Complaints and appeals, Oxford
Undergraduate students in tutorial, Oxford, UK
Copyright © Rob Judges Photography. This image comes from Oxford University Images. All rights reserved.

Complaints and academic appeals

Oxford University is a world-leading centre of learning, teaching and research and is committed to providing a high quality educational experience, fully supported by academic and administrative services and facilities, to all of our students. However, we recognise that occasionally things can go wrong.  Therefore, if you have a concern the following information provides guidance on what steps can be taken and who the best person to approach would be. 

What is your concern about?

Academic decisions (Academic Appeals)

Under the University Academic Appeals Procedure you can raise an appeal against decisions of an academic body, for example a decision made by the Board of Examiners or the assessors of Transfer / Confirmation examinations etc. An appeal can be made on the following grounds:

  • There was an error in the decision-making process
  • There was a procedural irregularity
  • There was bias or perception of bias in the decision-making process

There is no right of appeal over matters of academic judgement i.e. decisions that can only be made by applying an academic expert’s opinion. You cannot, therefore, appeal because you disagree with the examiners’ assessment of how well you met the assessment criteria. Additional guidance on the academic appeal procedure is available (Academic Appeals: A Guide for Students) which provides further explanations over what can and cannot be appealed, along with case study examples.

If you believe that your performance in an assessment or examination has been significantly affected by unforeseen circumstances, the University would normally expect you to submit a Mitigating Circumstances Notice to Examiners (MCE) in a timely manner (i.e. as soon as they become aware of them). Submitting an MCE will usually avoid the need for you to submit an academic appeal at a later date.

Under the Academic Appeals Procedure there are 3 stages. Each stage must be completed before you can move on to the next stage.

Stage 1: Local resolution

You should first discuss any concern about your academic results with an appropriate member of staff, for example subject tutor, course director, supervisor, or, where appropriate, the relevant Director of Graduate Studies. We recommend making contact as soon as possible (within 5 working days) after notification of the results you have a concern about. Do keep a record of what has been discussed with you and any actions taken. Please note you should not contact examiners directly about your concerns.

In most circumstances the initial discussion is successful in resolving any concerns. However, if you feel that your concerns have not been resolved, you can make a stage 2 academic appeal to the Proctors. As part of this appeal you will need to demonstrate, with evidence, your efforts to resolve the concerns at stage 1.

Stage 2: Proctors’ consideration

To make a stage 2 academic appeal, you will need to familiarise yourself with the University Academic Appeals Procedure and complete an  Academic Appeal Form. If you are submitting a joint appeal on behalf of a group, you will need to have been nominated as a representative to lead and make the appeal. Time limits apply and the appeal form should be submitted within 20 working days of when you were notified of the academic decision which you are appealing. If you are a member of a college and on a taught course, you are encouraged to submit the Academic Appeal Form through your Senior Tutor. However, the form can be submitted directly if you would prefer. If you are not in this category you should submit your form directly.

You will be required to specify the ground(s) upon which you are appealing (as outlined in the procedure) and normally support these grounds with evidence. Further information can be found in Academic Appeals: A Guide for Students.

The Proctors will open a formal investigation of the academic appeal and an investigation will be carried out by one of the permanent caseworkers. Conducting an investigation will usually mean sharing the details of your academic appeal with the person or body that made the decision. The Proctors will normally try to complete their investigation within 30 days of receiving your form although this timeframe can be extended. On completion of the investigation you will receive a written outcome explaining what the Proctor has done to investigate your academic appeal, their decision and the reasons for it, and any directions or recommendations. 

If you feel dissatisfied with the outcome of your stage 2 academic appeal you can request a review of this decision under stage 3 of the academic appeal procedure. However, it should be noted a review request can only be made on a limited number of grounds – simply disagreeing with the outcome is not enough to request a review.

Stage 3: Review of the Proctor’s decision

You should familiarise yourself with the grounds on which an academic appeal review request can be made, as outlined in the University Academic Appeals Procedure. Once you are satisfied that your review request can meet these grounds, a Review Request Form should be completed. If it is a joint review request on behalf of a group, you will need to have been nominated as a representative to lead and make the review request. Time limits apply and the review request form should be submitted within 10 working days of the date of the outcome letter from stage 2 of the procedure.

A Reviewer will be appointed who has not had any involvement with the previous stages of the academic appeal, and an investigation will be carried out by a different permanent caseworker. The Reviewer will normally try to complete their investigation within 10 working days of receiving the form although this timeframe can be extended. On completion of the investigation you will receive a written outcome explaining the Reviewer’s decision and the reasons for it, and any directions or recommendations. 

If you are dissatisfied with the outcome of the review request you can make a complaint to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator. Details of how to do this will be included in the outcome letter of the stage 3 review request.

Academic, Administrative or Support provisions

Under the University Student Complaints Procedure you can raise a complaint in relation to the following:

  • University administrative and support services (including departmental facilities and central facilities such as libraries, counselling etc.)
  • University academic services and support (departmental teaching, supervision etc.)

Before making a complaint you may wish to take advice about your concerns from your Senior Tutor, Tutor for Graduates, Director of Graduate Studies, Supervisor, College Adviser or Oxford Student Union.

Under this procedure there are 3 stages and each stage must be completed before you can move on to the next stage.

Stage 1: Local resolution

In many cases the concerns you raise can be resolved with an immediate explanation and/or solution at the local departmental level. Stage 1 of the complaints procedure is in place in order to facilitate this. Therefore you should make contact with the University department about which you have a complaint for stage 1 of the procedure to be followed.

If you feel able to do so, you can raise your concerns with the member of staff directly. If not, you can take it up with your Director of Undergraduate Studies/Director of Graduate Studies or Head of Department as appropriate. If the matter involves one of these individuals and you wish to raise it with somebody else, you must speak to the Head of Department/Faculty or Director of the service provider. 

As indicated above, the initial raising of a complaint is usually successful in resolving a problem. However, if you feel that it has not, or that there continues to be a serious problem that needs to be addressed in the University system, you can make a stage 2 complaint to the Proctors.

Stage 2: Proctors’ consideration

To make a complaint to the Proctors, you will need to familiarise yourselves with the University Student Complaints Procedure and complete a Complaint Form. If it is a joint complaint on behalf of a group, the group will need to nominate you as a representative to lead and make the complaint. Time limits apply and the complaint form should be submitted within three months of when the matter you are complaining about occurred.

The Proctors will open a formal investigation of the complaint which will be carried out by one of the permanent caseworkers. Conducting an investigation will usually mean sharing the details of the complaint, including your identity, with those responsible for the matters complained about. The Proctors will normally try to complete their investigation within 30 days of receiving the form although this timeframe can be extended. Once the investigation is completed you will receive a written outcome explaining what the Proctor has done to investigate your complaint, their decision and the reasons for it, and any directions or recommendations to address the complaint.

If you feel dissatisfied with the outcome of your stage 2 complaint you can request a review of this decision under stage 3 of the complaints procedure. However, it should be noted a review request can only be made on a limited number of grounds – simply disagreeing with the outcome is not enough to request a review.

Stage 3: Review of the Proctor’s decision

You should familiarise yourself with the grounds as outlined in the University Academic Appeals Procedure. Once you are satisfied that your review request can meet these grounds, a Review Request Form should be completed. If it is a joint review request on behalf of a group, the group will need to nominate a representative to lead and make the review request. Time limits apply and the review request form should be submitted within 10 working days of the date of the outcome letter from stage 2 of the procedure.

A Reviewer will be appointed who has not had any involvement with the previous stages of the complaint, and an investigation will be carried out by a different permanent caseworker. The Reviewer will normally try to complete their investigation within 10 working days of receiving the form although this timeframe can be extended. Once the investigation is completed you will receive a written outcome explaining the Reviewer’s decision and the reasons for it, and any directions or recommendations to address the complaint.

If you feel dissatisfied with the outcome of the review request you can make a complaint to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator. Details of how to do this will be included in the outcome letter of the stage 3 review request.

Admissions

Undergraduate admissions

Complaints or appeals about undergraduate admissions decisions are dealt with by the college which considered the application, except for Medicine and Biomedical Sciences which are dealt with by the relevant department. Therefore you would need to make a complaint to the relevant college (or department for Medicine and Biomedical Sciences) in the first instance. If you are dissatisfied with the response to your stage 1 complaint or appeal, you can ask the Director of Undergraduate Admissions to review that response.

Graduate admissions

Complaints or appeals about graduate admissions are manage by the Graduate Admissions Team. Please note there is no right of appeal or complaint over matters of academic judgement

College matters

If you have a complaint about a college matter, including college teaching and examinations, you should raise it with the relevant college officers. Help and advice is available from your college Dean, tutor, Senior Tutor, academic administrator, JCR, MCR or SU representative. Your college may also have a published complaints procedure. This is usually found in your college handbook.

Please note that 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 a member of staff in college.

Libraries

If the matter relates to one of the Bodleian libraries or another University library, you should raise it with staff in the library in the first instance and thereafter with the Head of the Library in question.

If the matter relates to a College library, you should pursue it via the college’s procedures, as with any other college matter.

Oxford Student Union

If you have a complaint about an Oxford Student Union matter, you should raise this with the President under the SU complaints procedure.  

Oxford University Club or Society

If you have a complaint about a registered club or society activity/event, or about a member of the club or society when acting as a club or society officer or in relation to the club or society, you should raise this with the club or society’s committee, for example the Secretary or President. If you have concerns over a conflict of interest the Senior Member could also be approached.

If you are dissatisfied with the response to a complaint, you can ask the Proctors to review the procedure undertaken by the club or society in reaching the decision. The scope of the Proctors’ consideration in this instance is only in respect of the society’s governance and whether or not it acted in accordance with its constitution.

Any club or society which is registered with the Proctors will be listed on the Register of Student Clubs.

Public Interest Disclosure

The University’s public interest disclosure (whistle-blowing) code of practice and procedure details the procedures in event of suspected possible malpractices or improprieties.

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.

Research integrity

The Code of Practice and Procedure for Academic Integrity in Research details the procedures in event of suspected misconduct in 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 Students Union (SU).

Staff conduct

A complaint about the behaviour of a member of staff in the University should be made to their head of department or, in the case of a conflict of interest, to the head of division under the University policy and procedure on harassment.  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.  

Student conduct

A complaint about the behaviour of another student in the University which constitutes harassment may be raised with the student and with the Director of Student Welfare and Support Services in accordance with the University policy and procedure on harassment.

If these actions do not resolve the situation, or if the misconduct by the student does not relate to harassment, a formal report can be made to the Proctors on the Non-Academic Misconduct form under the University Student Disciplinary Procedure: Non-Academic Misconduct. Such a report should normally be made within 6 months of the behaviour the report is about. 

The University recognises that there will be circumstances when students may not wish to make a formal report, but would still like to manage contact with another student(s) with whom they are in dispute to enable them to continue their academic studies. The University No Contact Arrangement Policy enables No Contact Arrangements (NCAs) to be put in place between the corresponding students. If a student would like to pursue this, they should make a request to the Proctors by completing the No Contact Arrangement Request Form. 

General information relating to complaints and appeals

When raising concerns to the University it is best practice to ensure that you have read the appropriate procedure carefully.  Advice and guidance can also be sort from individuals such as a College Tutor/Advisor, Senior Tutor, Supervisor or Oxford SU.  

Was this page useful?*