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Category Academic
Type Procedure
Approved by Council, 13 April 1999
Date Procedure Took Effect 1 January 2000
Last approved revision 30 March 2016
Sponsor Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic)
Responsible officer Manager, Policy and Compliance


The University is committed to providing a harmonious work and study environment.  It will treat complaints seriously and will attempt to resolve them quickly if possible.  By providing a clear set of procedures, it is hoped that grievances can be dealt with satisfactorily and expeditiously.

The purpose of these Procedures is

  • to minimise the chances of minor grievances escalating into major problems, and;
  • to foster procedural consistency across departments, faculties/schools and divisions.

Organisational scope

These Procedures apply to all staff and students of the University; they are distinct from and should not be used for any dispute having to do with the following:


Academic Grievance
Any grievance which a student has against a staff member, staff members, or the University, because of a claim that he or she has sustained academic disadvantage, as a result of:
  1. error;
  2. failure to observe an established rule or guideline without reasonable cause;
  3. unfair treatment;
  4. teaching or supervision of a quality which falls below the standard that any reasonable teacher or supervisor would be expected to provide.
The Head of Department or, where appropriate, the relevant Dean, Programme Co-ordinator or Head of Unit, or their nominee.
The appropriate Pro-Vice-Chancellor, or their nominee.
Otago University Students' Association


1. Responsibilities of staff and the University

University staff are expected to comply with their contractual and professional obligations within the context provided by the University. The following responsibilities should be read in conjunction with the policies referenced.

  1. Staff will comply with the Provision of Course and Study Information to Enrolled Students Policy, including:
    1. providing course/paper information to students in a timely manner (no later than the first week of semester for taught papers);
    2. making clear the University's expectations with respect to acceptable academic practice as per the Academic Integrity Policy;
    3. making arrangements to ensure that for each paper there are academic staff who are reasonably and regularly available during teaching weeks to respond to and/or discuss matters which students may raise (e.g. through staff office hours).
  2. Staff will adhere to the Guidelines for the Assessment of Student Performance, including:
    1. devising and administering appropriate assessment tasks which centre on essential knowledge and skills and which are appropriate to the level of the paper under consideration;
    2. being cognisant of student workload both within and across papers in the setting of assessment tasks and deadlines;
    3. providing appropriate and timely feedback on assessment tasks.
  3. The University will provide adequate and appropriate course advice to students consistent with the Student Advising Guidelines.
  4. The University will respect students' rights to express views and opinions.

2. Responsibilities of students

Students are expected to fulfil the following obligations:

  1. Students have a responsibility to participate actively and positively in their learning. It is expected that students will apply themselves to their study to the best of their ability, attend classes, maintain steady progress within the subject framework, respond to feedback provided, comply with workload expectations and submit required work on time.
  2. As per the Provision of Course and Study Information to Enrolled Students Policy, students are responsible for making themselves aware of all University rules and regulations pertaining to their rights and responsibilities as students and the degree for which they are enrolled, and are deemed to be aware of paper information made available to them.
  3. Students are responsible for their overall course planning and for monitoring their progress in their academic programme.
  4. Students are expected to respect the right of staff members to express views and opinions.
  5. Students are expected to take the initiative and consult appropriately when problems arise.

3. Due process

  1. HoD s and PVC s are expected to receive, consider and investigate academic grievances made in writing in an open and honest way, to allow the student complainant to have a support person or whanau support at any meeting, and to be sensitive to power imbalances which may exist between students and staff.
  2. HoD s and PVC s are expected, as regards any staff implicated in a complaint, to follow the principles of natural justice by:
    1. giving notice to the staff member or staff members of any complaint against them as soon as is reasonably practicable, if it is to be investigated;
    2. before finalising any finding which may reflect adversely on a staff member, informing the staff member of the proposed outcome and allowing them the opportunity to comment, provide evidence on the matter and/or add their version of events to the record;
    3. formally recording any finding which relates to the performance of a staff member.
  3. No finding by any HoD or PVC from these proceedings can be used as a surrogate for standard disciplinary procedures in relation to the staff member concerned without being proved afresh.

4. Procedure

Any student who seeks the resolution of an academic grievance must follow the steps set out below. Students may seek advice and support from the OUSA Student Support Centre at any stage of the process. Staff or students may contact the University Mediator to seek assistance with the resolution of interpersonal issues as appropriate.

  1. Step 1
    1. The student should, where possible and within a reasonable timeframe, attempt to resolve the grievance with the staff member(s) concerned.
    2. If the student's grievance relates to research Master's or doctoral-level study and the matter cannot be resolved directly with the staff member(s) concerned, the student should seek assistance from the postgraduate coordinator in their department. If a satisfactory resolution still cannot be reached, the student should raise their concerns with the Dean of the Graduate Research School, who is empowered to make recommendations to departments to assist with the resolution of graduate research candidate issues.
  2. Step 2
    1. If the matter remains unresolved, the student should complain to the HoD . If the student is uncomfortable complaining directly he/she may wish to contact a student advocate, such as the student representative for the paper concerned or an OUSA support person, who can raise the issue on the student's behalf. The student may initially meet with the HoD . If the matter cannot be resolved easily and is to be fully investigated, the complaint must be made formally in writing. Written complaints should detail the precise grounds of the complaint and provide objective evidence where appropriate.
    2. Complaints under Step 2 will normally only be considered if they are made within one month of the events complained about or within ten working days of the completion of Step 1 (whichever is later). This restriction may be waived if there are good reasons for the delay in making a complaint.
    3. If the complaint involves the HoD , the student may complain to the appropriate Pro-Vice-Chancellor ( PVC ) who shall appoint an independent party to substitute for the HoD , and that party shall investigate the complaint using the process described under clause 4(b)v below.
    4. If the HoD considers they have a conflict of interest with regards to a complaint, they should advise their PVC who shall appoint an independent party to substitute for the HoD , and that party shall investigate the complaint using the process described under clause 4(b)v below.
    5. The HoD or nominated party:
      • must decide whether or not to investigate the complaint; and if so
      • must give notice to any affected staff member entitled to it under clause 3(b)i of these Procedures;
      • must liaise with relevant parties, including the student and affected staff, and consider relevant documentary evidence (e.g. relevant email communications, student teaching evaluations provided by staff, etc.) to ensure that any findings or outcomes are based on a thorough and balanced investigation of the complaint;
      • can make formal recommendations to the involved parties with a view to resolving the dispute (this may include exploring mediation, for example with the assistance of the University Mediator);
      • can make findings about particular disputed matters;
      • must, before making any findings, give notice to any staff member entitled to it under section 3 (b)ii;
      • must conclude any investigation by compiling a record of the investigation, including any agreements reached, any findings made, any steps taken as a result of those findings, and the reasons for any such steps taken;
      • can take steps within the HoD 's ordinary powers which are the appropriate consequence of the findings or any agreement reached;
      • must appropriately inform the student and any staff members who are the subject of the complaint of the outcome of the investigation, including providing a written statement of their findings.
  3. Step 3
    1. If the student is dissatisfied with the outcome of the complaint, the student can, within ten working days of receiving written notification of the outcome, request in writing that the appropriate Pro-Vice-Chancellor ( PVC ) review the outcome.
    2. If a staff member against whom a grievance was directed is dissatisfied with any of the findings of the HoD , the staff member can, within ten working days of receiving written notification of the outcome, request in writing that the PVC review the findings.
    3. The PVC may appoint a nominee to act on their behalf with regards to the review, in which case that nominee shall be responsible for the process as outlined under clauses 4(c)iv-v below (the nominee may not have acted for the HoD under clauses 4(b)iii or 4(b)iv above).
    4. The PVC or their nominee will, within ten working days of receiving written notice requesting a review, arrange to meet and discuss the issue with the student or staff member requesting the review. They will also meet with the Head of the relevant department (or the HoD 's nominee responsible for the initial findings). After these meetings, they will consider their response.
    5. The PVC or their nominee:
      • may decline the request for a review from the student or staff member, in which case a written reason for this decision must be provided to the party requesting the review;
      • may review the initial investigation, findings and outcomes, which shall include consideration of the documentation from the initial investigation carried out under clause 4(b) ('Step 2'), and may include further investigation by the PVC ; and if so
      • may invite the parties involved to meet to attempt to facilitate a solution agreed to by all involved
      • may endorse the original findings and the outcomes resulting from those findings;
      • may overrule the initial findings and/or outcomes, in which case they must give notice to any staff member entitled to it under section 3 (b)ii, including the HoD or nominee who carried out the investigation, before finalising any revised findings;
      • can take steps within the PVC 's ordinary powers which are the appropriate consequence of any revised findings;
      • must conclude any review by compiling a record of the review, including any agreements reached, any findings made, any steps taken as a result of those findings, and the reasons for any such steps taken;
      • must appropriately inform relevant parties of the outcome of the review, including providing a written statement of their findings.

5. Advice and assistance

Advice and assistance relating to these Procedures and the processes outlined herein is available from:

  • the Manager of Policy and Compliance in Academic Services, for general advice on these Procedures and processes;
  • the OUSA Student Support Centre, for student support and advocacy;
  • the University Mediator, for assistance with interpersonal issues;
  • the Dean of the Graduate Research School, for advice on Academic Grievances relating to graduate research study.

Related policies, procedures and forms

Statutes and policy relating to other types of complaints not covered by this policy:

Contact for further information

If you have any queries regarding the content of these procedures or need further clarification, contact:

Manager, Policy and Compliance

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