Accessibility statement

Complaints procedure

Make a complaint

This outlines the complaints procedure for students and applicants.

1. Introduction

1.1 The University of York is committed to offering all our students an outstanding and valuable University experience and to providing excellent academic and support services. However, we recognise that sometimes things go wrong and when this happens we encourage students to bring their concerns to our attention. 

1.2 We are committed to investigating and resolving concerns and complaints fairly, quickly and courteously using this procedure, which is based on the Office for the Independent Adjudicator’s Good Practice Framework and the Quality Assurance Agency’s UK Quality Code, Advice and Guidance: Concerns, Complaints and Appeals. Where a mistake has been made, we will apologise, rectify the mistake and take reasonable steps to ensure it does not happen again.

1.3 Most issues and complaints can be resolved informally and you are encouraged to raise concerns or give feedback as early as possible to support a successful early resolution. 

1.4 A useful reference to the rights and responsibilities of the University and of students can be found in our community declaration, Together York

2. What is this procedure for?

Areas covered by this procedure

2.1 For the purposes of this procedure a complaint is defined as an expression of dissatisfaction by one or more students about a certain action or lack of action taken by the University or about the standard of service provided by or on behalf of the University.

Examples of matters that would be considered under this procedure include:

  • the quality and standards of a service provided by the University, including learning and teaching provision, advice, resources and facilities
  • the applications process or its outcome
  • failure to apply an administrative or academic process
  • unfair treatment or inappropriate behaviour by a member of staff (where misconduct, as defined by the Staff Disciplinary Procedure, is alleged that identifies an existing University employee, this will be considered under the Procedure for investigating student complaints of University staff misconduct)
  • concerns about the impact of a University policy, even if it has been correctly applied.

Areas not covered by this procedure

2.2 The complaints procedure should not be used to request a review of an academic progress decision, such as an assessment mark, a progression decision such as failing a module or the year, or the calculation of your degree. These matters should be raised through the academic appeals procedure.

2.3 Complaints of staff misconduct (which will be considered under the Procedure for investigating student complaints of University staff misconduct).

2.4 You cannot use either the complaints procedure, or the appeals procedure, to challenge a decision relating to academic judgement. We have adopted the definition of academic judgment used by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator: 

Academic judgment is a judgment that is made about a matter where only the opinion of an academic expert is sufficient. A decision about assessment, a degree classification, fitness to practise, research methodology or course content/outcomes will normally involve academic judgment. The following areas do not involve academic judgment: decisions about the fairness of procedures, whether they have been correctly interpreted, what the facts are, how a provider has communicated with the student, whether an opinion has been expressed outside the area of an academic's competence, the way the evidence has been considered, whether there is evidence of bias or maladministration.

2.5 If you are a student and you want to complain about another student, you should follow our student misconduct procedure.

2.6 If you are a member of the public and you want to complain about a student, you should follow the advice on our community webpage.

2.7 If you are a member of staff who wants to complain or raise a concern about a student that relates to their fitness to study or attend, you should seek advice from the Director of Student Life and Wellbeing.

2.8 If you are employed by the University and you want to submit a grievance about a matter relating to your employment, you should follow the HR procedure.

2.9 If you have concerns about an actual or potential risk, fraud or other illegal or unethical conduct, you should follow the Speak Up (Public Interest Disclosure) procedure.

2.10 If your complaint is about teaching provision or quality of services offered by another institution or a partner organisation that leads to a University of York degree (a validated or franchise programme), you should raise your complaint directly with the host institution. If you exhaust their procedures without resolving your complaint, you may then be able to submit a complaint to the University of York, subject to the arrangements between the University and that organisation, and whether that institution is itself a member of the Office of the Independent Adjudicator’s scheme. In such cases, we will carry out a review of your complaint, rather than launching a full investigation. 

2.11 If you are on a joint or double PhD programme, you should make your complaint to the institution where the matter has arisen. Further information about the exact procedures that apply to your programme can be found in your programme handbook.

2.12 If your complaint relates to a placement, degree apprenticeship, Year in Industry or Year Abroad, the procedure varies according to the particular arrangements in place. You should check your handbook for details and if in doubt, contact your academic department or complaints@york.ac.uk for advice.

2.13 If you are unsure about which procedure to follow, you can contact complaints@york.ac.uk or the YUSU Advice and Support Centre or the Graduate Students’ Association (GSA) for advice.

3. Who can submit a complaint

3.1 A complaint can be submitted by applicants whose complaint relates to the current recruitment cycle, current students (including those on Leave of Absence), students who have left the University within the last three months and students on programmes offered by other institutions that lead to a University of York award, once the partner institution’s complaints procedures have been exhausted. On completing this procedure, applicants (as opposed to enrolled or recent students) are not normally eligible to seek a review of their complaint by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA). However, they should check the position with the OIA, which is independent from the University.

3.2 A complaint may be submitted by a group of students acting collectively, provided that all named individuals have signed up to it, and it is clear that all signatories to the complaint are facing similar circumstances. In order to manage the process effectively, you will be asked to nominate one person to act as representative and main contact, who will be expected to liaise with the others and keep them informed.

3.3 We may refuse to look at a complaint where the party to the complaint (whether student or applicant) has not been able to demonstrate that they were directly affected. 

3.4 Complaints by third parties (ie by individuals or organisations other than the actual complainant) are not normally accepted. However, we may make an exception if a student is deemed incapable of managing their own complaint and we have clear, informed consent in writing from the student to communicate with the third party. Any such exceptions must be agreed by the Academic Registrar or their nominee. There must be clear evidence to demonstrate that the student is incapable of handling the complaint on their own behalf. In such cases students are encouraged to seek support from members of staff from the YUSU Advice and Support team or the Graduate Students’ Association (GSA), who are familiar with the University’s procedures and processes. 

3.5 Anonymous complaints will not normally be considered as this can impede investigation and prevent a resolution, as well as potentially creating unfairness in relation to any allegations made in the complaint against other individuals, such as members of staff. Exceptionally such a complaint may be considered if we accept there is a compelling reason, supported by sufficient evidence, for it to be brought anonymously.

3.6 Frivolous, malicious and/or vexatious complaints will not be accepted. If we consider that a complaint is frivolous, malicious and/or vexatious, this may constitute a disciplinary offence and would be dealt with under the Student Disciplinary Procedure.

4. General principles for investigating complaints

4.1 This procedure has been designed with reference to the Office for the Independent Adjudicator’s Good Practice Framework and the Quality Assurance Agency’s UK Quality Code, Advice and Guidance: Concerns, Complaints and Appeals. In investigating a complaint, we will adhere to the following principles:

  • in the first instance, complaints will be considered as close to the source and as informally as possible
  • complaints will be dealt with in a fair, transparent and timely manner and in line with our Equality and Diversity policy
  • the investigation, and evidence required, will be proportionate to the issues raised
  • students will not be victimised or disadvantaged for bringing a complaint
  • complaints will be monitored and reported on to understand, where possible, the root causes
  • where an investigation identifies problems in our services, we will take steps to prevent any recurrence
  • throughout the process, the focus will be on resolving issues not apportioning blame.

4.2 To give us the opportunity to respond, you should bring your complaint to the attention of the University as soon as possible following the occurrence of the events in question. We will normally only investigate complaints that are:

  • made within 6 months of the event or
  • made within 6 months of the complainant realising they have a reason for complaint, as long as that is not more than 12 months after the event itself and you provide evidence as to why you could not raise the matter sooner. Complaints received more than 12 months after the event will not normally be considered. We may consider complaints made outside this timescale in exceptional circumstances, for example if you experience significant health issues.

4.3 Staff who investigate complaints must not have been involved in the matters leading to the complaint and must be free from actual or perceived conflicts of interest.

4.4 The standard of proof to be applied shall be that used in civil court cases ie on a balance of probabilities.

4.5 We reserve the right to refuse to investigate or to suspend any investigation underway where it becomes aware that police, legal, court or tribunal proceedings have been initiated in relation to the issues raised in the complaint. Similarly, if there are allegations of a criminal offence, we may refer the matter to the police and suspend our own proceedings until the outcome of any police investigation or criminal proceedings are known, other than where we deem it appropriate to act in the interests of the safety and wellbeing of students, staff and third parties, including visitors.

4.6 We may also suspend an investigation on health grounds. Suspending an investigation will ‘stop the clock’ on all timescales outlined in this procedure.

4.7 The investigation will deal with the substance of the core concerns identified.  However, in complex cases the investigator may not be able to provide a detailed response to all the matters raised.

4.8 It is expected that all parties involved will act reasonably, fairly and courteously towards each other and respect the processes. If we consider a concern/complaint, or behaviour associated with it, to be grossly unreasonable, action may be taken as set out in our communications policy. In appropriate cases, disciplinary action may be taken, through the procedure outlined in Regulation 7.

5. Stage 1: informal resolution

5.1 You should normally first raise any issues or concerns with a relevant member of staff in the academic department or professional service concerned.  Many issues can be resolved with an immediate explanation or solution. You should give details of the complaint and any remedy sought. 

5.2 Specific services within the University have particular contact details for submitting feedback or informal complaints:

5.3 You can get advice on informal resolution from the YUSU Advice and Support Centre or the GSA.

5.4 As the matter is considered, it may involve discussions, meetings, giving of more information, explanations, suggested solutions and/or giving an apology where appropriate.

5.5 Consideration may be given at this stage to possible mediation or conciliation, with a view to trying to resolve the matter informally and as soon as possible.

5.6 Staff will look into the issue you raise and contact you about it normally within 10 working days. If, due to the complexities of your complaint, the timescale is likely to exceed this, they will let you know.

5.7 If staff are not able to resolve your concern, you may go on to raise the matter with the relevant Head of Department or the Head of Professional Service.

5.8 If you remain dissatisfied with the outcome, you may submit a formal complaint to the Academic Registrar following the procedure set out in Stage 2.

6. Stage 2: formal complaints procedure

6.1 The Formal Complaints Procedure should be used only where the informal resolution stage has been exhausted, where the complaint relates to the specific actions or inactions by the Head of Department themselves, or where the nature of the complaint is too serious for informal resolution. Advice on this can be sought from complaints@york.ac.uk or from the YUSU Advice and Support Centre or the GSA.

6.2 You should complete the Student formal complaint form (MS Word , 29kb) in enough detail to enable the issue to be properly investigated, providing any relevant evidence for each specific complaint and indicating any remedy sought. The complaints form will be received by the Complaints Officer, who will act as investigator in the case. Where the Complaints Officer is unable to act on a complaint (for instance due to prolonged absence, conflict of interest or the seriousness of the complaint), the Academic Registrar will assign another investigator.

6.3 The investigator will:

  • ensure the matter is considered as soon as reasonably practicable, with acknowledgement of the complaint normally sent within two working days of receipt
  • check with the relevant department that the informal stage has been exhausted; if not, the complaint may be referred back to the relevant academic department or professional service
  • decide whether the complaint should be investigated under the Formal Complaints procedure or whether it would be more appropriately investigated under another procedure, notifying the complainant accordingly.

6.4 You will normally be contacted by the investigator within 10 working days of submitting your complaint. The investigator will let you know the date by which they expect the investigation to be completed. This should normally be within five weeks of the complaint being received. This timescale may vary where complexities arise in the complaint or other factors. Where the timescale becomes extended, you will be kept informed as to progress.

6.5 The investigator(s) may at their discretion seek information from and/or interview you and any other parties identified through their investigation.  They may consider use of a facilitated conversation where they deem it appropriate to understand and/or resolve a complaint.

6.6 If you are required to attend in person at any time as part of the investigation, you have the right to be accompanied by a registered student or employee of the University and/or an employee of the Students’ Union or Graduate Students’ Association (including full-time officers). However, anyone accompanying you cannot speak for you or attend in your place. Legal representation is not normally allowed. 

6.7 After the investigation is completed, you will receive a letter from the Academic Registrar stating the outcome and giving reasons for any decision made and brief details of how it was arrived at.

6.8  If you accept a proposed remedy, it shall be in full and final settlement to resolve the complaint and will be implemented as soon as reasonably practicable. 

6.9  If you remain dissatisfied following the investigation, you may request a review of the decision within 10 working days of the date of the response, providing that your request meets the stated grounds for review (see Stage 3, below).

7. Stage 3: review

7.1 You may request a review of the outcome of the formal complaint investigation by emailing the Academic Registrar at complaints@york.ac.uk within 10 working days of the date of the outcome letter from Stage 2. The Complaints Officer will normally acknowledge receipt of the request within five working days.

7.2 You may request a review of your complaint on the following grounds:

  • if you have new evidence that you were unable to provide, with good reason, during the Stage 2 investigation
  • if you have evidence that Stage 2 of this procedure was not properly followed.

7.3 Your request must set out the grounds for the proposed review and provide the evidence to support it. 

7.4 The Academic Registrar may reject a request for a review if it is received outside the deadline, without good reason for the delay. The Academic Registrar may also reject a request for a review if no evidence or substantive argument is provided.

7.5 Where a review is to be conducted, the Academic Registrar or their nominee will assign the case to an appropriate senior member of staff. This is normally a Dean, Associate Dean, Pro-Vice-Chancellor or Associate Pro-Vice-Chancellor (for academic matters) or a relevant senior professional services lead (for professional service matters). The reviewer will have had no previous involvement in the case.

7.6 The following outcomes are available to the reviewer:

  • to uphold the findings of the stage 2 complaint
  • to overturn the findings of the stage 2 complaint and substitute a new decision
  • to uphold the findings of the stage 2 complaint but offer a different remedy.

7.7 The review stage should normally be completed within five weeks under normal circumstances.  This timescale may vary where complexities arise in the complaint or other factors. Where the timescale becomes extended, you will be kept informed as to progress. In any event, we will endeavour to complete the formal complaints procedure and review within 90 days wherever possible, subject to any forced or requested delays on your part.

7.8 On completion of the review, the Academic Registrar (or their nominee) will send you a letter. Where the decision is that the complaint is not justified a Completion of Procedures letter will be issued (see 8.2). If the complaint is upheld, you may request a Completion of Procedures letter by contacting the Academic Registrar at complaints@york.ac.uk.

8. Next steps

8.1 If you remain dissatisfied after the completion of the University’s complaints procedure, you may apply to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) to seek an independent review of your complaint, subject to its eligibility rules.

8.2 Information about submitting a complaint to the OIA is available at the OIA website and is also detailed in the Completion of Procedures letter (see 7.8 above). Any complaint must be lodged with the OIA within 12 months of the date of the Completion of Procedures letter. You can get advice on this procedure from YUSU or the GSA.

8.3 If the complaint is in relation to any debt or money advice service delivered by the University, you may be able to refer the complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

8.4  If the complaint is in relation to any immigration advice service delivered by the University, you may be able to refer the complaint to the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner.

9. Record-keeping and confidentiality

9.1 We will keep detailed records of the formal complaint submission, investigation and outcome, as well as of any review, for a minimum of 12 months after the complaint is closed. If you apply to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) to investigate your complaint, we will keep your records for a minimum of six months after the OIA has closed its case. Anonymised data will be maintained for reporting purposes.

9.2 Information received during the investigation will normally only be used for addressing the complaint. However, if information is shared with us which we are obliged to share due to the University’s safeguarding, fitness to practise or other legal or professional obligations, we will do so.

9.3 Information received during the investigation will remain confidential to those involved in the process and those who may need to be consulted in order to reach an outcome. No third party should be told any more than is reasonably necessary to obtain the information required from them. Where a complaint is about a member of staff, details will need to be shared with them to give the staff member the right to respond. If a complaint against a member of staff is upheld, you will be advised of this but we will not share specific personal details affecting individual members of staff, particularly when disciplinary action has been taken.

9.4 You are also asked to adhere to an appropriate level of confidentiality until the complaints procedure has concluded.

10. Reporting

10.1 To ensure we can monitor and respond to complaints, anonymised data will be reported annually to Council, University Teaching Committee and the York Graduate Research School Board

11. Help and advice

11.1 If you are considering making a complaint, help and advice about how to do it and where you should send it are available from any of the following: 

For all students:

For graduate students:

For staff:

Departmental undergraduate or graduate student handbooks and, for research students, the Policy on Research Degrees may also help with any problem of a departmental or supervisory nature.

Procedure in effect from 2 January 2020
Updated on 23 November 2020