Academic disputes and complaints

What to do if you have an academic dispute or complaint.


The University of Auckland encourages the prompt and informal resolution of all student academic disputes as they arise.

We recognise that the improper assumption of power, either personal or institutional, constitutes harassment. We will deal with any instances of harassment according to the proper procedures.

To resolve non-academic disputes, see Bullying, harassment and discrimination.

Where you can get support

We accept you may not always feel able to discuss an academic complaint with the person directly concerned.

For this reason, you can get support through:

Definition of an academic dispute or complaint

The following may give rise to an academic dispute:

  1. Allegations of unfair treatment by a staff member.
  2. Allegations of inadequate teaching, advice, assessment and evaluation as outlined in the Student Charter, including responses to drafts of theses or dissertations 
  3. Disagreements about the satisfactory progress of research.
  4. Disagreements about ways of establishing/maintaining an effective working relationship between a student and a staff member.
  5. Disagreements about access to resources required by the student in order to meet the requirements of their course of study.

Read the Student Charter.

Academic disputes and complaints policy

  • A process for the redress of student academic complaints must be available to students within an environment of academic freedom, the prerogative of academic staff to assign grades, and staff and student rights and responsibilities as outlined in the Student Charter.
  • It is desirable that student academic complaints should be addressed and redressed at a level most accessible to the parties involved. It is envisaged that student academic complaints will be addressed in a collegial, non-adversarial manner which allows all parties to participate.
  • At all times in the student academic complaints and disputes process, staff and students should be given clear guidelines on the options available for action, and indication of the time it is likely to take to resolve the problem, and should be kept informed about the status of the complaint.
  • Both students and staff should be aware that it is in their best interests to record any meetings or communication between the two parties.

Academic complaints procedures

Informal procedures

  • You (or your class representative) should take any concerns you have about your course delivery or assessment of your papers to the lecturer or tutor concerned or the appropriate coordinator of undergraduate or postgraduate studies.
  • In matters not involving course delivery or assessment, you should take your issue to the person directly concerned.
  • You may approach AUSA Advocacy at any time for assistance.

Find out more about AUSA Advocacy.

Formal procedures

If the matter is not resolved satisfactorily at an informal level, or you don’t feel informal resolution is appropriate, you may approach the Academic Head.

  • You must make your approach to the Head in writing. At this point, once formulated, a complaint must not be expanded or enlarged in the course of the procedures for dealing with it. If the Head is a party to your complaint they will ask the Dean to nominate a senior member of academic staff to perform their role.
  • The Academic Head (or nominee) will appoint an independent investigator not involved or implicated in the dispute to investigate it. The Academic Head (or nominee) will forward a copy of all documentation to the independent investigator.
  • The investigator will complete the investigation and will provide the Academic Head or nominee with a written report within a reasonable length of time.
  • Following receipt of the written report, the Academic Head (or nominee) will provide you with a copy and shall then either decide that the complaint has no merit and dismiss it, meet with the staff member and/or with you and the staff member together in an effort to resolve the complaint, or refer the matter to the Dean. If the Head decides on one of the first two options, they must communicate with you in writing the basis of the decision within 20 working days.

It is anticipated that the vast majority of student academic complaints will be resolved at this stage.

  • If the Academic Head does dismiss your complaint, and you are unhappy with this, you may approach the Dean to have it reconsidered.
  • In cases where the matter is referred to the Dean, either by the Academic Head or by you, they will consider the case and, within 20 working days, make a final judgement.
  • If the complaint seems to have no reasonable ground, the Dean shall state in writing why in his or her judgement the complaint is without merit.
  • If, however, the Dean sees reasonable ground for your complaint, the Dean shall meet with the staff member and/or with you and the staff member together in an effort to resolve your dispute.
  • You may request a review of the Dean’s decision but only on the grounds that the University process has not been followed correctly or if you feel that the Dean’s decision was manifestly at odds with or unsupported by the evidence. If this is the case, you may request that the Provost review the Dean’s decision. The decision of the Provost on such requests is final.

Resolution of Student Academic Complaints and Disputes Statute