Please help - considering formal complaint against University.


Hey everyone,

I am new here but desperately in need of some advice because I am considering initialising complaint procedures against my former University institution, which is a Russell group University in the U.K.

This is essentially the whole story, below:

I started my MA at this Uni in 2017. I wanted to continue on and also carry out my PhD at this Uni. I began applying for the PhD place in November 2017, one month after starting. A staff member emailed all students and said that whoever wanted to pursue a PhD needed to email him with a brief description of the project they wanted to do. I did this, and received an email back stating that the staff member would be in touch soon with details on who would be proposing to supervise me.

I heard nothing back, but didn't worry as I assumed it was a process that was quite time consuming. In December, by accident, I bumped into another staff member in the hall who asked me how my PhD application was coming along. I said I was waiting to hear back about who was supervising me, and this staff member was alarmed, stating that they had already offered to supervise me, that I had two weeks to go to the scholarship submission deadline and that things were not looking good.

I went home and started working non-stop on my application. I sent it backwards and forwards via email to this staff member that had said they had already offered to supervise me. I received many emails in return that were basically along the lines of 'I'm just not sure we have the time now to bother with this application' and so on. I persisted, and eventually the application was considered to be in a fit state to go ahead with, because I worked on it so much in the short time I had. I did not meet with this person face to face at all during this process.

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No one received funding in the end, so I was kind of down but altogether I understood competition was fierce.

A week later, I asked the other applicant from my MA course what he was thinking of doing now that we hadn't got funding. He said (in a room full of people) that the Department had contacted him directly and offered him funding. This is funding that was not advertised, and that neither of us applied for. I immediately tried to speak to the Head of Department as I wanted to know how this had happened, and how no one had even emailed me to let me know what had happened.

I found out a meeting had taken place after the funding decisions were made and we were rejected (I still don't know when, where or who was there) which decided that one project would be funded by the Department directly. I was informed that the decision was made on the strength of the applicant's academic record, and that the other student had pipped me to the post by a few marks on a module.

After this, the Department stopped speaking to me about it. I was never emailed, or offered any support or advice on what to do next. No one even told me about my other options post-MA. I had to do a dissertation for my MA, and because my supervisor was Head of Department, I felt uncomfortable speaking to her directly and didn't receive any supervision for my dissertation. It went well, but it could have been better, and even the Head's comments on the piece say that they wondered why I hadn't asked for more support.

I left the Uni, and received funding to do my PhD elsewhere, happy days. I never ever told anyone why I didn't do my PhD at the original Uni. Yesterday I finally tweeted about it (privately, tagging no one/mentioning the Uni but not the Department).

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I then received a message from a staff member at the University, stating someone had sent them my Tweet, and that they were 'shocked' I felt this way. I felt really uncomfortable, and replied basically saying that I was sorry I had Tweeted (my Tweet said: 'Would this be a good time to mention that X institution didn't fund my research on X topic?' and that is all). I then felt so intimidated that I deleted the Tweet, and messaged the staff member back and said I had deleted it because I didn't want to cause trouble for anyone. They ignored the message.

With all this in mind, I just feel like I had such a bad experience with the Uni that I want to consider formal action. Maybe I am just overreacting though?

Any advice would be appreciated.


I'm not sure what you would be making a formal complaint about unless I'm missing something? A lot of this seems to be about you not following up on things like the MA dissertation supervision by arranging a meeting. I'd be inclined to chase up an undergraduate but I'd expect a postgraduate to be more independent than that. And for example to ask specific questions like 'where are funded PhDs advertised' rather than waiting for someone to tell you. Or is it that you dispute the fact that the other student had a higher mark than you and want to claim bias in the process? You do know that most people don't get any funding at all and that you were never guaranteed a funded place at the MA institution?

In terms of the tweet, probably not your most inspired move, as it made you look jealous of those who did get funding, which is never a good look. Probably it soon will be forgotten though. If you put in a rather unsubstantiated complaint though, that will be remembered.


Hi Gemma,

On the basis of what you've written, I would tend to agree with bewildered's post. It's not clear what your complaint would relate to. It doesn't seem like the university has done anything egregious but maybe you could clarify for us. It seems like there have been some instances of miscommunication. Firstly, they didn't inform you that you had a prospective supervisor so you had to rush your application. However, you were presumably already working on this application anyway right, since there was a fixed deadline?

Secondly, the funding thing is really unfortunate and I understand your frustration. I'm not how it works in other places but at my uni, funding decisions were totally up to the discretion of the dept so it doesn't seem weird to me that someone would somehow find 'unadvertised' funding. You are funded now, though, right? (at a different uni)

Why were you uncomfortable speaking to your dissertation supervisor?

In the future, it might be wise to consider what you tweet as you have no idea how someone is going to respond to this type of information in a public forum. You don't want to get a reputation as someone who is bitter or indiscreet.

Avatar for rewt

What was in the tweet?


Quote From gemmamurdoch:

my Tweet said: 'Would this be a good time to mention that X institution didn't fund my research on X topic?' and that is all.

FYI :)


Hello, Gemma,

I am completely confused as to what you want to get out of this complaint? A new PhD scholarship? A sense of justice?

Also, you were lightly challenged on your tweet and your immediate response was to admit defeat, apologise, delete the tweet and say you do not want to cause trouble. Without knowing you, are you sure that you have the persistence to go through a formal complain with the university which would take months and many meetings of you talking to various people of various uni departments who will fob you to another person all the time? What if you need to present your case to the graduate school head, can you do that? Would you stand up and have the guts to continue to knock on doors if the uni goes silent on your complaint? Do think properly.


From what you have posted, I am completely baffled as to why you think there was any justification for a complaint against yor former university.
Your post smacks of entitlement regarding post-rejection support and immaturity regarding tweeting about your rejection and your unbelievably naive belief that there is such a thing as a "private tweet".

It would appear that during November, you sat back and waited for everyone to tell you what to do as regards funding and you got the exact result which that method deserves.

You have a PhD position and funding now. You should be grateful, learn very quickly about personal responsibility and drop any nonsense about making formal complaints.


I dont understand what is your problem really... I think you need to start taking responsibility for your own action/inaction.