Universities New Zealand is able to investigate and act upon claims that relate to our statutory functions. Under the Education Act 1989, as the New Zealand Vice-Chancellors’ Committee, we have a statutory responsibility for ensuring the quality and integrity of qualifications offered at New Zealand universities.
UNZ approves all qualifications before they can be registered on the New Zealand Qualifications Framework (NZQF) and offered to students. UNZ has the authority to investigate complaints or disclosures when they relate to the quality and/or integrity of qualifications and when the matter is serious or significant.
UNZ’s powers allow it to remove qualifications from the NZQF and/or to remove or put conditions around the approval for a university to offer a qualification and to enrol and teach students within that qualification.
UNZ therefore investigates only complaints or disclosures that relate to whether a university should be able to offer a particular qualification and to enrol and teach students within it.
Removing an approval to offer a qualification potentially affects many current students, and could also undermine the value of qualifications to past graduates. It is therefore not a decision that can be taken lightly.
For UNZ to investigate a complaint or disclosure the following tests must be met – noting that all of them necessarily require some judgement:
- The matter must relate to the quality and/or integrity of a qualification.
- The matter must be serious or significant.
- The claim is credible and is substantiated, or there is some means by which the claim can be substantiated.
- The matter relates to something that happened within the past five years.
UNZ will also normally only investigate claims or disclosures where the relevant university’s complaints/disclosures and appeals processes have been fully exhausted.
UNZ has two policies and processes covering complaints or disclosures:
- for current and past staff of a university: A policy for complaints or protected disclosures by staff.
- for current and past students of a university: A student complaints and disclosures policy.
Before you ask UNZ to consider investigating a matter, please read the relevant policy carefully and the material below.
What UNZ can and can’t investigate
The following provides some guidance as to what UNZ can and can’t investigate. In general, a university must have knowingly allowed one or more of the following things to happen:
- Repeatedly admitting students into courses of study where they are manifestly unprepared for that course of study and drop out or fail at rates that significantly exceed institutional and national norms
- Knowingly and repeatedly providing students with credits or qualifications where a student has not done work or completed assessments at the standard normally expected for the level of study and the particular qualification
- Repeatedly graduating students with qualifications that substantially and intentionally fail to deliver the skills, knowledge and competencies specified in the graduate profile for that qualification
- Tolerating or encouraging cheating and knowingly allowing students to gain credits or qualifications that misrepresent their actual skills, knowledge, and competencies.
UNZ has no statutory authority to investigate complaints about other matters. The following list provides examples of the sorts of complaints that UNZ frequently receives and typically declines to investigate unless it is a clear signal of a weakness in the quality or integrity of a qualification or programme of study:
- A student had a poor/bad relationship with their teacher or research supervisor, and they claim it affected their ability to complete or caused them to fail.
- A student failed a course or qualification and the student thinks the university should have done more to have helped them.
- A qualification was not completed in the maximum time allowed in university regulations and the university would not give a student more time to complete despite extenuating circumstances (illness, family bereavement, work pressures, etc).
- A student failed a key professional work placement because of poor feedback from the workplace.
- A research student’s supervisor was unable to continue supervising and the university was either unable to find a suitable replacement or the student did not like or want the proposed replacement.
- A thesis at Masters or PhD level was judged as not being good enough to pass by external examiners but the issues were not picked by the supervisor. There is a mismatch between the supervisor’s assessment and the external examiners.
- A research project has not gone well, and the student says that the reason was a supervisor who was absent for large periods or who gave inadequate or slow feedback.
- A situation has arisen where a student cannot complete a key part of a programme of study (for example; unable to complete an overseas work experience due to Covid-19) and the student is unhappy with the alternative option offered by the university for making up the credits.
- A student had a bad experience – such as a teacher who they thought was disrespectful, a teacher who was rude, a teacher who lost their assignment, a teacher who was perceived as being unfair, etc.
To make a complaint or disclosure
If you are a current or past staff member of a university, make sure you have fully exhausted the disclosures policy of your university.
If you are a current or past student of a university, make sure you have fully exhausted the complaints and appeals processes of your university.
Once you have exhausted university disclosure/complaints processes, email your complaint to:
Provide the following information
- Your name (optional)
- Your contact phone number (optional)
- What university does this relate to?
- Are you submitting this as a student (current or past) or staff member (current or past)?
- Have you reported this matter to the university and exhausted all complaint/disclosure and appeals processes?
- If not, why not? Or, why do you think Universities New Zealand should investigate this matter rather than taking it through your university’s processes?
- Provide a summary of your complaint/disclosure?
- If this matter has been reported to the university and you have been through the university’s complaints/disclosure and appeals processes, attach (a) the written complaint/disclosure you provided to the part of the university that last considered this matter, and (b) the written response you received.
If your concern or complaint cannot be satisfactorily resolved by Universities New Zealand, the matter can be referred to the Office of the Ombudsman.
Information about the OIA process can be found here.
If your complaint is about other tertiary sector providers, not a university, then contact either:
International student issues or complaints
Each university provides academic support and pastoral care for the well-being of their international students.
New Zealand’s Code of Practice for International Students also sets out what you can expect of an education provider to ensure you are well informed, safe and properly cared for. The Pastoral Care of International Students Code of Practice is available in a number of languages from the NZQA website.
The NZQA website contains information on the Code and provides information on what to do if you have a complaint about treatment by a New Zealand education provider or agent of an education provider.
If your complaint is about money or contracts with an education provider, use the free iStudents Complaints website.