skip to content

Student Complaints

Within the collegiate University front-facing staff are likely to receive complaints or disclosures from students.  This page provides information on:

What information should be provided to students in advance about complaints or appeals

It is important for services, Departments and Faculties to clearly advertise complaint and appeal procedures to students, in handbooks, on their webpages and where relevant, via email.

Information about available procedures should not be replicated in these sources, as information may become outdated.  Instead a short description and link should be provided, for example:

Student Complaints Procedure

​Where a student is dissatisfied with any provision, action or inaction by the University students are able to raise a complaint.  Students are expected to initially raise a complaint with a suitable member of staff within the [Department/Faculty/Service], in the first instance this is XXXX [if you have a Responsible Officer who initially handles complaints].  However, where the matter is serious or where students remain dissatisfied, a complaint can be raised with the central University.  Complaints need to be raised in a timely way and within 28 days to ensure an effective remedy can be put in place. Find further information here: www.studentcomplaints.admin.cam.ac.uk/student-complaints​.

Examination Review Procedure

​Where a student is dissatisfied with examination results, the Examination Review Procedure can be initiated within 28 days of formal notification of the results.  Find further information here: www.studentcomplaints.admin.cam.ac.uk/examination-reviews.

Student and staff behaviour

​Where a student is dissatisfied with the behaviour of another student or a staff member because it amounts to harassment or sexual misconduct then the student can raise this with the University, so that action can be taken.  Find further information here: www.studentcomplaints.admin.cam.ac.uk/reporting.

How to respond to an informal complaint

The Student Complaint Procedure expects students to raise complaints directly with Department/Faculty/Service within 28 days of the matter arising (though there may be reasons to extend this deadline).  The Student Complaint Procedure states that students will normally be informed of the name and contact details of the Responsible Officer [the person authorised by the Department/Faculty/Service to respond to student complaints at the earliest stage - called 'local resolution'].  If your Department/Faculty/Service doesn't have a Responsible Officer then consider appointing one to ensure that comlaints are managed consistently.  Responsible Offcers can seek advice from OSCCA at studentcomplaints@admin.cam.ac.uk at any time.

The Responsible Officer should respond to the complaint in a timely manner and normally within 21 calendar days of its receipt. The response should be in writing if the complaint was in writing or if an investigation has been undertaken (this could include meeting with the student).  The response should include:

  • an explanation of the complaint - to confirm understanding of the issue
  • an explanation of any investigation that has been undertaken (including reviewing written documentation or speaking with relevant staff)
  • a response to the complaint
  • any actions that will take place as a result of the complaint
  • information about the next stage of the Procedure where the Complainant remains dissatisfied with the response.

The Student Complaint Procedure expects complaints at this level to normally receive a response within 21 days.  Where this is not possible, the Responsible Officer or staff member responding to the complaint should update the Complainant within that period to indicate the reasons for delay and when a response is likely to be provided. 

When sending a written response, you must outline the next stage of the Student Complaint Procedure.  For example:

​If you are dissatisfied with my response then you have 28 days from the date of this email to raise a formal complaint with the University.  If you wish to submit a formal complaint then you will need to submit the form available on this webpage: www.studentcomplaints.admin.cam.ac.uk/student-complaints and all evidence that you wish to be considered to studentcomplaints@admin.cam.ac.uk within 28 days.  You should include a copy of this correspondence with your complaint.

Further guidance for those responding to complaints is available within the Preventing and Handling Complaints Leaflet and Guide to responding to a complaint.

Additional mechanisms for responding to postgraduate student concerns

The University understands that there are additional barriers for postgraduate students to raise complaints about their University experience, particularly PhD students, because of the close relationships that they develop with staff and their reliance on individual staff members' good will.  As a result, the University is currently conducting a pilot which enables postgraduate students to provide anonymous feedback through their College Graduate Tutors to the Office of Student Conduct, Complaints and Appeals (OSCCA), or directly through OSCCA, which will then be shared with the Department or Faculty.  This will not be able to lead to direct formal investigation due to its anonymous nature.  However, the Department and Faculty will be able to take it into account and reflect on the feedback and any change that this may require.  To report a concern contact OSCCA@admin.cam.ac.uk

This pilot will be in place for 6 months, following which time OSCCA will report on the use and benefit of the system and will look to identify trends and take action in relation to these.

Additionally, the University's mediation service is willing to provide mediation or a facilitated discussion between a PhD student and a supervisor, if both are willing to engage.  Further information can be found on the University's mediation service webpage, but any request for mediation will need to be submitted to OSCCA@admin.cam.ac.uk.

How to respond to student disclosures

In addition to raising complaints about a department/faculty or service, the student may choose to disclose information regarding themselves or another student or staff member.  Depending on the type of disclose, there is information available about courses of action that can be taken.  More often than not, the student will just want you to listen.  Don't panic, ask unecessary questions, or require the student to take immediate action.

Type of disclosure Information Relevant webpage
Disability Students are not required to disclose their disability to the University but if they choose not to disclose then this will limit the support that can be provided.  The Disability Resource Centre can give more specific advice. https://www.disability.admin.cam.ac.uk/students/why-disclose
Harassment or sexual misconduct from another student The student can access confidential, specialist support from the University's Sexual Assault & Harassment Advisor.  It is normal for a student to choose not to immediately report, though this is an option open to them. https://www.counselling.cam.ac.uk/sexual-assault-and-harassment-advisor
Harassment or sexual misconduct from a staff member The student has access to the same support outlined aove. If the student feels able to disclose the staff member's identity then immediate action can be taken to ensure that there is no ongoing academic responsibility.  If the student wishes to remain anonymous see below. https://www.studentcomplaints.admin.cam.ac.uk/reporting
a complaint where the student wishes to remain anonymous In limited circumstances there may be action that can be taken.  The best way forward is to contact OSCCA who can provide circumstance-specific advice.

studentcomplaints@admin.cam.ac.uk

How to respond to staff complaints about student behaviour

Any member of the University is able to raise a complaint about a student using the student disciplinary procedures.  Students are prohibited from harassing any employee or member of the University, or anyone within the precincts of the University.  

Within the University's disciplinary regulations, harassment is defined as "​single or repeated incidents involving unwanted and unwarranted conduct towards another person which is reasonable likely to have the effect of (i) violating that other's dignity or (ii) creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating, or offensive environment for that other.​"

To initiate the student disciplinary procedures a member of the University should email a brief summary of the complaint, including the student's name and College to the University Advocate, Dr Rosy Thornton at RT104@cam.ac.uk.  If a complaint is made to the University Advocate the following steps will be taken:

  • the University Advocate will acknowledge the complaint and offer to meet with the complainant to discuss it in more detail. She will investigate the complaint and decide whether there is enough evidence to consider 'charging' a student with a breach of the regulations
  • If there is not enough evidence to 'charge' then no further formal action can be taken by the University
  • If the student is 'charged' then there is likely to be a Discipline Committee and you may need to attend as a witness.
  • At the Discipline Committee, the committee members will decide whether the student has breached the University's rules using the 'beyond reasonable doubt' standard of proof
  • If the rules have been breached then the Discipline Committee can impose sanctions, in the most serious cases this can include temporary or permanent exclusion from the University