Conference

Catering & Conference Manager

 

Junior Bursar

Data Protection

Data Protection Officer (Senior Bursar)

Gardens

Head Gardener

 

Junior Bursar

Health & Safety

Junior Bursar

Library

Librarian

 

Fellow Librarian

JCR

JCR President

 

JCR Treasurer

MCR

MCR Co-Presidents

Maintenance

Clerk of Works

 

Junior Bursar

Porters/Security

Head Porter

 

Junior Bursar

Supervisions

Director of Studies

 

Senior Tutor

Surgery

College Nurse

 

Senior Tutor

Tutorial Office

Senior Tutor

Tutorial Adviser

Senior Tutor

APPENDIX 3: The Statement of Complaint 

The statement of complaint should include the following: 

  1. Description of what has happened to give rise to the complaint. This should include any dates, times and details the complainant has. 
  2. The name(s) of the person(s) against whom the complaint has been made. 
  3. The names of any witnesses who will corroborate the complaint made. A signed note should be enclosed from each of them giving consent to his or her name being given. 
  4. Any documentary evidence. If there are more than ten pages, a list of contents should be provided and the pages should be numbered. (Failure to do this will not invalidate a complaint however.) 
  5. An outline of what action the complainant would like to be taken or what remedy he or she is seeking. 
  6. The name of any person who has agreed to accompany or support or represent the complainant at any meeting or hearing. 

APPENDIX 4: List of College Committees with Student Representatives 

Governing Body - the executive body of the College 

  • four junior members attend for Unreserved Business 
  • College Consultative Committee 
  • Computing Committee 
  • Charitable Donations Committee