Complaints and academic appeals | University of Oxford
Complaints and appeals, Oxford
Undergraduate students in tutorial, Oxford, UK
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Complaints and academic appeals

If you have cause for concern the following information provides guidance on who would be the best person to approach. Usually the initial raising of a concern is successful in resolving a problem, however, if you are dissatisfied with the outcome then other procedures are available to you. The steps to submit a formal complaint are detailed below.

University matters

If you have concerns about University examinations or teaching, staff or student conduct, research integrity or services, the following sections will help you to identify who to contact.

Academic matters - examination and assessments

You may first discuss any concern about the conduct of a taught-course examination with your subject tutor, course director, supervisor, or, where appropriate, the relevant Director of Graduate Studies.

Queries and complaints must not be raised directly with the examiners.

If, following such a discussion, you have a complaint about procedures not being correctly followed during an examination or you have reason to believe that your examination was not conducted fairly, you may make an academic appeal to the Proctors. You may contact a caseworker in the Proctors' Office to discuss (in confidence and without committing yourself to any action) before the formal complaints procedure is followed, via your Senior Tutor, who will pass the appeal on to the Proctors.

If you are a research degree student, you may submit your academic appeal directly to the Proctors' Office.

Please note: academic appeals relating to examination results (including research degree outcomes) must be received not later than three months after the publication of results.

The Proctors will only consider complaints about the conduct of examinations, not appeals against examiners’ academic judgement. The Proctors will only authorise the re-checking of marks if there is evidence of an irregularity having occurred or if some other sufficiently serious justification is in play. Papers will be re-marked only if investigation by the Proctors has found a serious problem in the original examination process.

Academic matters - teaching and supervision

Complaints about teaching and supervision should be raised with the relevant department, in the first instance. If you are an undergraduate student you should consult your college tutor, Director of Undergraduate Studies or departmental administrator. If you are a graduate student you should consult your college adviser or departmental adviser, the Director of Graduate Studies, your departmental administrator or your Senior Tutor. You may contact a caseworker in the Proctors' Office to discuss (in confidence and without committing yourself to any action) before the formal complaints procedure is followed.

Please note that complaints relating to graduate research supervision will not be considered if they are made after the submission of the thesis.

Staff and student conduct

A complaint about the behaviour of a member of staff in the University should be made to his or her head of department or, in the case of a conflict of interest, to the head of division. If the member of staff is employed by a unit within the University Administration and Services (UAS) or Academic Services and University Collections (ASUC), you should write to the relevant head of that service. In cases where it is not immediately clear to whom a complaint should be addressed, advice may be sought from Personnel Services.

A complaint about the behaviour of another student in the University may be raised with the student and with the Director of Student Welfare and Support Services. If these actions do not resolve the situation, you can make a formal complaint to the Proctors. 

If you believe that the behaviour constitutes harassment, the matter will be investigated by the Proctors in accordance with the University policy and procedure on harassment and bullying, or for complaints relating to inequality in accordance with the University’s Equality Policy.

There are additional considerations which will be taken into account where the conduct complained of would constitute a serious criminal offence if prosecuted in the criminal courts. See the Disciplinary Complaints against Students – Serious Criminal Conduct (PDF) for further information.

Research integrity

You are expected to observe the highest standards in the conduct of your research. Prior to making any formal allegation, sources of advice and support include fellow researchers and colleagues, supervisors, mentors, senior tutors, Proctors, Directors of Graduate Studies, heads of department, faculty or division, Research Ethics Committees, Research Services, Oxford University Students Union (OUSU).

The Code of Practice and Procedure for Academic Integrity in Research details the procedures in event of suspected misconduct in research.

University services

Department or faculty facilities (other than libraries): Contact the Director of Studies.

Bodleian Libraries: Consult with the Librarian in the immediate area. If you feel that your concerns have not been addressed satisfactorily, you should write to Bodley's Librarian, Bodleian Library, Broad Street, Oxford, OX1 3BG.

Central University services: Please write to the head of the respective University Administration and Service.

Proctors procedures for handling complaints (including academic appeals)

The Proctors publish annually guidance and procedures governing the investigation of complaints brought to their attention under the provisions of University Regulations section 22, namely: 1) procedures for complaints which constitute appeals from a decision relating to an academic matter which has been taken by an academic committee or other body; and 2) procedures for other complaints.

The complaints procedure

When a formal complaint or academic appeal is submitted to the Proctors, and they consider that a case exists, the matter will be investigated in accordance with the procedures, and the complainant informed of the outcome. Some complaints matters may also cover disciplinary offences – for example, concerning a freedom of speech infringement or harassment. In such cases, the Proctors will act in accordance with the disciplinary procedures and relevant policies.

Full procedures for submitting academic appeals (Part B)

A copy of your complaint will normally be supplied to the person who is the subject of the complaint. There are exceptions to this rule, for instance in the initial stages of the harassment procedures. The University seeks to protect any member of the University community from victimisation arising from bringing a complaint or assisting in an investigation where they act in good faith. If the complaint is found to be malicious the University or college may take appropriate disciplinary action against the complainant. Such action will not be taken if a complaint which proves to be unfounded is judged to have been made in good faith. It is the University's expectation that the confidentiality of the documentation generated by a complaint will be respected by all parties. Breaches of confidentiality may give rise to disciplinary action.

Once your complaint has reached the final stage of the applicable procedure, you will be issued a Completion of Procedures Letter. If you are not satisfied with the progress of an investigation by the Proctors, you may request the Proctors to give, within 28 days of the date of the request, a written report on the progress they have made. The report shall include an indication of the likely timescale for the completion of the investigation. If you wish to take your complaint further, you may be able to bring a complaint to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA).

Oxford University Student Union (OUSU)

OUSU operates a full complaints procedure. Enquiries should be addressed to the President.

College matters

If you have a complaint about a college matter, including college teaching and examinations, you should take it up with the relevant college officers. Help and advice is available from your college Dean, tutor, senior tutor, academic administrator, JCR, MCR or OUSU representative. Your college may have a published complaints procedure, this is usually found in your college handbook. The Proctors have no jurisdiction over college matters, including the quality of teaching provided in college, collections (internal college examinations), college disciplinary procedures or the behaviour of another student or member of staff in college.

Office of the Independent Adjudicator

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) provides an independent scheme for the review of student complaints. Where the OIA rules in favour of a student, it may recommend that the University or college should do something (e.g. look again at a complaint, or pay compensation) or refrain from doing something. In order to activate the OIA procedures, you must be a current or former student of the University or one of the colleges and must have first exhausted all the available internal procedures. To confirm that your case has been dealt with internally, you need to obtain a Completion of Procedures letter from the office that informed you of the outcome of your case. You have a maximum of 12 months from the date of that letter to apply to OIA.

The Independent Adjudicator can deal with complaints about:

  • programmes of study or research
  • services provided to you as a student by the University and/or by your college
  • a final decision by the University or by your college about a disciplinary matter or a complaint.

The OIA cannot, however, deal with complaints about matters of academic judgement, matters that are the subject of legal proceedings, or matters relating to student employment. 

Public Interest Disclosure (Whistle-Blowing)

The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1999 provides employees with legal protection against being dismissed or penalised as a result of disclosing certain serious concerns (‘whistle-blowing’); such concerns might include criminal activity, danger to health and safety, or professional malpractice. The University’s code of practice and procedure under the Act is available.