Page:Making a Complaint about the University
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Making a Complaint about the University

If you wish to complain about any part of your University experience, you have the option of using the complaints procedure to try and get the issue resolved. This covers a wide range of issues; including, the delivery or quality of teaching, issues with any aspect of your course, problems with tutors or supervision, or problems with University services.

In particular, you can complain if you feel a University department or service is not meeting its responsibilities as set out in the University's Our Commitment statement.

There are different University procedures for an Academic Appeal against exam results and complaints of  harassment or bullying.

University Complaints Procedure

Please note: If you are no longer a student at the university of Sheffield, the University is unlikely to consider a complaint if you have not been registered for the relevant programme of study or research for a period of six months or more at the time of making the complaint. 

  • Some difficulties can be resolved quite easily by simply talking to the person involved, for example your personal tutor, supervisor or module leader, or in the case of a university service, the relevant staff member of that service.
  • If you don't feel able to talk directly to the person involved in your complaint, you could speak to the relevant Head of Department or Service instead.
  • If the problem affects a number of students on your course, it might be worth asking your course representative to raise the issue at a Staff/Student Committee.

If you have attempted the informal discussion and are not satisfied with the outcome, you will need to make an informal complaint to the head of department or service. 

Please note: This step must be completed before you can move onto the formal complaint stage, unless the complaint is directly related to the head of department or service themselves, in which case you may proceed straight to the formal complaint.

You should write your complaint on the standard University Complaints Form.

If the issue affects more than one of you, for example, it may be a course issue that affects all the students on the course, you may do it as a group complaint, with one person being the lead whose details go on the form, and then at the end of the form you should list the other people who want to be involved in the complaint by detailing their name, reg no and email.

When your complaint form and evidence are ready you need to submit them by email to the Head of Department or Service. Email is preferable as then you have a record and copy.  Details of Heads of Departments can usually be found on the schools homepage under the staff section on the left hand column. Head of Service details can usually be found using the search bar on the university website, for example, by entering 'head of (service name)'.

Once your complaint form is submitted; you should receive an acknowledgement of your complaint within 5 working days and a full written response within 30 working days. If this is not possible, you should be informed in writing of the progress being made towards the consideration of the complaint.

How to complete the Complaint Form

It is advisable to use the Word version of the complaint form, and type your complaint so that sections can be expanded and changes can be made easily.

Section A: Enter your Personal Details.

Section B: Tick that this is an informal complaint. In the ‘My Case’ section you will need to explain what exactly your complaint is. It is important to be clear and concise. Bullets point the main points to avoid a lengthy complaint, because it is important you get the main points across quickly. 

If appropriate you should set it out with a chronology of events in date order. Depending on the nature of complaint you may find it helpful to include a timeline of events especially if the issue has been going on for some time. Please note: you can attach additional sheets to the document, just refer to them in the main body and ensure you put your name and reg no on any additional sheets.

In the evidence box you need to detail what evidence you are sending. You should include any evidence which you have that relates to the points you have raised, for example, emails exchanged, written records of phone calls, minutes of meetings, assessment feedback, medical or other documentary evidence relating to your complaint.

If you have a lot of evidence, such as emails etc, you should try and organise them in PDF documents to make them more accessible, for example, if you have lots of emails from a tutor you need to use you should put them all into a Word Document and create a PDF and label it so that you can refer to it in the complaint. Alternatively you may wish to put all your evidence into one PDF document and label them as appendices within that.

Section C: Here you need to put details of anyone in the university that you have discussed this issue with so far to try and resolve the issue informally, so it may be a tutor, your supervisor, course or module leader, postgraduate tutor, or a team leader. If there is more than one person, type in their details listing them with numbers.       

In the representative box, you put the details of any representative you are using or the advice centre staff member if we have helped you with your complaint. Once you have completed the complaint form as per these instructions the advice centre is able to offer feedback on one draft version before you submit it. Please note: you may only use the student advice centre representatives name if we have seen and provided feed back on your form before you submit.

The next box asks you to describe any action taken so far. Here you need to explain the discussions you have had with the person mentioned above, what outcomes came from those discussions and why you are not happy with those. If the discussions were via email or phone, please detail those here and include any copies of emails in your evidence.

Section D: Here you need to write the outcome that you wish to resolve the complaint. This could include change of supervisor/tutor, apologies, change of structure of course or assessment or compensation. These are just examples and your desired outcome would be dependent on your particular issue. However it is important to remain realistic and reasonable in your request to give you the best chance at resolving your issue.

Section E: Declaration- You may use an electronic signature or just type your name and date it.

Once you have completed the form, if you would like feedback on it from an academic adviser at the Student Advice Centre please send your form and evidence to advice@sheffield.ac.uk. It will then get allocated to an adviser to look at. Please allow reasonable time for adequate feedback, which would usually be within 5 working days, but at busy times of year this may take longer.

Remember: Keep a copy of your complaint & evidence for your own records.If your evidence is not in English, you will need to provide official translations.

If you are not happy with the outcome of the informal complaint, then you can submit a formal complaint for the University to investigate the matter further. Please note: you cannot submit a formal complaint until you have first done the informal complaint, unless the complaint is about the Head of Department or Service themselves, in which case you can proceed straight to the formal stage.

When the form and evidence are ready you need to submit to the address /email address given on the complaints form.

Once your complaint form is submitted; if the complaint concerns an academic matter, it will be referred to the appropriate Faculty Officer: other matters will be dealt with by a senior member of Professional Services. You should expect an acknowledgement of the complaint within 5 working days, and a full written response within 1 calendar month. 

The department / service involved are invited to respond and then a decision is made, considering both yours and their information. Usually you would also be provided with copies of the departmental comments with the response.

How to complete the Complaint Form

For the formal complaint you should use the same complaint form  as the informal complaint, and the same general guidance applies as given above in the informal complaint section. In addition to this guidance, specific guidance with relation to the formal complaints form:

Section B: Outline the facts of the case. Bullet point them to keep them simple and to the point.

Evidence: You will need to attach; the original complaint form and evidence, the response from head of department/service to the informal complaint and any new evidence you wish to submit.

Sections C: Write details of the person who has responded to your informal complaint.

You will need to explain why you are not satisfied with the outcome of the informal complaint here. Again it is advisable to structure using bullet points; dealing with each point you are not happy with in the response separately.

Section D: Again detail the outcome you would like, but remember to be reasonable and realistic. If the informal complaint gave you some resolution but not all, then you should detail here the additional outcomes you are requesting.

Once you have completed the form, if you would like feedback on it from an academic adviser at the Student Advice Centre please send your form to advice@sheffield.ac.uk with your evidence. It will then get allocated to an adviser to look at. Please allow reasonable time for adequate feedback, which would usually be within 5 working days, but at busy times of year this may take longer.

Once the form and evidence are ready you need to submit it to the address /email address given on the complaints form.

Remember: Keep a copy of your complaint & evidence for your own records. If your evidence is not in English, you will need to provide official translations.

If you are not satisfied with the decision of the formal complaint, you have the right to request a Case Review. The Case Review stage is the last stage of the University’s internal complaint procedure. You may submit a Case Revie Request if your case comes under one of the following grounds:

(i) There was a material procedural irregularity which rendered the process leading to the decision taken in respect of the formal complaint unfair;

(ii) Material which the student could not reasonably have been expected to produce at the time of the decision taken in respect of the formal complaint casts substantial doubt upon the appropriateness of that decision;

(iii) The decision taken in respect of the formal complaint was manifestly unreasonable.

The request for a Case Review must be made within 10 working days of the full written response provided in relation to the formal complaint. If you need longer than this you must contact the Student Contact and Appeals team (sca@sheffeld.ac.uk) and request an extension detailing the reasons. This will then be passed to a Pro-Vice-Chancellor, or their representative, who can decide to extend this time limit.  

Case Reviews requests should be submitted using the Case Review Request Form. 

The request will be considered by a Pro-Vice-Chancellor, or their nominee, who can decide:

  1. To uphold the complaint;
  2. To establish a Case Review Panel; which would usually give you the opportunity to attend a meeting and present your case to the panel, with a representative, should you wish. The Student Advice Centre is usually able to represent students at these meetings depending on staffing capacity).The case review panel would consist of; the chair (which would be a Pro-Vice-Chancellor or their representative), a Faculty Officer or representative (not from your Faculty), and another member which is usually a Sabbatical Officer from the Students' Union. Papers would be circulated prior to the meeting, which consist of your complaint, departmental response and you would usually be given the opportunity to submit a further statement or evidence should it be deemed necessary. Further details on the Case Review procedure can be found here;
  3. To refer the matter to be considered under another University procedure, such as the Academic Appeals procedure;
  4. That there are insufficient grounds to take further action, thereby concluding the matter at this stage.

Usually where a department or service would responded and provide written comments in response to the request for a case review, a copy of those comments will be sent to the student at the time the decision is notified. The university aims to deal with the formal complaint and case review request within a timescale of 90 days.

How to complete the Case Review Request Form

Section A: Personal Details

Section B: You need to tick the ground you believe your case comes into.

You need to give an explanation of why you disagree with the decision of the formal complaint based on the case review ground you are applying under:

(i) There was a material procedural irregularity which rendered the process leading to the decision taken in respect of the formal complaint unfair; For this ground you would have to demonstrate that there was something incorrect in the complaint procedure which would have made the decision unfair, for example if a person closely linked to the complaint or from the department considered the formal complaint, or if it was clear from the decision letter that a significant piece of evidence submitted had not be considered because it seems to have been overlooked. These are just examples and are not to base your request on. If you are unsure whether your situation meets this grounds you can speak to an academic adviser at the Student Advice Centre to seek clarification.

(ii) Material which the student could not reasonably have been expected to produce at the time of the decision taken in respect of the formal complaint casts substantial doubt upon the appropriateness of that decision; This would have to be significant evidence that would have likely led to a different decision being  made in the formal complaint, and you need explain why you were unable to provide it with the formal complaint.

(iii) The decision taken in respect of the formal complaint was manifestly unreasonable.

You need to set out the reasons why you believe the decision given in the formal complaint was extremely unreasonable. You should refer to the points made in the decision letter when explaining why the decision was unreasonable.

Section C: You need to enclose a copy of your formal complaint and the evidence submitted, including any additional new evidence you wish to submit for your case review.

If a solicitor or adviser from the Student Advice Centre has assisted you, you may put their details in the representative box. Please note: you may only use the Student Advice Centre Representative’s name if we have seen and fed back on your form before you submit.

Section D: Please detail the outcome that you would like, taking into consideration anything that has already been resolved at earlier stages.

Section E: You may type your name or enter an electronic signature.

Once you have completed the form, if you would like feedback on it from an academic adviser at the Student Advice Centre please send your form to advice@sheffield.ac.uk with your evidence. It will then get allocated to an adviser to look at. Please allow reasonable time for adequate feedback, which would usually be within 5 working days. Please note: at certain times of the year this may not be possible, so you may be referred back to online guidance due to the tight deadline.

Once the form and evidence are ready you need to submit it to sca@sheffield.ac.uk within 10 working days of the date of the formal complaint decision letter. 

Remember: Keep a copy of your case review request & evidence for your own records. If your evidence is not in English, you will need to provide official translations.

If you remain unsatisfied after completing the University’s internal complaint procedure, you may be able to make a complaint to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA). The OIA is an independent review scheme and forms no part of the University's review or complaints procedures. You have 12 months from the Case Review decision letter to make a complaint to the OIA.

Before you go to the OIA you must have concluded the University's Complaints Procedure. 

Further details on the OIA, their complaints process and how to apply can be found on their website at: http://www.oiahe.org.uk/ 

You may find the following direct links useful:

If you would like an adviser at the Student Advice Centre to look at and feedback on your complaint before you submit it you can send your compliant statement based on the OIA questions on the complaint form for an adviser to check at advice@sheffield.ac.uk. It will then get allocated to an adviser to look at. Please allow reasonable time for adequate feedback, which would usually be within 5 working days, but but at busy times of year this may take longer.

Last Updated: January 2018