Student Complaints and Appeals - Governing Policy

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Student Complaints and Appeals - Governing Policy


Approval authority
Responsible officer
Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor
Designated officer
Pro Vice-Chancellor (Students)
First approved
3 December 2013
Last amended
31 January 2017
Effective start date
9 December 2013
Review date
31 January 2017
Active - phasing out
Related documents
Student Complaints and Appeals - Procedures
Student Grievance Resolution - Governing Policy
SUPERCEDED as of 31 January 2017 – For reference only. Matters initiated prior to this date may continue to be addressed under this policy. Please refer to the Student Grievance Resolution – Governing Policy.

1. Purpose of policy

This policy provides a framework to administer, manage and report on student complaints and appeals.

2. Policy scope and application

2.1 This policy applies to any complaint or appeal where the complainant or respondent is a USC student.

2.2 A copy of this policy, and its related procedures, is available to staff and students on the University website and USC portal.

2.3 The University provides services and processes to enable all students to be appropriately supported in complaint and appeal processes implemented under this policy and procedures.

3. Definitions

Please refer to the University’s Glossary of Terms for policies and procedures. Terms and definitions identified below are specific to these procedures and are critical to its effectiveness:

Frivolous complaint is a complaint that is groundless, trivial or discloses no cause of action.

Provisional student is a student who has provided the University with evidence that they lodged a complaint or appeal about their restriction, suspension or cancellation of enrolment, and the University chooses to identify them as a “provisional student” until the matter is finalised.

Vexatious complaint is a complaint that is made maliciously with the intent to annoy or embarrass the respondent, or where the complainant has an ulterior or collateral purpose.

4. Stages of the student complaint and appeal process

  • Stage 1 - direct discussions with staff in the relevant School/Faculty or service area of the University.
  • Stage 2 - a written complaint to the relevant School/Faculty or service area of the University or the Senior Deputy Vice Chancellor.
  • Stage 3 - a written appeal to the Senior Deputy Vice Chancellor or Vice-Chancellor and President.
  • Stage 4 - a complaint or appeal made external to the University.

4.1 The procedures accompanying this policy provide detailed guidance for students and staff about handling student complaints or appeals. Most student complaints are about:

  • academic matters such as academic progress, assessment, the content and structure of courses and programs, teaching, supervision of research students;
  • administrative matters such as the quality of the administrative service or the provision of facilities;
  • misbehaviour and misconduct such as unfair treatment, discrimination or harassment.

4.2 Before making a complaint or appeal, students are encouraged to seek impartial and confidential advice from the Student Guild, Student Wellbeing or the Student Ombudsman regarding the process they should follow. In providing advice, neither Student Wellbeing nor the Student Ombudsman can advise the student whether their complaint is likely to be successful.

4.3 Students can make anonymous complaints to the University. Further action may be taken if there is sufficient information to conduct an investigation. Any anonymous complaint about corruption or maladministration must be referred to the Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor for assessment and possible investigation.

5. Student complaint and appeals framework

5.1 Students have the right to make a complaint or appeal concerning any matter or decision made by the University.

i) Where complaints are found to be frivolous or vexatious they will be dismissed by the University. Students will be notified in writing of the reasons that a complaint has been dismissed.

ii) Complainants, or any person involved in a complaint or investigation, will not be subject to reprisal, disadvantage or detriment. The University may take disciplinary action where a person feels they have been subjected to acts or threats of reprisal due to involvement in a complaint.

5.2 There are three broad means for internally addressing student complaints:

   Stage 1 - direct discussion, intended to enable resolution of a student’s concern with minimal delay and minimal administrative formality in appropriate cases.

   Stage 2 - written complaint to:

   Normally, complaints would proceed to this stage only if the concern was not resolved to the student’s satisfaction through the previous Stage 1 complaint processes.

i) the Executive Dean, Head of School, Director or Manager of the area responsible for the concern; which may lead to resolution of the dispute through mediation, or be investigated and result in a decision or determination that may or may not be favourable to the student and that may include actions required to be taken by the School, Faculty or service area; or

ii) the Senior Deputy Vice Chancellor may accept a complaint if the student is not satisfied with the outcome or conduct of the above step; which may lead to resolution of the dispute through mediation, or be investigated and result in a decision or determination that may or may not be favourable to the student, and that may include actions required to be taken by the University.

  • Stage 3 - appeal processes where a student is not satisfied with the outcome of their complaint, or to appeal a decision of the University, which may:

Normally, complaints would proceed to this stage only if the concern was not resolved to the student’s satisfaction through the previous Stage 1 and Stage 2 processes.

i) involve a review of any decision made under the complaint processes including whether the University followed its own policies, rules and procedures during the complaint process; and

ii) lead to the confirmation, amendment or reversal of any decision reached in the complaint processes.

5. 3 In making a decision relating to a complaint or appeal the University will:

i) apply the principles of natural justice; and

ii) make decisions that are consistent and equitable with similar cases.

5.4 Personal information concerning a complainant or appellant is confidential and information will only be disclosed by the University:

i) on a need-to-know basis to the people hearing the complaint, or appeal; and

ii) with the express permission of the Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor to any external person or body hearing a complaint or appeal.

5.5 Complaint and appeal processes will commence within ten working days of the student lodging a written complaint and any associated supporting information.

5. 6 Complaint and appeals processes will be completed within a reasonable timeframe that takes into account the severity and urgency of the situation, safety concerns, implications for a student’s subsequent study and conditions applying to a student’s visa.

5.7 If a student is not satisfied with the outcome of their complaint or appeal or the way in which it was handled, the University will provide information on how to complain or appeal through appropriate external processes at no cost to the student.

i) External complaint and appeal processes will include opportunity for:

a) independent external mediation to try to resolve the matter; and   

b) making a complaint or appeal to an appropriate external body.

5.8 Students will be provided with opportunity to:

i) present their case in any internal complaint or appeal process at no charge; and

ii) be accompanied and assisted by a support person at any relevant meetings, hearings and interviews including those conducted by video or audio link. Support people do not include legal practitioners or University staff members.

5.9 Students will be advised of the complaint and appeal processes that apply to them as part of their Orientation or induction program. Students will be provided with, or advised on how to access, all information concerning the complaint and appeal processes through printed material, the USC website and student portal.

5.10 The information provided to students under item 5.9 will include:

i) encouragement to use the Stage 1 complaint processes before lodging a written complaint, except where the complaint relates to:

c) refund of fees

b) restriction, suspension or cancellation of enrolment, or

c) expulsion from the University.

ii) advice concerning a student’s rights to:

a) access external complaint or appeal processes if the student is not satisfied with the result of the internal complaint and appeal processes;

b) access external mediation services to try to resolve the student’s complaint.

5.11 At the conclusion of a Stage 2 complaint or a Stage 3 appeal process, the student and all other parties involved will be provided with a written statement of the outcome of the process, including detailed reasons for the outcome (except in the case of mediated outcomes) and any actions that the University may be required, or has agreed, to take.

5.12 The University will periodically seek feedback on satisfaction with complaint and appeals processes from complainants, appellants and persons and bodies involved in addressing student complaints. The information will be used only for quality review and improvement purposes.

6. Student status during internal complaint handling and appeals


6.1 Where a student whose enrolment was restricted, suspended or cancelled lodges a complaint or appeal against the decision, the student will be regarded as a “provisional student”.

6.2 During the complaint or appeal process the University:

i) will refrain from advising any relevant Commonwealth or State Government department of the decision to restrict, suspend or cancel a provisional student’s enrolment;

ii) depending on the circumstances of the particular case, may or may not provide learning opportunities for provisional students until completion of the internal complaint or appeal process. If learning opportunities are provided this will be subject to any conditions that the University may determine.   

7. Student status during external complaint handling and appeals


7.1 Where the University’s complaint or appeal process upholds a decision to restrict, suspend or cancel the enrolment of a student, the student may lodge an external complaint or appeal.

7.2 If the student provides the University with notification of the external complaint or appeal within 20 days of being notified of the outcome of the internal complaint or appeal, the University may choose to regard them as a “provisional student” until completion of the external processes.

7.3 The University cannot exercise this option where enrolment was suspended or cancelled because the behaviour of the student was assessed as an unacceptable risk or threat to the University or any member of the University population.

8. Appointment of appeals committees

8.1 The Pro Vice-Chancellor (Students) will ensure that there is an up-to-date register of individuals interested in service on a Student Appeals Committee to provide for the quick assembly of a Student Appeals Committee, as required.

8.2 The student appeals committees will consist of:

i) a Chairperson, who may or may not be a member of the Council; and

ii) a student of the University; and

iii) an appropriate staff member of the University.

The committee may also include suitably qualified professional assistance if required.

8.3 The Vice-Chancellor and President will appoint a person to act as secretary for each matter considered by the appeals committees.

8.4 A quorum for meetings of the committee will be the Chairperson, the student member, and the staff member.

9. Indemnity

The University warrants to any person who diligently undertakes a role for or on behalf of the University in relation to the implementation of this policy, that USC will not hold that person responsible or liable in whole or part for any damages awarded against the person or the University in relation to an act, error or omission committed by the person in the conduct of that role. It will also cover the person’s costs and expenses in defending any claims arising from the diligent exercise of that role.

10. Record-keeping

10.1 For each Stage 2 or 3 complaint or appeal, the following records will be included in the official confidential file of the student making the complaint or appeal:

i) the student’s Stage 2 or Stage 3 complaint or appeal;

ii) complete records of all processes related to the complaint or appeal, and evidence of any externally lodged complaint or appeal;

iii) copies of all correspondence to and from the student, including e-mail, concerning complaints or appeals;

iv) a written record of the outcome of any internal or external complaint or appeal, including the reasons for any decisions reached (except in the case of mediated complaints), and of any actions required or agreed to be taken by the University; and

v) evidence of any action taken by the University in response to the complaint or appeal.

10.2 For the purposes of ensuring equitable treatment of students in similar cases and for quality reviews and improvement, the University will establish and maintain a Register (or set of registers) that records a summary of de-identified information on internal complaints and appeals and related outcomes and actions.

11. Reporting

The University will provide statistical and non-identifying information about the number of complaints and appeals received, and the types and outcomes of the complaints and appeals, in the University Annual Report.


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