Skip to main content

Complaints and Appeals

Your institution will have a policy that sets out how it handles complaints and appeals. This policy should be available to you. You should refer to your institution’s policy for detailed guidance. 

On this page you can find information about the general principles your institution and Durham University follow when dealing with: 

Academic Complaints 

What is an academic complaint? 

If you are registered on a Common Awards programme, you can make a complaint about the academic provision you receive. Matters that you can complain about include (but are not restricted to): 

  • the arrangements for, or delivery of, teaching or assessment for your academic programme 
  • the adequacy of supervision for modules that are a formal and assessed part of the academic programme 
  • academic support 
  • assessed placements that are a formal part of the academic programme 
  • administrative or support services that relate to the academic programme 
  • information or publicity in relation to the academic programme 
  • the infrastructure for academic programmes, including learning resources and teaching spaces. 

This is not intended to be an exhaustive list. There may be other areas of provision or support which could have an impact on your experience of your academic programme and your progress in your studies. 

If you raise a complaint your institution can consult with Durham University about whether or not the matter should be considered an academic complaint. 

Academic complaints do not include complaints about the admissions process or academic appeals. These are covered by separate policies described below. 

What about non-academic complaints? 

Your institution will have its own process for non-academic complaints. 

There are also separate processes that set out what happens if: 

  • you stop engaging in teaching and learning for a substantial period without communicating with your institution about your circumstances and the reasons for your absence (see the Academic Progress Notice procedure) 
  • you commit academic misconduct, such as plagiarism or a breach of your institution’s research ethics policy 
  • you commit non-academic misconduct (see your institution’s disciplinary policies). 

Principles of the academic complaints process 

The academic complaints process has 3 stages. 

Stage 1: 

Informal resolution within your institution

  • Students who have a complaint to make should raise it as soon as possible. You should raise a complaint no more than 28 days after the event that the complaint concerns unless there is a good reason for the delay.
  • Even if a formal complaint is received, your institution should try to resolve the complaint using informal mechanisms in the first instance, where appropriate. 
  • The informal resolution stage might include mediation.
  • At the conclusion of any informal resolution attempts, your institution should tell you about the formal complaints procedure and deadline for submitting a formal complaint.

Stage 2: 

Formal resolution within your institution 

  • The formal stage should only start when the informal procedures have been exhausted and the student(s) who have brought the complaint remain(s) dissatisfied.
  • Your institution will have its own formal complaints procedure. This will set out the process for receiving, recording, investigating and resolving complaints.

Stage 3: 

Review by Durham University

  • If the student(s) who raised the complaint remain(s) dissatisfied once your institution’s informal and formal procedures are exhausted, the complainant(s) must be informed of their right to request a review by the University. 
  • The University’s review is not a re-investigation of the complaint. It is a review of whether your institution followed the appropriate complaints policies and processes and whether they did so correctly. If procedural irregularities are identified, the complaint might be referred back to your institution for re-investigation.
  • During Stage 3, complainants will be advised that they may seek advice from the Durham Students’ Union (DSU).
  • At the completion of Stage 3, the complainant(s) will be advised that they can refer their complaint to the Office for the Independent Adjudicator (OIA). The OIA is an independent body set up to review student complaints about higher education providers in England and Wales.


Stages 1 and 2 of the complaints process should take no longer than 8 weeks in total, from the time your institution first receives the complaint.
 Your institution should keep you up to date about the progress of any complaints process and must tell you if there is any reason why it will take longer than 8 weeks to complete the process. 

Your institution’s academic complaints policy should tell you which members of staff to contact at each stage of the process and where you can seek out advice and support during the complaints process.

Complaints must be investigated by someone independent of the source or focus of the complaint. This may be the Principal of your institution, a designated member of staff or a member of your institution’s governing body. 

Durham University will ask your institution to conduct an internal review following on from any complaints that reach Stages 2 or 3 to identify whether there are any areas of practice or provision that might be improved. 

Academic Appeals 

What is an academic appeal? 

An academic appeal is a request from a Common Awards student for the formal review of an academic decision affecting that student. You can appeal the following: 

  • a confirmed decision of your institution’s Board of Examiners or of the Overarching Durham University Common Awards Board of Examiners 
  • a decision made by your institution that affects you academically, for example, a decision that you may not progress to the next level of study within your academic programme. 

The academic appeal process looks at two factors: 

  1. Was the decision made in accordance with correct procedures within your institution and/or within the University? 
  2. Was all the necessary relevant information available to those making the decision? 

In order to submit an academic appeal you will need to provide evidence of at least one of the following points: 

  • That there might have been a serious error in the way in which the original decision was made. For example, evidence that a procedure was not properly followed or applied, or that the decision-making body acted unreasonably in the circumstances. 
  • That there exists or existedadverse circumstances affecting your academic performance and those making the decision were not aware of these adverse circumstances at the time the decision was made. There must be a good reason why these circumstances were not made known at the time (for example, because of a medical diagnosis that was received after marks had already been approved by your institution’s exam board, or because of an error meaning that information should have been presented to the board and was accidentally omitted). 

What cannot be the focus of an academic appeal? 

You cannot appeal matters of academic judgement. Durham University defines ‘academic judgement’ as the professional and scholarly knowledge and expertise that members of staff at your institution and at the University, as well as external examiners, draw upon in reaching an academic decision. 

Matters of academic judgement include (but are not limited to) marks given for individual assessments or modules. 

The academic appeals process 

In the first instance, you should attempt to resolve matters informally with your institution. If you are dissatisfied with the outcome of the informal process, you can submit a formal appeal. 

Formal academic appeals are not investigated by your institution. They are submitted directly to the University. 

The Common Awards Team will provide you with the form you need to complete to submit an academic appeal.  

You should inform your institution that you are submitting a formal appeal. 

Appeals must normally be submitted within 21 days of the date on which the decision being appealed was made. Appeals outside this time frame will only be permitted in exceptional circumstances. 

There are two stages to the formal appeals process: 

Stage 1: 

A student submits a formal appeal after informal options have been exhausted. 

You need to state the grounds for the appeal and give detailed reasons and any evidence available that could support your case. 

The appeal will be considered by the Chair of the Common Awards Management Board or the Deputy Chair or another member of University staff designated by the Chair. 

The member of University staff considering the appeal will contact those who were involved in making the decision that is being appealed, for example, the Chair of your institution’s Board of Examiners, or the Chair of any relevant academic committees. Other staff at your institution may be contacted if further information about the decision-making process is required. 

Within 42 days of the appeal being made (normally considerably sooner than this), the member of University staff considering the appeal will produce a brief report setting out whether, having looked at all the information, the appeal is to be upheld or not and the reasons for this decision. 

You will then be notified of the outcome of the formal appeal. Your institution will also be notified. 

Stage 2: 

If you are dissatisfied after the completion of Stage 1, you can request that your appeal be referred to the University’s Senate Academic Appeals Committee (SAAC). 

You must request this within 14 days of receiving notification of the outcome of Stage 1 of the formal appeals process. The Common Awards Team at the University will supply you with the form you need to complete to do this. 

Your request for your appeal to be referred to SAAC must be based on at least one of the following grounds: 

  • that you have evidence that parts of the relevant documented procedure were not applied correctly during Stage 1 of the appeals process and that this procedural defect was significant enough to have materially affected the decision made at Stage 1. 

Or 

  • that there is substantial and relevant new information that was previously unknown to you, or which for a valid reason you were unable to disclose during Stage 1 of the appeals process and that the information is significant enough to have materially affected decision made at Stage 1. 

The SAAC will consider an appeal referred to them and communicate with you about the progress of your appeal within 28 days. You can find out more about this process in Durham University’s detailed guidance on academic appeals. 

If you are not satisfied with the outcome of Stage 2, once this stage is complete you may refer your case to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA). The OIA is an independent body set up to review student complaints about higher education providers in England and Wales. 

What are the possible outcomes? 

If an academic appeal is upheld it will normally be sent back for reconsideration by the body that made the original decision (for example, your institution’s Board of Examiners could be asked to look at their decision again in light of the findings of the appeal process). This does not necessarily mean that the original decision will be reversed or altered. Normally marks for work will only be changed if there was an error in recording or processing them. 

Either at the informal stage or at Stage 1, you may be advised that, rather than pursuing an appeal, the matter can be dealt with through another process, such as applying for a concession or submitting a request for Serious Adverse Circumstances to be considered at your institution’s next Board of Examiners. This will depend upon your individual circumstances. 

Admissions Complaints 

Each Theological Education Institution has its own admissions policy and process and its own admissions complaints procedure. 

Durham University sets minimum entry requirements for admission to academic programmes, which institutions must follow. For a number of programmes, these minimum requirements recognise that professional and ministerial experience can stand in lieu of formal academic qualifications. Institutions can choose to set higher entry requirements that go beyond the entry requirements set by the University if there is a clear rationale for doing so. 

Institutions can ask Durham University for advice about their admissions processes. 

In addition to academic entry requirements, there will also be other elements to each institutions admissions process, since this process often concerns not only admission to an academic programme but also admission to a particular training pathway. 

You should refer to an institution’s admissions policy for detailed information. 

What is an admissions complaint? 

An admissions complaint is a complaint about a procedural error, irregularity or mal-administration in admissions policies or processes. 

When making admissions decisions, staff in theological education institutions will exercise academic judgement. You cannot appeal or complain about an admissions decision on the basis that you disagree with this academic judgement. 

You can complain if you have evidence: 

  • that an institution did not follow its own stated admissions policies and processes correctly 
  • that an aspect of an institution’s admissions policies and processes was inherently unfair, unjust or lacking in the transparency required to allow applicants to understand the process 
  • that there was an error or omission in the admissions process that materially affected the admissions decision. 

What should you expect from a Theological Education Institution? 

All theological education institutions should: 

  • keep a record of the reasons for admissions decisions 
  • on request and where possible, give brief feedback on the reasons for an admissions decision 
  • try to resolve any concerns raised by applicants informally in the first instance 
  • operate fair, effective, and timely procedures to enable applicants to raise admissions complaints if informal resolution is unsuccessful 
  • tell applicants that there is an admissions complaints procedure and give clear information about how to submit a complaint 
  • give clear information about which member(s) of staff in their institution to contact about an admissions complaint, at each stage of the complaints process. 

Institutions should also make applicants aware of their right to refer admissions complaints to Durham University if the applicant is still dissatisfied after the formal complaint process has been followed. 

Institutions must not discriminate against applicants who make admissions complaints if they go on to submit another application in the future. 

Principles of the admissions complaints procedure 

The principles of the admissions complaints procedure are the same as the principles of the academic complaints procedure, as outlined on this page. You should ask an institution directly for information about how their admissions complaints procedure operates. 

Note that the Office for the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) does not consider admissions complaints. Applicants do not have the option to refer an admissions complaint to the OIA at the end of the complaints procedure.  

As in the academic complaints procedure, applicants should raise a complaint no more than 28 days after the event that the complaint concerns unless there is a good reason for the delay.  

An institution’s admissions complaints procedure must follow the three stages outlined in the academic complaints procedure: (1) Informal Resolution (2) Formal Resolution (3) Referral to Durham University for Review. 

In all cases, the institution, and (where a complaint reaches stage 3) the University, will be examining whether admissions policies and processes were fair, transparent and were followed correctly, without significant errors or omissions. 

What are the possible outcomes? 

If a procedural irregularity is identified at any stage of the complaints process, the theological education institution concerned is expected to review the matter, including looking again at the admissions decision. Whilst the review should address any irregularities it will not necessarily reverse or otherwise change the admissions decision. 

Durham University also asks theological education institutions to consider their admissions processes as a whole in light of any complaints to see whether there are any possible areas for improvement.