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Policy on Resolution of

Approved by
Academic Council Difficulties for Postgraduate
26th June 2009
Research Students

Summary - Resolution of Difficulties for Postgraduate Research Students

Stage 1: Proactive Support Measures

Existing Support Structures for
students experiencing difficulties
Effective orientation and induction of
Intellectual Property
Effective training of supervisors
Office of the Vice-President for
Research Clear information for students on existing
Research Misconduct Issues support structures
Office of the Vice-President for Ensuring there are sufficient resources in
Research place, before a student starts their study
Animal or Human Experimentation Transparent and effective yearly reviews.
Ethics Transparent and effective transfer
Office of the Vice-President for procedures
Research A clear code of practice for students and
Examination Appeals supervisors
Examination Appeals Officer
Difficulties with other Students
Student Mediation Committee Possible Outcomes of
Peer Advice Informal Resolution
Student Union Education Stage 2: Informal Resolution Procedures
Officer/Postgraduate Officer The issue is
Discrimination, Racial Harassment, satisfactorily
Direct resolution between Supervisor and resolved
Equal Opportunity/Human Rights Student. This is the preferred option.
University Equality Officer, The student
If this option is not appropriate, the student can decides not to
Department of Human Resources choose to talk to the HoD/Chair of DGSC or the
Health or Well Being progress the
College Postgraduate Student Liaison. issue.
Student Health or Counselling
The student may also choose to speak to the The grievance is
Student Advisor and Ombudsman. referred to the
Sexual Harassment, Bullying
Department of Human Resources PRDRP for
The student may wish to a Graduate Studies Office formal resolution
facilitator to attend a meeting with them, subject to (Stage 3)
approval by all parties.

Stage 3: Formal Grievance Resolution Procedures

Possible Outcomes of
1. Written referral of grievance to the UCC Formal Resolution
Postgraduate Research Dispute Resolution
Panel (PRDRP). Complaint is
2. Chair of PRDRP may refer student to other withdrawn
informal body or to Department/School, if
appropriate. A remedy is
3. Every effort is made by the PRDRP to resolve found and
the dispute within 30 working days. implemented by
4. Both the Staff Member and Student are all parties
informed in writing of the outcome.
Matter is resolved
and the staff and
student issues are
referred to Head
of College, if
Stage 4: Appeals Process: appropriate

The student or staff member involved can appeal the

decision of the PRDRP within 30 days.


Policy on Resolution of Difficulties for Postgraduate Research Students

Postgraduate research students may, during the course of their research, encounter
obstacles that can impede satisfactory progress if they are not resolved in a
straightforward manner. UCC does not currently have written guidelines on the
procedures which postgraduate research students should follow when they experience
such difficulties.

This proposal, which is intended to cover all postgraduate research students on

Masters by Research and Doctoral programmes, presents a draft policy and a pathway
to resolution of difficulties, as well as clearly identifying the existing support
structures for postgraduate research students. It is hoped that the formal approval of
this policy will enable clear information to be included in the induction handbook and
on the Graduate Studies Office website and will support students and supervisors in
seeking an early resolution to any issues that may arise. As the number of students on
research programmes increases, it is important that there are clear policies in place to
safeguard the students, staff members, and the university.

This document is student-focussed and it is envisaged that a corresponding document

will be developed for staff, should the broader policies outlined here be supported by
Academic Board and Academic Council. It is hoped to have this student-focussed
policy in operation by October 2009.

This document is divided into two key areas:

1. A proposed policy for informal dispute resolution for postgraduate research

students. In particular, the document seeks to identify for students what to do
and who to approach when an obstacle arises, and possible solutions to be
considered. This policy proposes the identification of a College Postgraduate
Student Liaison as a contact point for students who may feel unable to speak
to a staff member within the Department; this would be an existing staff
member who is nominated to act in this role, and would most likely be a
member of staff in a position with responsibility for graduate studies in the
College (e.g., Associate Dean). It is also proposed that the Head of the
Graduate Studies Office (or other appropriate staff member) could act as a
facilitator and attend meetings of the student and department at this informal
stage, upon request. Once this framework is approved, the exact parameters
within which Supervisors, GSC Chairs, Postgraduate Research Liaisons, and
facilitators can act will need to be clearly laid out and formally approved.

2. A proposed policy on formal dispute resolution for postgraduate research

students. This policy proposes the establishment of a formal Postgraduate
Research Dispute Resolution Panel and outlines the formal process and
appeals procedure for postgraduate research students. Other policies (e.g. the
introduction of university-wide mediation service can be added to this policy
at a later date, if appropriate).

Mr. Dan Ahern, Dr. Tom Carroll, Ms. Sharon Jones, Professor Alan Kelly, Ms. Michelle Nelson,
Professor John OHalloran, Ms. Hilda OKeeffe, Dr. Silvia Ross, Dr. David Ryan (Working Group)


How to resolve difficulties as a postgraduate research student

Postgraduate research should be one of the most exciting and important experiences
of a researchers career. It is essential that you are afforded the opportunity and
environment for this to happen. However, UCC is aware that postgraduate research
students may, during the course of their research programme, encounter obstacles that
might impede satisfactory progress if they are not resolved in a straightforward
manner. Learning to overcome obstacles can often help a researcher develop;
however, some can be barriers to learning and advancement.

Proactive Support Measures

As a student, you are expected to become familiar with the University Guidelines for
a Code of Practice for a Masters by Research/PhD, the postgraduate regulations
relating to your programme of study, the Introduction to Research Ethics at UCC, the
UCC Code of Conduct in Research, and your Department/School/Graduate
Programme research student handbook. These publications outline what is expected
of you as a postgraduate research student and also explain what you can expect from
your supervisor and Department/School. UCC offers a supportive academic
environment in which to carry out research, and students are expected to accept
constructive feedback from their supervisors or other academics or peers and to meet
academic standards. If specific difficulties arise in specific circumstances, there are a
number of existing support services within UCC to help you resolve these. These are
outlined in Appendix 1. This document or proposed policies therein do not relate to
matters of examination which are covered in detail by other university policies and

If you feel you have a genuine grievance or problem which needs to be addressed, you
are encouraged to take an informal and open approach and to discuss any issues
directly with your supervisor in the first instance, if at all possible. If you are not
satisfied with the outcome of the informal process, there is provision, within this
policy, for a more formal approach to dispute resolution.

1. Informal Resolution

It is in everyones best interest that problems are resolved amicably at an early stage
and at a local level wherever possible. Besides your supervisor, there are a number of
staff members you can contact who will be able to assist you with your concern. You
should choose whichever option(s) best suits your situation, and should be proactive
in seeking an early and constructive resolution to any issue that might arise, before
considering the formal procedure. Any personal information you give a staff member
will be dealt with respect and discretion.

Department/School: Any difficulties that you may encounter should be

discussed initially with your Supervisor(s) or the person concerned. If this is
inappropriate or unsatisfactory, or there are barriers to your discussing the
matter with your supervisor(s), you should ideally approach either the Head of
your Academic Unit or the Chair of the Departmental/School Graduate Studies


Committee, if appropriate. This is best done as soon as an issue starts to


College Postgraduate Student Liaison Officer: Should you feel that the
problem cannot be raised at a local level, or that it is inappropriate to do so,
(for example, if the Head of Department is your supervisor), or if you wish to
seek a second informal opinion on a matter with someone outside your area,
each College has a designated Postgraduate Research Liaison (e.g., Associate
Dean or nominee of the Head of College) who can be contacted for an
informal and confidential discussion about any difficulties you are facing. No
contact will be made by this individual with your Supervisor or
Department/School without your permission, other than in certain specific

Student Advisor and Ombudsman: You may also choose to contact the
Student Advisor and Ombudsman, who has access to all relevant persons and
has the freedom to investigate complaints in an informal manner. You are
assured that these discussions will remain confidential, except in cases of
serious threat to life or property. The College Postgraduate Research Liaison
may also, if appropriate, recommend that you contact the Student Advisor and

You may also choose to ask a facilitator who is a member of the administrative staff
(for example, a representative from the GSO) to attend a meeting with your supervisor
or Department/School should you wish, provided all parties agree to this.

Possible Outcomes of Informal Stage

a) You decide not to progress the issue further. If there has been any written
correspondence relating to the matter, you should send written notification to
the person you contacted to state that you no longer wish to pursue the issue
raised by you. It is unnecessary to give reasons but, if the matter has been
satisfactorily resolved, it is useful for your supervisor or other person
contacted to be aware of the outcome as it may prevent similar difficulties
arising for other students.

b) The issue is resolved to your satisfaction.

c) You seek formal resolution of the issue, by following the procedures outlined

Other parties may be informed if any of the following circumstances apply:
Where it is considered that there is danger to the life or safety of the student or other person
Where a crime is being investigated
Where it is a requirement of law
When procedures under the Mental Health Act 2001 are invoked.


2. Formal Resolution of Difficulties

If your concerns or issues fall into a category for which procedures already exist, you
should avail of those standard procedures to seek a resolution by approaching one of
the offices outlined in Appendix 1. You may also choose to refer the matter to the
UCC Postgraduate Research Dispute Resolution Panel below. Prior to proceeding to
formal resolution, you should be satisfied that you have made every attempt to resolve
your difficulties using one or more of the channels described above.

Membership of Postgraduate Research Dispute Resolution Panel (PRDRP)

The Formal Dispute Resolution process is overseen by a Postgraduate Research
Dispute Resolution Panel, which comprises the following members:

1. Dean of Graduate Studies (Chair)

2. Nominee of the Academic Council Graduate Studies Committee chosen
from a trained panel (Deputy Chair)
3. Head of College in which the student concerned is registered
4. External Legal Advisor

Members of the panel must ensure there is no conflict of interest in the matters to be
investigated. Where there is a possible conflict of interest, a replacement panel
member will be appointed by the Chairperson. The Academic Secretary will act as or
appoint a Secretary to the PRDRP.

Formal Resolution Procedure

a) Your request for resolution by the PRDRP should be made, in writing, to the Chair
of the PRDRP, c/o of the Academic Secretary.

b) Your written submission2 should:

include concise details of the issue of concern;
include copies of any relevant documents;
identify the specific rights/obligations you believe have not been fulfilled;
outline the action you have already taken; and
indicate the remedy you are seeking.

c) The Chair shall, upon the notification of your written submission, call a meeting of
the PRDRP as soon as practically possible. However, the Chair reserves the right to
refer the matter to another university body if the case falls within the specific remit of
that body (e.g., examination appeals). The Chair may also choose to refer the case
back to the Department/School for resolution, if appropriate.
d) The PRDRP shall be required to inform all parties involved of the issue(s) raised
for resolution and shall invite written submissions from all involved. The PRDRP
may also choose to interview those concerned, and may also consult with any other

All staff and students involved in this process will be expected to treat the matter with the utmost discretion and confidentiality.
However, you should be aware that University College Cork is subject to the Freedom of Information (FOI) Acts and, as such,
any person may formally request access to any record held by the University and, subject to the provisions of the Acts, may be
granted access to such records. It is therefore suggested that, in making written statements, you bear in mind that under FOI
legislation, the University may be required to release anything you write about another person to that person, in response to a
formal request.


person it considers may be able to assist in reaching a resolution; in such cases the
PRDRP shall inform you of this intention.

e) The PRDRP shall make every effort to reach a decision within 30 working days
from the date of the written submission and will inform you in writing of the outcome
of the process as soon as is practicable after the decision is made. A copy will be sent
to all parties involved.

f) The response from the PRDRP will be made in a written report and will address the
relevant issues documented by the parties involved and incorporate a plan for the
implementation of the resolution reached. The implementation of the resolution
reached shall be monitored by the Head of College for 3-6 months to ensure that
outcomes have been effective and strategies that were put in place at the time of
resolution have been carried through.

Outcomes of the Formal Postgraduate Dispute Resolution Process

Complaint is withdrawn.
A remedy is found and implemented.
Matter is resolved and the student or staff issues referred to the Head of
College for monitoring, if necessary.

Appeal of decisions taken by Postgraduate Research Dispute Resolution Panel

Both you, as student, and the respondent have the right to appeal a decision of the
PRDRP. Such an appeal must be in writing and lodged with the Academic Secretary
within 30 calendar days from receipt of the Panels decision. The appeal must state in
sufficient detail the grounds for appeal. The Appeal Committee will, at its absolute
discretion, consider the appeal in such a manner as it deems appropriate to the
circumstances of the case, having regard to fairness and due process. The decision of
the Appeals Board shall be final and binding.

Grounds for Appeal

1. Irregularity in the conduct of the Postgraduate Research Dispute
Resolution Panel.
2. Additional information which was not available to the PRDRP when it
took its decision.
3. Parties were denied due process by the PRDRP, or the principles of natural
justice were not followed.

Membership of Appeals Board

The Appeals Board will comprise the following members
1. President (or Nominee) (Chairperson)
2. Chair of Academic Council Graduate Studies Committee (Deputy
3. Two members nominated by Academic Council
4. External Legal Advisor (different advisor to that on the PRDRP)

The Academic Secretary will act as Secretary to the Appeals Board.


Appendix 1

Existing Support Structures

There are a large number of important resources and support measures for
postgraduate research students who are experiencing difficulties. If your concerns, or
part of them, are in included in one of the areas listed below, you should seek advice
at an early stage from the offices/services indicated below

Intellectual Property
Office of the Vice-President for Research
Tel: 021 490 3501
Email: uccresearch@ucc.ie

Research Misconduct Issues

Office of the Vice-President for Research
Tel: 021 490 3501
Email: uccresearch@ucc.ie

Animal or Human Experimentation Ethics

Office of the Vice-President for Research
Tel: 021 490 3501
Email: uccresearch@ucc.ie

Peer Advice on Concerns

Student Union Education Officer/Postgraduate Officer
Tel: 021 4902953
Email: sueducation@ucc.ie

Examination Appeals
Examination Appeals Officer
Tel: 021 4902461
Email: b.neville@reg.ucc.ie

Discrimination, Equality and Welfare

University Equality Officer, Department of Human Resources
Tel: 021 490 3409
E-mail: c.maguire@ucc.ie
Health and Well Being
Student Health Service
Tel: 021 4902311


Student Counselling and Development

Tel: 021 4903565
E-mail: counselling@ucc.ie

Sexual Harassment, Bullying

Department of Human Resources
Tel: 021 490 3887
E-mail: paul.ryan@ucc.ie

Difficulties with another Student

Student Mediation Service
Tel: 021 4902479
E-mail: maura.oneill@ucc.ie

Issues regarding Registration and Thesis Submission

Graduate Studies Office
Tel: 021 4902876
Email: graduatestudies@ucc.ie

Appendix 2

Resources for Research Students

An Introduction to Research Ethics at UCC


Postgraduate Calendar

UCC Policy on Duty of Respect and Right to Dignity


UCC Code of Good Conduct in Research


For more information on the Policy on Resolution of Difficulties for Research Students
please contact: Michelle Nelson, m.nelson@ucc.i.e, 021 4903076