- 1 Policy Statement
- 2 Principles
- 3 Procedures
- 4 Other Grievance Types
- 5 Reporting and Feedback
- 6 References
- 7 Where to Get Help?
- 8 Definitions
- 9 Formal Complaint Form
- 10 Managing Student Complaints – Guidelines for Staff
- 11 Other Policy Information
Scope and Application:
The objective of this policy is to provide a consistent framework that promotes the timely and fair resolution of concerns or complaints raised about the University or any services offered by the University.
The University of Southern Queensland aims to provide its students with a high quality teaching and learning experience. However, problems or concerns do arise from time to time that need to be dealt with. The University has put in place this Complaints Management Policy and various procedures to deal with different types of complaints and appeals.
Students have the right to raise any legitimate concerns or problems and have them dealt with in a fair and professional manner. Issues or concerns provide the University with valuable feedback about how to improve its processes. In particular, it can help the University to identify and address any unfair systemic obstacles to a student’s learning environment.
The purpose of this policy is to provide students with information about how to raise a problem or concern or make a formal complaint.
To that end, the University will investigate and try to resolve all legitimate complaints in a fair, impartial and timely fashion. The University takes all legitimate complaints seriously, and will ensure that complainants do not suffer any disadvantage or recrimination because they make a complaint.
Anyone who makes a complaint is expected to observe the processes in place for their complaint (including those about confidentiality) and to behave in a courteous and reasonable manner towards University staff who investigate or decide the outcome of those complaints. The University will not tolerate unreasonable or unreasonably persistent behaviour.
The University will provide training to employees on how to handle complaints by students.
Many problems and complaints happen through misunderstandings. The University believes that, in most cases, they are best dealt with quickly and informally with the staff member concerned. For example, if a student disagrees with an academic decision, the University encourages him or her to speak to the lecturer or course coordinator concerned as soon as possible.
Complaints from international students will be managed in accordance with the . See below for information on seeking external review of complaints. International students may seek assistance or advice from USQ International.
The University wishes to reassure students that they should not feel anxious about raising a problem or concern with members of staff or about appealing a decision of the University. These are all treated seriously by the University.
The University expects any staff member contacted about a complaint to provide the complainant with information about how to pursue the complaint, including referral to an appropriate contact or information on the University’s web page about pursuing their complaint.
Staff members who receive a complaint shall be encouraged, wherever possible, to acknowledge the complaint within three (3) working days and to resolve complaints within ten (10) working days. In most cases, notification to the student of the resolution should occur no more than ten (10) working days after the commencement of the investigation. If the complainant is not satisfied that sufficient progress towards a resolution has been made, refer to for more information about handling complaints from students.
If a student wishes to appeal against a decision under any of the University’s policies or procedures (for instance, academic decisions affecting assessment or findings of misconduct), he or she must lodge his or her appeal within twenty (20) working days.
The University encourages students to try and resolve their problem or concern informally with the staff member concerned. Any student may raise an informal issue at any time, either face to face, by telephone, by e-mail or in writing. Many problems or concerns tend to arise through misunderstandings and the University believes that, in most cases, they are best dealt with quickly and informally with the person concerned.
It is important that students give full details about their problem or concern when they first raise it and advise their preferred way of resolving it. This will help the staff member to make sure the problem or concern is dealt with under the correct process. Students are also encouraged to tell staff about any underlying personal or other issues that may have contributed to, or exacerbated, the complaint or concern. This will help staff to try and approach the student’s problem or concern in a more holistic way for the student, including referral of the student to other forms of support and assistance.
However, there are times when the student may feel uncomfortable about approaching the staff member concerned, particularly if the complaint is serious or involves that particular staff member. In these cases, students should seek advice or assistance from or the . International students can also seek advice or assistance from USQ International.
All legitimate problems or concerns will be taken seriously and students will not suffer disadvantage or recrimination if they raise a concern, make a complaint or lodge an appeal. However, students who make allegations about other people that they know to be untrue, malicious or vexatious may become the subject of misconduct proceedings.
The University expects students to behave in a reasonable and courteous manner at all times. While students may at times feel frustrated or stressed about their problem or concern, rude, aggressive or other unreasonable behaviour towards staff or others is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Such behavior may become the subject of misconduct proceedings.
Generally speaking, the University will not respond to anonymous complaints. However, there may be exceptions where the alleged behaviour involves a serious matter, such as corruption or criminal behaviour. USQ has a current in place to ensure a dedicated and highly visible means to report Public Interest Disclosures whilst protecting those making the report. If students are unsure what to do, the University recommends that students seek advice from the .
If students feel uncomfortable about having their complaint dealt with informally, or have not been able to resolve it informally, they can choose to have their complaint dealt with formally.
Students can make a formal complaint at any time. The University has established various processes for handling different types of complaints.
Formal complaints should be made in writing and sent to the Head of Department or Head of Discipline to which the complaint relates. However, if that person is the subject of the complaint, or is perceived to have a conflict of interest, then the next most senior staff member must be approached, such as the Dean of the Faculty or for administrative complaints, the Head of the Administrative Unit.
a description of the complaint and when or where it happened. This should be brief and to the point;
whether the student has already spoken to someone (such as a staff member) about their complaint or taken any other action to try and resolve it
copies of any relevant documents or correspondence;
how the student would like the complaint to be resolved.
All formal complaints will be investigated by the relevant staff member designated to investigate and/or decide or make recommendations in relation to the complaint in accordance with University’s prescribed procedures. Where appropriate, mediation or conciliation will be offered as a means of resolving the dispute. For more information about mediation, please see paragraph 3.6 below.
What is mediation?
Mediation is a voluntary process where parties in dispute are assisted by a qualified and trained mediator to identify the issues, explore various solutions and try and negotiate an agreement to resolve the dispute. A mediator plays no advisory or decision-making role in relation to the dispute.
Independent mediation is available through the Dispute Resolution Branch, Department of Justice and Attorney-General. There are six Dispute Resolution Centres throughout Queensland. The Brisbane Centre is located on the 13th Flr, Central Courts Building, 170 North Quay, QLD 4000. Contact: Tel: +61 7 3239 6269; Fax: +61 7 3239 6284. Students outside Brisbane may use the Toll Free No: 1800 017 288. At present there is no fee for use of this service, however this is subject to change.
When lodging an appeal against a grade, assessment, discipline or misconduct penalty, it is important that students refer to the policy in the University Calendar and follow the correct procedures. Students should seek advice or assistance from or the Student Guild in the first instance. International students can also seek advice or assistance from
Students who raise a problem or a concern formally or informally can expect that:
their complaint will be used as part of the University’s process of ongoing improvement;
their complaint will be taken seriously and every reasonable effort will be made to try and resolve it to the student’s satisfaction;
their complaint will be treated in a fair, impartial and professional manner;
formal complaints will receive written acknowledgement, ideally within three (3) working days of its receipt (or within any deadline prescribed in any University Policy);
they will be kept informed as to the progress of their complaint and the steps taken to resolve it;
complaints will be resolved as quickly as possible, ideally within ten (10) working days. However, in some cases, it may take time to fully investigate a complaint and ensure that a fair and equitable outcome is achieved;
steps will be taken to protect their anonymity and to safeguard the confidentiality of any information provided as part of the complaints procedure;
they will be given notice about any meetings or hearings and informed of the outcome of their complaint in writing. When informed of the outcome and if complainant is dissatisfied with the outcome of their complaint, they will be told of further avenues or sources of internal or external review.
Further internal review
Students who are dissatisfied with the outcome of their complaint may have further rights of internal review available. Students are advised to seek information and advice from the USQ in the first instance.
If a student is dissatisfied with the outcome of his or her complaint, or the University's handling of it, external sources of advice or review may be available, including:
External review of complaints made by international students
Standard 8 of the made under the Education Services for Overseas Student Act 2007 requires Australian universities to have in place arrangements for independent external review of complaints and appeals made by international students. For further information, please contact
Sources of advice
Several internal sources of confidential advice are available, including:
The procedures outlined in this policy do not apply to complaints relating to:
discrimination on the grounds of gender, race, disability, age, career status, gender identity, parental status, political belief or activity, lawful sexual activity, breastfeeding, industrial activity, sexual orientation, marital status, physical features, religious belief or activity, sexuality or pregnancy;
Each administrative or academic unit responsible for managing a complaint must:
provide to the Pro Vice-Chancellor (Student Management) by 30 June and 31 December in each year a de-identified statistical analysis of all formal complaints handled by that unit during the preceding six month period in a prescribed format and containing details that will enable the University to identify and monitor any systemic issues and provide opportunities for ongoing improvement.
Type of Grievance or Issue
Sources of Informal Help
Admission decisions – denial of admission or cancellation of enrolment
Marker or Examiner of the course
Fraud or corruption
Supervisor or unit manager
Discrimination – racial, religious, gender, etc
Examiner or Moderator of the course
Fees and charges
Study Material Provision
A problem or concern raised by a student about something affecting his or her studies or life as a student, which has crystallised into an informal or a formal complaint.
A complaint raised by a student with a university staff member which is dealt with under a formal process of the university.
A complaint raised by a student with a university staff member which is dealt with directly by a staff member (usually in the first instance) but not under a formal process. Informal complaints can sometimes be in writing, including email.
Problem or concern
A question or other issue raised by a student about something affecting his or her studies or life as a student, but which has not yet crystallised into a complaint.
A student wishing to lodge a formal complaint should complete this form and submit it in hard copy or electronically to the head of the appropriate unit. Only complaints submitted with name and contact details will be considered.
Your rights to access and amend your personal information are set out in the Information Privacy Act 2009 (Qld) which also places obligations on USQ as to how we handle your personal information. For further information concerning Privacy, please direct any queries to the USQ Legal Office.
Describe your complaint:
What have you done so far to seek resolution?
Why are the outcomes not satisfactory to you?
What outcomes are you seeking?
I give permission for my complaint to be referred to other officers of the University of Southern Queensland during the investigation of the grievance.
Signature: _______________________________ Date: ____/____/____
(hard copy only) dd mm yyyy
The University of Southern Queensland aims to provide its students with a high quality teaching and learning experience. However, problems or concerns do arise from time to time that need to be dealt with by staff. The University has put in place a Complaints Management Policy and various procedures to deal with different types of complaints.
The purpose of these guidelines is to provide University staff with a useful framework for handling complaints, including informal complaints, so that staff can feel confident about dealing appropriately with problems or concerns and minimise the risk of them escalating unnecessarily.
Staff members who deal with problems or concerns raised by students are expected, within the limits of their authority, to try and resolve them as quickly and early as possible, to avoid them escalating into formal complaints or appeals and causing stress to both students and staff.
In order to determine the correct procedure, staff should familiarise themselves with Section 2.7 of the Complaints Management Policy which provides the definition of a complaint, an appeal and a grievance..
Sometimes problems or concern may seem trivial or ill-founded, but staff should listen attentively and dispassionately, and focus on realistic ways to try and resolve the problem or concern, taking into account any wishes expressed by the student about how it might reasonably be resolved.
When staff members are approached with a problem or a concern for the first time, staff should ask questions to try and find out:
What the problem or concern is really about and, if it is a complaint, whether the student has used the correct process (if not, the staff member should direct the student to the appropriate staff member and process). This may include, where appropriate, asking the student about any underlying issues (such as health or personal issues) that may be affecting, contributing to or exacerbating the problem;
If the student has already approached another person, or taken other steps, to try and resolve the problem or concern and, if so, any outcome(s);
What the student wants or expects as an outcome.
Staff members should:
If the student’s problem or concern arises out of a decision (for example, a mark for an assignment or examination), explain to the student how that decision was reached;
Explain to the student what he or she can and cannot do to try and resolve their complaint, including any limits on their powers to deal with the problem;
Inform the student if the complaint needs to be referred to another person and, if so, to whom it will be referred and the reason(s) why;
Explain to the student what further steps the student can take (including any rights of appeal) if they are unhappy with the outcome;
Provide a realistic timeline for dealing with the complaint (note that where complaints or appeals are made by international students, then the process for dealing with that must commence within 10 working days of the student raising it, although it does not have to be resolved within that time – see Standard 8 of the .
Unless the staff member is dealing with the complaint under a formal process, try to resolve the complaint without resort to formal processes in the first instance;
If appropriate, and particularly if the student concerned appears to be at risk, encourage the student to seek assistance through the University’s counselling, medical or other student welfare services.
Each complaint is unique, and it is important that staff try and find a solution that deals with the student’s particular concerns. Some examples of what staff might be able to offer as a way of resolving a complaint are:
Express empathy or regret about the concern or problem raised, without necessarily admitting that the University or staff member was at fault;
If it is apparent that the University or staff member is at fault, offer an apology and tell the student what remedial action will be taken;
If the problem or concern relates to the student’s assessment, explain how they were assessed and give reasons for the assessment reached. This type of interaction is a normal part of a student’s teaching and learning experience;
If the problem or concern relates to minor plagiarism, consider whether it is more appropriate to deal with it in an educative, rather than punitive, manner, so that the focus is on its future prevention and the student has a clearer idea of what is and what is not acceptable;
Correcting records that are incomplete, inaccurate, out of date or misleading (without the necessity of having to make a formal application under freedom of information or privacy laws).
Where staff cannot solve the problem for the student, they should still try to assist the student to resolve the problem themselves, or refer them to someone who can.
In some cases, there may be some other underlying problem, concern or issue contributing to the problem or concern raised by the student, but which the student is reluctant to raise with the staff member. In these cases, staff members should encourage students to seek assistance or support through or the .
If the staff member is unable to resolve the complaint straight away (particularly if an investigation is necessary), they should assure the student of this and tell them what steps the staff member will be taking in order to try and find a suitable outcome. If the problem or concern needs to be referred to another staff member, the staff member should do so and tell the student why and to whom the problem or concern has been referred.
If a staff member believes a complaint is untrue, malicious or vexatious, then they should still obtain full details about the complaint from the student and then speak to their supervisor before responding. Advice about how to respond to untrue, malicious or vexatious complaints can be obtained from
Staff should refer complaints to their supervisor (and should do so generally within 24 hours) where:
The problem or concern is clearly outside the staff member’s delegation or area of expertise;
The complaint involves the staff member’s own conduct and the staff member is not confident that he or she can deal with it fairly and impartially, or feels that the student will perceive that his or her complaint is not being dealt with fairly and impartially;
There is an established procedure for dealing with a particular type of complaint (for example, corruption, unlawful discrimination, student misconduct);
The student is dissatisfied with an informal resolution and requests another staff member to consider their complaint, and the request is reasonable in the circumstances.
While students may sometimes behave in a rude, aggressive or otherwise unreasonable manner, or make accusations about others (including the staff member dealing with the complaint), staff are nevertheless expected to remain calm, and should continue to treat the student in a professional manner. In some cases, rude, aggressive or other unreasonable behaviour may be a symptom of some underlying or other personal problem or concern of the student. Moreover, this type of behaviour does not always mean that the complaint itself is unreasonable. However, it is unreasonable behaviour for a student to persist with or reframe a complaint or to “forum shop” if that complaint has already been properly dealt with, even if the student is dissatisfied with the result.
If a student persists with rude, aggressive or other unreasonable behaviour, then the staff member should speak with his or her supervisor. Further advice and support can be obtained from Section H3 of the Human Resources Policy – Discrimination and Harassment Complaint Resolution for Employees.
It is critical to the success of resolving any complaint that the person who looks into that complaint does so (and is seen to do so) in a fair and impartial manner that does not involve any conflict of interest.
Accordingly, staff members should not handle a problem or a concern if there is an actual, potential or perceived conflict of interest (such as a personal relationship with the student) or if they feel (or perceive that the student feels) that they cannot otherwise deal with it fairly and impartially for any reason. In these cases, the staff member should speak with their supervisor to arrange another person to handle the problem or concern. The student should be informed of this, and be given the name and contact details of the staff member to whom the problem or concern has been referred.
Staff members who investigate formal complaints are accountable for conducting those investigations in a fair, impartial and professional manner and in accordance with the University’s procedures. The principles set out below should always be observed when investigating complaints.
Staff members who investigate complaints made by students should always:
Commence the process within ten working days of the complaint being referred to him or her (or, if applicable, an earlier deadline specified in the relevant rule or procedure);
Contact the student as soon as possible (ideally within three working days) after the complaint is referred to him or her and advise:
The complainant they are investigating and the process that applies (and give the student copies of any policies or procedures documenting that process);
What the investigation will involve (for example, interviews);
The expected timeframe for completing that investigation, which should always be reasonable but realistic, taking into account resources and a variety of other factors, such as university vacations;
Possible outcomes from that investigation;
If there is any change to the timeframe because of any delays, investigators are expected to keep the student informed so that expectations do not become unrealistic;
Conduct (and be seen to conduct) an investigation in a fair, objective and impartial manner;
Tell their supervisor about any actual or potential conflicts of interest immediately they become aware of them;
Treat the investigation as confidential and do not discuss it with anyone except others involved in the investigation (or the decision-making process) and then only on a strictly “need to know” basis;
Make appropriate arrangements for the security and storage of all materials and evidence in relation to that investigation. All investigations must be recorded in an official University file;
Act within the limits of his or her authority;
Be clear about what the complaint is about, and clarify this with the complainant;
Comply with any procedures prescribed by the University for investigating complaints;
Ensure they comply with any applicable statutory requirements in investigating complaints (for instance, those relating to public interest disclosures or complaints involving international students);
Allow students (regardless of whether they are the complainant or assisting the inquiry) to be accompanied at any meeting by a friend or other support person. Students should be informed of this before the meeting;
Where the investigation involves the gathering of evidence:
Pursue all possible lines of inquiry (and remember that investigators are free to pursue any reasonable line of inquiry, and are not bound by any rules of evidence unless the rule or procedure stipulates that this is so);
Give everyone affected a reasonable opportunity to tell their side of the story;
Be prepared to interview a person more than once in order to clarify their side of the story;
Interview witnesses independently of each other and take any other steps to minimise the risk of witnesses collaborating with each other;
Assess the evidence fairly and objectively. Wherever possible, try to corroborate evidence, especially where there are inconsistent versions about particular facts;
When the investigation is completed, write a report that sets out:
Who made the complaint (unless it involves a public interest disclosure);
What the complaint or allegation was about;
Who authorised the investigation;
The investigator’s terms of reference;
Who was interviewed (unless it involves a public interest disclosure) and what that they said;
A description of any documentary evidence reviewed;
Any other lines of inquiry pursued in the investigation;
What the findings or recommendations are and what evidence they are based on;
Any further line(s) of inquiry that may need to be pursued before any final determination can be made;
If applicable and appropriate, identify any systemic problem with University processes that might come to light out of the investigation and recommend how these might be improved.
If the investigator is not the decision-maker, send the investigation report to the relevant University officer(s) responsible for deciding the matter.
In some cases, one complaint can involve more than one complaint process, or trigger counter complaints that need to be dealt with under a different process. In these cases, the original complaint should be investigated and dealt with in its own right under each applicable process. Where counter complaints are made, the resolution process for the original complaint should not be confused with that for the counter-complaint. However, it is important to ensure that there are appropriate communication lines between those investigating different aspects of a complaint to ensure that all aspects are dealt with properly and in a way that is fair to all parties concerned, but without compromising proper adherence to procedures.
Staff members who hear or decide formal complaints are accountable for hearing and deciding them in a fair, impartial and professional manner and in accordance with the University’s procedures. The principles set out below should always be observed when hearing or deciding complaints.
If they are also responsible for investigating the complaint, observe the principles set out in section 3 of these Guidelines;
Act fairly and impartially;
Disclose any actual or potential conflicts of interest immediately they become aware of them;
Act within the limits of their authority;
Ensure the student has had a reasonable opportunity to respond to any evidence that may not be favourable to him or her;
Make a decision on the basis of only that evidence put before them;
Assess the evidence fairly and objectively;
Comply with any applicable statutory requirements (for instance, those relating to public interest disclosures or complaints involving international students);
If there is a hearing involved, notify the student in writing of the time, date and place of the hearing, and tell them they may bring along a friend or other support person or advocate of their choice. This is particularly important if, for example, the student’s first language is not English or if they have a disability or suffer from some other disadvantage that affects their ability to exercise their right to be heard;
It is recommended that complaints be documented as follows:
Who made the complaint (unless it involves a public interest disclosure) and what it was about;
The relevant University rule or process used for deciding this complaint;
What is to be decided (that is to say, the nature of the finding to be made and any penalty);
Who was interviewed (unless it involves a public interest disclosure);
What documents (if any) were reviewed and evidence taken or not taken into account;
Any other lines of inquiry pursued in the investigation;
What the decision is and the reasons for it. This does not require a meticulous analysis of every detail of the case, however, the reasons should indicate the evidence that led to the conclusions reached;
Inform students about any internal or (if appropriate) external avenues of review or appeal, including contact details, web links and (for internal avenues of appeal) and copies of documents (or where these can be downloaded from the University’s website);
If applicable and appropriate, identify any systemic problem with University processes that might come to light from the complaint or appeal and recommend how these might be improved;
Send a copy of the decision depending on the process involved) to student and relevant University officer(s).
If the complaint being handled results in a decision that supports the student, immediate action must be taken to notify the student of this decision in writing and implement any decision and/or corrective and preventative action required.
Set out below is an explanation of some legal terms used in this protocol and guideline.
University staff and officers make a number of decisions that are authorised under the University of Southern Queensland Act 1998, and statutes and regulations made under the Act. Staff and officers who make decisions may only do so if they have authority delegated to them – authority cannot be assumed just because they are a staff member or officer. This is particularly important where the decision affects the rights of another person as it may affect its invalidity if the decision-maker has no authority.
The following principles apply:
Always check the relevant rule, policy or other document to ensure you have authority to make the decision
It is acceptable to obtain assistance or advice from another person about how to make or implement a decision, but the judgment or discretion must always be yours;
You cannot “sub-delegate” your decision-making power to another person. This is a general legal principle and is also expressed in section 11 of the University of Southern Queensland Act (which contains a general power of delegation of Council’s powers).
A decision must always be based on and supported by facts or considerations that are relevant – irrelevant considerations could lead to a decision being declared invalid by a court or a tribunal. Some guiding principles are:
Always consider both sides of an argument where there is a dispute about certain facts or events;
Although a decision-maker, generally speaking, does not have a duty to initiate independent lines of inquiry, this may be necessary where information is centrally relevant to a decision and can be obtained readily to clarify a point;
The rules of evidence that normally apply in a court do not apply, but they cannot be completely ignored. Evidence must always have some persuasive value and be reliable. Mere suspicion about something is not a good foundation for a decision;
The criminal standard of proof “beyond reasonable doubt” does not necessarily apply – the standard applicable to civil dispute resolution “reasonable satisfaction” is sufficient. However, where findings and outcomes from those findings are serious for the person affected by the decision, then more rigour should be applied to assessing that evidence;
A conflict of interest is essentially an actual or potential clash between a person’s personal interests and their public duty to make a decision fairly and impartially. Conflicts of interest can arise in a number of ways, including through personal association or financial interests. A simple test for identifying a conflict of interest is:
Is it likely that you are or could be influenced by some personal interest that affects your ability to act fairly and impartially?
Is it likely that another person, acting fairly and reasonably, could perceive that you are or could be influenced by a personal interest that affects your ability to act fairly and impartially?
If the answer to either or both of these is ‘yes’, then it is very important that staff speak with their supervisor so that the conflict of interest can be properly identified and managed.
This is essentially a code of fair procedure for making decisions. It applies to all universities and can be enforced by courts or tribunals. In the context of academic appeals and student misconduct matters, the essential elements are:
Giving the student a reasonable opportunity to be heard. If the matter involves student misconduct, the student should know what the allegation against him or her is in sufficient detail that he or she can answer it;
Giving the student reasonable opportunity to respond before the decision is made;
Genuinely considering all the evidence without bias;
Basing the decision on evidence that supports it.
Giving reasons is essential to good and transparent decision-making because they provide the rationale for how the decision was reached. They also contribute to consistency and accountability. A statement of reasons should contain:
An accurate description of the decision reached and the basis for that decision (for example, a reference to the policy or rule under which that decision was made);
A description of the process followed in reaching the decision, including any procedural requirements specified in a policy or rule);
The facts on which the decision is based (it is important that these are also relevant to the policy or rule under which the decision is made and do not include other irrelevant matters);
A statement of how the evidence supports the decision made. In some cases, there may be a choice or discretion as to which decision should be made. In those cases, the rationale for deciding a particular way should be explained and why that approach was preferred;
Details of any internal avenues of review or appeal available, including under any University rule or policy.
A complaint that is (regardless of its merits) raised solely to annoy, irritate or harass another.