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Student Complaints

Raising concerns or complaints about a student's behaviour

University staff may become concerned about a student's behaviour because it:

  • is harassing/having a negative effect on the staff member
  • may reflect changes to the student's wellbeing or mental/physical health which is impacting on the student and those around them
  • may be a breach of the University's rules

Where the matter concerns a student's wellbeing it may be sensible to discuss the behaviour with the student's Senior Tutor.  However, the University has two procedures that staff members can use to raise concerns:

  1. The Procedure to Determine Fitness to Study - this procedure can be used where:
    • serious concerns about the student's behaviour or health emerge which have not been resolved through College channels, and which indicate that there is a need to address the student's fitness to study;
    • behaviour that would otherwise be dealt with as a disciplinary matter, but might be the result of an underlying physical or mental condition which has not been resolved through informal support;
    • the student's academic performance or persistent behaviour is considered to be unacceptable and this is thought to be the result of an underlying problem which may mean he or she is fit to study;
    • serious concerns arise about the student's fitness to sit examinations or other assessment.
  2. The student disciplinary regulations - this can be used where a member of the University considers that a student has breached at least one of the University's discipline regulations, which can include harassment of any member of the University or University or College employee.

If a staff member wishes to initiate one of these procedures then it may be helpful to seek advice from a senior member of the Department, Faculty or Service who may in turn contact the Office of Student Conduct, Complaints and Appeals for advice at studentcomplaints@admin.cam.ac.uk.  

Initiating a student procedure

A limited number of University and College staff are able to initiate the Procedure to Determine Fitness to Study.  However, any member of the University is able to make a complaint about a student in accordance with the University's student discipline procedure by completing a Concern Form.  Submission of the form may be followed by a meeting with the Investigator so that more information can be provided, the Reporting Person will also have the opportunity to provide any evidence or names of witnesses that may be relevant. 

The Student Disciplinary Procedure enables the University to ensure that all students adhere to the rules.  Therefore, although a member of the University may be the Reporting Person and as a result, have a particular role within the process, the process remains between the student and the University.  If you require additional support or work place adjustments as a result of a student's behaviour then you should contact your line manager or HR for advice.

Receiving complaints from a student

Students are able to raise complaints about the University, their experience or individual departments, faculties, services or individuals.  It is necessary for the University to investigate all complaints where on the face of it there may be dissatisfaction as a result of something that the University is providing or for which it has responsibility.  Investigating a complaint is often a necessary step, it does not imply that the University or those involved in the complaint consider that it is likely that anything inappropriate has taken place.  As part of the investigation process any named individuals will be given an opportunity to respond to the complaint.  Staff are normally given two weeks to provide a response in writing and are asked to provide any relevant evidence. 

It can be time consuming to provide a full response and evidence to a complaint.  However, it is a necessary step to ensure that the University can justify its decision.  The complaint procedure is an evidence-based procedure and the Complaint Officer (the decision-maker) has to use the evidence available to reach a decision.  Therefore, if a student has provided evidence or provided a detailed description about something that happened, it is important that any information counteracting or providing an alternative interpretation of events is included. 

Following providing a response, a staff member will receive the detailed outcome of the complaint and reasons for the decision.  The University uses the Student Complaint Procedure as an opportunity to review wider practice or consider making improvements to the student experience, even where no error or inappropriate action has taken place.  Therefore, even if a complaint has been dismissed, the Complaint Officer may make observations about improvements that could be made either by the Department, Faculty or Service or by individuals.  These observations are not criticisms, but it is expected that the relevant persons will consider the observations and take them seriously.  If a complaint is upheld then it is likely that recommendations may be made.  It is important to fully understand a complaint decision as sometimes a complaint can be upheld on a single aspect and as a result, the recommendation(s) may be very specific.

Support for staff

While responding to a complaint can be energy and time consuming, staff should be given time to respond to complaints and feel as though they're being supported.  There are a number of support mechanisms staff can access if they are finding it stressful to respond to a complaint, including through their line manager, their Head of Department, Faculty or Service (who will be aware of the complaint - staff will have been informed of who has been sent a copy of the complaint), or staff counselling.  In addition, the Office of Student Conduct, Complaints and Appeals can put a staff member in contact with another staff member who has also had to respond to a complaint under the Student Complaint Procedure, who can provide informal support and information about their experience of the procedure. Contact studentcomplaints@admin.cam.ac.uk for more information.

Student complaints targeting staff

Normally a student submitting a complaint about an individual member of staff is not considered harassment in and of itself, however, this is dependent upon the circumstance in which a complaint was submitted.  The University has a zero tolerance approach to students engaging in harassment of staff or other students; the Student Complaint Procedure can find that a complaint is malicious, frivolous or vexatious and it is possible for the University refuse to investigate.  However, the threshold for making this finding without any initial investigation is very high.  Additionally, it may be possible for the University to take action against a student for raising an invalid and malicious or vexatious complaint but this is rare and will be discussed with relevant staff members if the circumstances arise.