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Standard 10 - Complaints and appeals

Complaints Management Procedure

Policy Code: CG1091

Purpose

This procedure outlines the way in which complaints made by students and members of the public are managedat Federation University Australia.

The University aims to resolve complaints and concerns from students and members of the public in a transparent, consistent, fair and timely manner.

Feedback received through the complaint process provides the University with valuable insights, allowing the University to improve the experience of its students and that of members of the public.

Scope

This Procedureapplies to complaints made by :

  1. students of the University, including students studying with partner providers; and
  2. members of the public.

When dealing with complaints made by members of the public, the University will make adjustments to the processes set out in this Procedure if and as necessary or appropriate in the circumstances.

NOTE: this Procedure does NOT apply to complaints made by staff members of the University. The complaints or grievances of staff members are managed according to the terms of the Staff Grievance Policy (at https://policy.federation.edu.au/human_resources/employment_conditions/staff_grievance/ch1.pdf) and the Staff Grievance Procedure (at https://policy.federation.edu.au/human_resources/employment_conditions/staffconsultancy/ch2.pdf

All staff members, when handling concerns or complaints from students or members of the public, must comply with this Procedure.

This Procedure does not apply to decisions made under University statute or regulation, University appeals or where another specific policy applies.

Legislative context

  • Higher Education Standards Framework (Threshold Standards) 2015 
  • Standards for Registered Training Organisations 2015  
  • National Code of Practice for Providers of Education and Training to Overseas Students 2018  
  • Australian Quality and Training Framework Standards. 
  • Victorian Regulations and Qualifications Authority Guidelines to Minimum Standards 2016 
  • Victorian  Public Interest Disclosure Act 2012

Definitions

Term Definition
Complaint

A complaint is an expression of dissatisfaction with one or more  aspects of:

(1)    a student’s or

(2)    a member of the public’s

experience with the University or with the University environment. A complaint may be made about a partner provider, contractor or agent.

Investigator Means a person independent of the persons involved in the complaint and who is appointed to investigate the facts of the complaint.  The investigator may be internal or external to the University.
Mediation Means an informal dispute resolution process, where the complainant and the University attempt to reach an agreed resolution with the assistance of an independent person.  The independent person may be internal or external to the University.
Member of the Public In addition to its natural meaning, this term includes prospective students and former students of the University.
Natural Justice

Means general procedural fairness in the handling of a complaint and includes:

  • giving a person who may be affected by a decision a reasonable opportunity to respond;
  • the right to attend meetings with a support person, if required (the support person may be internal or external to the University and should not hold a legal qualification);
  • the right to a fair an unbiased process for all parties involved;
  • genuine consideration by the decision-maker of any submissions made;
  • genuine inquiry into any areas of dispute;
  • the right to an independent, unbiased decision-maker; and
  • a final decision that is based solely on the relevant evidence.
Partner Provider Means a third party provider, located either onshore or offshore, who has entered into an agreement with the University to deliver all or part of a course or program to students.
Staff Includes any person who has an employment contract with the University on a full-time, part-time, sessional or casual basis, or those employed through a contract for services.
Student Means a person currently enrolled or admitted as a student of the University.
Student Grievance Officers Student Grievance Officers are designated persons within each School, department or partner provider with responsibility for assisting in the resolution of complaints.
Student Integrity Office The office which is responsible for the University’s complaint processes (excluding staff complaints or grievances) and the management of the online complaints portal.
Student Integrity Officer The officer who administers the University’s complaint processes (excluding staff complaints or grievances) and online complaints portal. The Student Integrity Officer can be contacted at Student.Integrity@federation.edu.au
University Grievance Officer This role is held by the Director, Governance and Strategy. The University Grievance Officer can be contacted at grievanceofficer@federation.edu.au.

Actions

Student Grievance Officers

Student Grievance Officers assist students to resolve their complaints in an informal way and at the earliest possible opportunity under this Procedure.  Student Grievance Officers will actively seek the advice of the Student Integrity Office and the Manager, Equity and Equal Opportunity, where appropriate.  Refer here for a full listing of available Student Grievance Officers.

Alternative staff member

Where appropriate, a Student Grievance Officer, Dean, Director or equivalent may nominate an alternative staff member to manage a Level 1 or 2 complaint on their behalf. The nominee will apply all applicable processes under the Complaints Management Policy and this Procedure.

Support person

All complainants have the right to a support person during any stage of the complaints management process.  The support person may be internal or external to the University and should not hold a legal qualification. A support person is an observer and may not speak unless invited to do so by the person responsible for conducting the relevant meeting or discussion.

Right to an advocate

A student enrolled as an international student, and a domestic student whose capacity for self- advocacy is impaired because of disability, has the right to a non-legally trained advocate of their choice to represent them during the complaints process.

Student Support Services

Confidentiality

All persons involved in the complaint process must maintain confidentiality and only discuss the complaint with persons who need to know in order to assist in the resolution of the complaint. This responsibility extends to the complainant. Failure to maintain confidentiality may result in disciplinary action.

Public interest disclosures, including complaints about the improper or corrupt conduct of University officers (within the meaning of the Public Interest Disclosures Act 2012), must be made to the Independent Broad-based Anti- Corruption Commission (IBAC). Further information regarding public interest disclosures can be found in the University’s Public Interest Disclosures Procedure.

Anonymous Complaints

If a complainant submits a complaint anonymously, the University might be limited in the actions it can take to resolve it. If the complainant does not provide contact information, the University might not be able to provide a response to the complaint.

Good Faith

Every complaint must be made in good faith and must include all relevant facts to assist the University to resolve it. The University is committing to making a genuine attempt to resolve complaints.  Inappropriate language and behaviours, or misuse of the complaints process, can may lead to disciplinary action.

Fairness and no retribution

This Procedure will be applied in a consistent and fair manner.  The University will not tolerate retributive actions or the victimization of a person who raises a concern or complaint in good faith.

Timeliness

Complainants should take steps to address their concerns as soon as possible. While the University does not set a time limit for the making of a complaint, each complaint should be made as promptly as possible. In the case of current and former students: the complaint must relate to issues arising from the period of the student’s admission to or enrolment at the University.

As time passes complaints can become very difficult to resolve and in some circumstances, the University may determine that a complaint has been submitted too late to be considered and acted upon.  

First step (for students only): informal self-managed resolution

Before making a complaint, a student is expected to try and resolve the concern directly and informally with the person or area involved, if it is reasonable and appropriate to do so. To do this, they should contact the relevant person and arrange a time to discuss the issue. This person might be the Course Coordinator, Program Coordinator or Academic Coordinator in the first instance.

The Student Advocacy Service can help assist students to clarify their issues, prepare for informal meetings and/or provide support at informal meetings.

Submitting a Complaint

Current students only:

As indicated above, as a first measure student complainants may approach the relevant staff member within their School and attempt the resolve the concern informally at a local level.

If a student complainant is unable to resolve a matter informally they may submit an online complaint: see below.

All complainants:

If a student or member of the public wishes to submit a complaint, the complaint must be in writing and submitted as an online complaint.

The complaint must clearly set out:

  • details of the concern or issues which the complainant wishes to raise, including relevant actions, dates and persons concerned;
  • what steps (if any) that the complainant has taken to attempt to resolve the concern;
  • the outcome which the complainant is seeking; and
  • all relevant documents/attachments.

Upon submitting an online complaint, the student complainant will receive an automated email confirming receipt.

The University may in its discretion dismiss a complaint if the complaint :

  • is not submitted in good faith,;
  • is misguided,;
  • is frivolous,;
  • is malicious; or
  • is vexatious.

If a complainant submits a complaint relating to a matter that has already been dealt with by the University, the University will not take any further action unless it considers there to be unresolved issues with respect to those matters.

Complaint Levels

Complaints comprise into three levels:

  • Level 1 complaints (available to all complainants): are managed by Local, Student Grievance Officer or alternative nominee;
  • Level 2 complaint (available to all complainants): are managed by School, Directorate, Partner Provider or alternative nominee; and
  • Level 3 complaint (available for student complainants only): managed at University level.

Level 1 complaint

Within 5 working days of the submission of a complaint, the Student Integrity Office or the relevant Student Grievance Officer will email the complainant to confirm:

  • whether the subject matter of the complaint will be considered under the Complaints Management Policy;
  • if so, the member of staff or School/Directorate that the complaint has been assigned to. If the subject matter of the complaint falls outside theComplaints Management Policy the  complainant will be redirected to the appropriate area of the University; and
  • the level of the complaint process that applies and a copy of this Procedure (or an email link to it).

The Student Grievance Officer will attempt to resolve the complaint with the complainant. The Student Grievance Officer may take such steps that they believe may assist in resolving the concern. The steps may include:

  • meeting or talking with the complainant and/or other persons referred to in the complaint;
  • gathering information relevant to the complaint;
  • referring the complaint to an appropriate staff member who can assist to resolve the complaint;
  • referring the student to support services (e.g. counselling, Student Advocacy services); and
  • consulting with subject matter experts.

Within 15 working days’ of receiving the complaint, the Student Grievance Officer will notify the complainant by email of the outcome and actions that have been agreed. This timeframe may only be extended with the consent of the complainant.

If the complainant is dissatisfied with the outcome of this process they may choose to escalate their complaint to Level 2 by emailing Student.Integrity@federation.edu.au within 20 working days’ of the date of their outcome letter. The Student Grievance Officer’s email will advise the complainant of the right to escalate the complaint to Level 2 under this Procedure

Level 2 complaint (School or Partner Provider)

A Level 2 complaint is activated when a complaint is escalated to it from Level 1 or when, because of the particular circumstances of the case, the Student Integrity Officer determines that a complaint should be handled at the School or Partner Provider level in the first instance.

Within 5 working days’ of receipt of a Level 2 complaint, the Student Integrity Officer will email the complainant to confirm the person to whom the complaint has been referred for resolution (Dean or equivalent).

The Dean (or equivalent officer) will attempt to resolve the complaint with the complainant. The Dean (or equivalent officer) may take such steps as they believe may assist in resolving the concern. The steps may include:

  • meeting or talking with the complainant and/or other persons referred to in the complaint;
  • gathering information relevant to the complaint;
  • referring the complaint to an appropriate staff member who can assist to resolve the complaint;
  • referring the student to support services (e.g. counselling, Student Advocacy services); and
  • consulting with subject-matter experts.

Within 20 working days of the Level 2 complaint being received, the Dean (or equivalent officer) will notify the complainant by email of the outcome of the complaint, and the actions which will follow. The 20-day timeframe may only be extended with the consent of the complainant. If the complainant is a student, the email will inform them of the possibility of requesting an escalation of the complaint to Level 3 (for the specific conditions of escalation to Level 3, see below).

Request to Escalate Complaint to Level 3 (Students Only)

If the complainant is a student, and that student is dissatisfied with the outcome of the Level 2 processes, they may request an escalation his or her complaint to Level 3.  Escalation of a complaint to Level 3 is subject to certain conditions: see ‘Grounds for Escalation’, set out below.

As noted above, a complainant who is a member of the public is not entitled to escalate their complaint to Level 3.

A student complainant may request an escalation of the complaint to Level 3 by emailing Student.Integrity@federation.edu.au within 15  working days’ of the date of letter informing the student of the outcome of the Level 2 complaint.

Grounds for Escalation to Level 3

A student complainant’s request to escalate a complaint to Level 3 must expressly state that the request is made on one or more of the following grounds:

(a)    that there is new, relevant evidence that was not available at Level 1 or Level 2 stages of the process, which new evidence must be described or attached to the request;

(b)    that there was a failure at the Level 1 or Level 2 stages to consider evidence which was available at that time.

(c)    that there was a failure at the Level 1 or Level 2 stages to comply with relevant University policy, procedure or processes; or

(d) that there was a failure at Level 1 or Level 2 stages to apply principles of procedural fairness.

In each case, the student complainant must provide evidence or other information substantiating the grounds alleged.

The University Grievance Officer’s decision whether or not to accept the escalation of a complaint to Level 3 will be based upon his or her determination that the documentation provided by the complainant has satisfied one or more of the grounds set out in (a) – (d), above.

Within 10 working days of submission of the request to escalate the complaint to Level 3, the Student Integrity Officer or the University Grievance Officer will inform the complainant whether that request has been granted.

Level 3 complaint (University)

A Level 3 complaint takes one of the two following forms:

(1)    a complaint made by a student is permitted to escalated from Level 2, as set out above, or

(2)     the University Grievance Officer, having been consulted by the Student Integrity Officer, determines that, due to the serious nature of the complaint, the complaint should be handled at University level in the first instance.

There are two ways in which a Level 3 complaint will be managed:

(1)    Mediation/Alternative Dispute Resolution

If the University Grievance Officer is of the opinion that mediation or another form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) may assist in the resolution of the complaint, the University Grievance Officer may propose this option to the complainant. The complainant must consent to participate in the mediation/ADR process and also to the proposed time frame for the mediation/ADR process to be conducted.

(2)    If a proposal of mediation/ADR is not made or accepted, then the following process will apply:

Within 10 working days’ of accepting of a Level 3 complaint, the University Grievance Officer will email the complainant to confirm the name and title of the senior staff member appointed to deal with the complaint. The usual process for determining a Level 3 complaint is by the conduct of an investigation. A senior staff member, for the purposes of managing this procedure, usually will be a member of the Vice Chancellor’s Senior Team.

Note that where the University Grievance Officer has permitted the escalation of a complaint from Level 2 to Level 3, the 10  working days’ will commence from the date the student complainant was notified that their complaint had been accepted as a Level 3 complaint. 

Within 10 working days of acceptance of a Level 3 complaint, the senior staff member must, on the recommendation of the University Grievance Officer, appoint an investigator to assess the facts that relate to the complaint. The investigator may be either internal or external to the University.

As part of the investigation process, the investigator will:

  • speak with the student and any other persons they consider relevant to the complaint;
  • gather information and documents related to the complaint;
  • seek any further information that they consider necessary;
  • conduct the investigation in accordance with the principles of natural justice;
  • make factual findings on matters relevant to the complaint; and
  • recommend to the senior staff member appropriate action to be taken by the University (if required).

The investigator must conduct an investigation and provide a report to the senior staff member for consideration within 25 working days of being appointed. The senior staff member will consider the report and will determine an appropriate outcome. The senior staff member will notify the complainant of the outcome, the reasons for the decision made and any steps that will be taken.

The senior staff member’s decision is the final step in the student complaint process and is not open to challenge through any other dispute resolution mechanism within the University.

Note: if mediation or another form of ADR is attempted in the first instance, but is not successful, the timeframes for the investigative process outlined above will be adjusted accordingly.

External Review

Complaints about the administrative actions and decisions of the University may be made to the Victorian Ombudsman. Refer to the Ombudsman Victoria website for further information. Students studying in another State may make a complaint to the equivalent office in that State. The relevant Ombudsman in each state can be found by clicking on the below links:

•    NSW

•    QLD

•    SA

The Ombudsman is generally the office of last resort. If you have not followed the steps laid down in the relevant University procedures, the Ombudsman may ask you to do so before accepting your complaint.

Students may also access other external organisations such as the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission and the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Review and Improvement

Monitoring, reporting and review will occur with the purpose of reducing complaint instance rates and addressing underlying causes.  Regular reporting will assist with the identification of recurring complaints or systematic issues. 

The University Grievance Officer will generate de-identified reports from student complaint data for consideration by senior staff and the Vice Chancellor’s Senior Team for this purpose. 

Responsibility

  • The Vice Chancellor’s Senior Team reports and provides assurance to the University Council that student complaints are being monitored and appropriate steps are being taken to address underlying causes.
  • The Cheif Operating Officer (as Approval Authority), is responsible for approving and overseeing the implementation of this procedure.
  • The Director, Governance and Strategy (as Policy Sponsor), through the Student Integrity Office, is responsible for reviewing and implementing this policy.
  • The University Grievance Officer and the Student Integrity Office is responsible for the effective processing and reporting of studentcomplaints.

Promulgation

This procedure will be communicated by:

  1. A FedNews announcement and on the ‘Recently Approved Documents’ page on the University’s Policy Central website;
  2. Distribution of e-mail communication to the Vice Chancellor’s Senior Team / Deans or equivalent / Directors or equivalent / staff and corresponding roles within partner providers.

Implementation

This procedure will be implemented throughout the University via:

  1. A FedNews announcement and on the ‘Recently Approved Documents’ page on the University’s Policy Central website
  2. Staff training sessions

Records Management

Complaint records are held in the central complaints management system, the integrity of which is to be maintained by the Student Grievance Officers, Student Integrity Office and University Grievance Officer in accordance with the Public Record’s Office requirements.