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Information for Current Students

Making a Complaint – a guide for SOAS students

SOAS is committed to providing a positive experience for its students, and hopes and expects that most students will usually be satisfied with its provision. The School recognises, however, that there will be occasions when a student is not satisfied. On those occasions, you should consider making a complaint.

The School welcomes complaints as they help us to identify areas where improvements can be made. Here we summarise what you should do if you want to make a complaint about any aspect of your experience as a student at SOAS.

  1. Can you resolve your complaint directly?
  2. Which formal complaints procedure should you follow?
  3. What happens during these procedures?
  4. What if you're still unhappy?
  5. Who can you ask for advice?

Some supplementary guidance has been developed to assist SOAS staff who are carrying out investigations under the procedure.

1. Can you resolve your complaint directly?

Have you spoken to the person, team or department that you want to complain about? Many complaints can best be resolved by simply raising them politely with the people concerned. All of the School’s procedures for considering complaints and appeals require you to have attempted this first where appropriate.

Some departments provide mechanisms for you to provide feedback, including complaints, and where these exist, you should use them. The below is a list of local procedures that are currently in place.

If the service or department concerned doesn’t publish a procedure for making complaints, you should speak to the person best placed to resolve your complaint (eg your tutor, supervisor, or course convenor). Try to avoid raising your complaint at a more senior level as who you speak to at this stage will affect who can hear your complaint if you pursue it further.

If you are unable to satisfactorily resolve your complaint directly, or you feel that you can’t approach the person or team that you think caused your complaint, you should then consider making a complaint or appeal through one of the School’s formal procedures.

2. Which formal complaints procedure should you follow?

It is important that your complaint or appeal is considered correctly, and the School has a range of procedures, each designed to consider complaints as fairly as possible. The below list summarises each of the procedures so that you can decide which one is the right one for your situation.

If you want to appeal an academic decision regarding your undergraduate or taught postgraduate degree, you should follow the Procedure for Considering Representations in respect of Examination and Assessment Results.  

If you want to appeal against a decision not to allow you to transfer from an MPhil research degree to a PhD, you should follow the instructions in the Code of Practice for Research Degrees.

If you want to appeal against a decision to terminate your registration on a research degree, you should follow the instructions in the Code of Practice for Research Degrees.

If you want to appeal against a decision to fail your MPhil or PhD, you should follow the instructions in the Procedure for Consideration of Appeals by Candidates for Research Degrees.

If you want to complain about harassment, whether sexual, racial, or of any other kind, you should consult the School’s Dignity at SOAS Policy. The policy is available from the School’s Diversity Advisor (diversity@soas.ac.uk). Harassment can include assault, threatening behaviour, or abusive remarks.

If you want to complain about the Student Union, you should follow their complaints procedure, which is available via the Student Union website or in the Student Union Constitution.

If you want to complain about the service provided by a SOAS contractor or the behaviour of one of their employees (eg catering, halls of residence), you should initially try to deal with the complaint directly. If that fails, write to the Professional Services Director responsible for the service (eg Director of Estates & Facilities for catering).

If you want to complain about the conduct of another student, you should follow the School’s Student Disciplinary Procedure, which explains how to make a complaint.

If you want to complain about any other issue, you should follow the Student Complaint Procedure. Examples of the sort of issue that you might use this procedure for would be if you were dissatisfied with teaching or supervision, or if you were unhappy about the service provided by a professional services department or faculty office.

3. What happens during these procedures?

Depending on which procedure you follow, this will vary. However, generally speaking there will be a series of stages. The aim is to resolve your complaint or appeal at the earliest possible stage to everybody’s satisfaction. Usually there will be some kind of initial investigation by somebody who has not been involved in your complaint before. This will result in the investigator deciding if your complaint is justified, and if so, recommending a resolution. If you disagree with the recommendations of the investigator, you may then ask for a review of the investigator’s decision by a more senior person or an appeal panel (depending on which procedure is being followed and what stage has been reached).

4. What happens if you remain dissatisfied after you have exhausted the School’s complaint procedures?

Once you have exhausted the relevant School procedure, you will be sent a Completion of Procedures letter. This letter sets out the School’s final position in respect of your complaint. It also explains what you should do if you remain dissatisfied with the outcome or handling of your complaint.

If you do wish to take your complaint further, you can appeal to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA), an independent ombudsman for students. You must do this within three months of receiving the Completion of Procedures letter. More information about the OIA can be found on their website at http://www.oiahe.org.uk/.

5. Where can you go for advice?

Student Advice and Wellbeing can provide impartial advice to students on any matter relating to their experience at SOAS. This can include advice on how to go about making a complaint.

Registry can provide advice on course registration and tuition fees, whether you are an undergraduate, taught postgraduate student or a research student.

The Information Compliance Manager in the Directorate can provide advice on which procedure you should follow, and on the Student Complaint Procedure and the Student Disciplinary Procedure.