Terms of Reference


The English version of the office’s Terms of Reference is below, whereas other translations can be found via these links:

Terms of Reference Afrikaans, and

Terms of Reference isiXhosa.




1. Introduction and Mandate

To demonstrate commitment to the just, fair and equitable treatment of each and every member of the university community, the Office of the Ombud at the University of Cape Town was established in 2011.

Its mandate is to provide informal dispute resolution service to the university community (all staff; current and past students; visitors to the university and contractors) predicated on the principles of fairness. The Office of the Ombud is outside of the usual university academic and administrative structures. It is a neutral, independent, informal and confidential resource to facilitate fair and equitable resolutions to concerns and problems raised by any member of the university community.

2. Purpose and Scope of Services

The principal role of the Office is to be available as an impartial resource for the review of all decisions and actions that fall within the ambit of university life.

The Ombud seeks to provide a neutral, informal, confidential and independent environment within which complaints, inquiries or concerns about alleged acts, omissions, and any problems as they are experienced by university members may be surfaced.

The Office of the Ombud performs a variety of functions. These include listening and providing a respectful and safe place for people to discuss their problems freely, helping them to clarify concerns and develop options, explaining university policies and procedures, making referrals to other offices and coaching visitors on how to help themselves, looking into issues by gathering data and perspectives of others and engaging in shuttle diplomacy. In addition, the Office of the Ombud serves as a resource for information and makes available to the University dispute resolution expertise. It also seeks to be a catalyst for institutional change. The Ombud assists parties in reaching resolutions that are consistent with the ideals of the University.

The Office of the Ombud supplements but does not replace or substitute for the formal, investigative or appeals processes that are currently in place in the University. Use of the office is voluntary. The office of the Ombud reports general trends of issues and provides organisation wide feedback while recommending system change when appropriate without disclosing confidential information.

3. Reporting

The Ombud reports to the University Council through the Chair of Council. A written report is submitted annually to Council through the Chair on a date agreed upon by the Council and the Ombud. The Office of the Ombud functions independently with respect to case handling and issue management but it reports to the Vice-Chancellor for administrative and budgetary purposes. To fulfil its functions, the Office of the Ombud shall have a specific allocated budget, adequate and functional space and sufficient resources to meet operating needs and pursue professional development. On an ongoing basis, the Ombud will provide feedback, while maintaining confidentiality, to the Vice-Chancellor and other leadership team members to inform them of the kinds of issues and trends the Ombud may be hearing about and to explain the relevance of such information, and to provide guidance.

4. Standards and Ethics

The Office of the Ombud staff shall adhere to The International Ombudsman Association (IOA) Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice. This code requires that the Ombud shall function independently of the organization, to be confidential and neutral, and to limit the scope of its services to informal means of dispute resolution. The IOA Standards, Code, and Best Practices delineate minimum standards, and the Office of the Ombud shall always strive to operate to “best practices” and to serve the best interests of all concerned. The Ombud shall establish consistent procedures which shall be made available upon request. The Ombud shall publicise the confidential, independent, neutral and informal nature of her services through promotional materials, a website, and visible wall postings and provide a copy of the Standards to each visitor.

A. Independence

Independence is essential to the effective functioning of the Office of the Ombud. The Office of the Ombud shall be, and shall be seen to be, free from interference in the performance of its duties. This independence is achieved primarily through the reporting structure of the office, neutrality and organizational recognition and respect for its independent role. To ensure objectivity, the Office of the Ombud shall function independently from administrative authorities. This includes not disclosing confidential information about matters discussed in the Office of the Ombud with anyone in the organization, including the person to whom the Office of the Ombud reports.

B. Confidentiality

The Office of the Ombud holds all communications with those seeking assistance in strict confidence and takes all reasonable steps to safeguard confidentiality. The Ombud does not reveal and must not be required to reveal the identities of the people who contact her. Communications between the Ombud and others (made while the Ombud is serving in that capacity) are considered privileged. The privilege belongs to the Ombud and her Office, rather than to any party to an issue. Others cannot waive this privilege. The only exception to this pledge of confidentiality is where the Ombud determines that there is an imminent risk of harm to human life. The Ombud shall not be required to give evidence before a University tribunal about anything that she may have learnt in the exercise of her duties. The University will endeavour to protect the Ombud from subpoena by others, both inside and outside the university.

C. Impartiality and Neutrality

The office of the Ombud shall not take sides in any conflict, dispute or issue but shall consider the interests and concerns of all parties involved in a situation impartially with the aim of facilitating communication and assisting the parties to reach mutually acceptable agreements that are fair and equitable, and consistent with the policies of the University.

D. Informality

The Ombud functions on an informal and off-the-record basis and shall be a resource for informal dispute resolution services. The Office of the Ombud shall not investigate, arbitrate, adjudicate or in any other way participate in any internal or external formal process or action. Whenever practical, the Ombud shall seek the resolution of the problem at the lowest level within the organisation. The Office of the Ombud does not keep records about individual cases for the University. Use of the Office of the Ombud shall always be voluntary and not a compulsory step in any grievance or University policy.

5. Exclusions, Authority and Limits of the Office of the Ombud

A. Authority of the Office of the Ombud

1. Initiating Informal Inquiries

The Ombud will be entitled to inquire informally about any issue concerning the University and affecting any member of the University community. Therefore, the Ombud may initiate informal inquiries into matters that come to her attention.

2. Access to information

The Ombud may request access to information related to visitors’ concerns from files and offices of the University, and will respect the confidentiality of the information. Requests by the Ombud for information should be handled with reasonable promptness by the university departments.

3. Ending involvement in matters

The Office of the Ombud may decline to inquire into a matter or may withdraw from a case if the Ombud believes involvement is inappropriate for any reason.

4. Discussion with visitors

The Office of the Ombud has the authority to discuss a range of options available to the visitor, including both informal and formal processes. However, the Office of the Ombud will have no actual authority to impose sanctions or to enforce or change any policy, rule or procedure.

5. Access to Legal Counsel

The Office of the Ombud may require legal or other professional advice, from time to time, in order to fulfill its required functions. The Office of the Ombud may be provided legal counsel separate and independent from the University in the event it is asked for, documents or testimony related to any litigation or other formal process, or when a conflict of interest arises between the Office of the Ombud and the administration or the University.

B. Limitations on the Authority of the Office of the Ombud

1. Receiving Notice for the University

Communication to the Office of the Ombud shall not constitute notice to the University. The Office of the Ombud shall publicize its non-notice role to the university. If a user of the Office of the Ombud would like to put the University on notice regarding a specific situation, or wishes for information to be provided to the University, the Ombud will provide that person with information so that the person may do so her/himself. In extremely rare situations, the Office of the Ombud may have an ethical obligation to put the University on notice. This will take place only when there is no other reasonable option.

2. Collective Bargaining Agreements

The Office of the Ombud shall not address any issues arising under a collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”), unless allowed by specific language in the CBA. This means that while the Office of the Ombud may provide services to union members, those services may not include addressing issues that are covered in the CBA. The Office of the Ombud may work with union members regarding all other issues not covered by the contracts, such as communication issues with co-workers.

3. Formal Processes and Investigations

The Office of the Ombud shall not conduct formal investigations of any kind. The Office of the Ombud staff shall not willingly participate in formal dispute processes or outside agency complaints or lawsuits, either on behalf of a user of the Office of the Ombud or on behalf of the University. The Office of the Ombud provides an alternate channel for dispute resolution.

4. Record Keeping

The Office of the Ombud does not keep records. Notes, if any, taken during the course of working on a case are routinely destroyed at regular intervals and at the conclusion of a matter. All materials related to a case should be maintained in a secure location and manner, and should be destroyed once the case is concluded. The Ombud may maintain non-confidential statistical data to assist in reporting trends and giving feedback.

5. Advocacy & Psychological Counselling

The Office of the Ombud shall not act as an advocate for any party in a dispute, nor shall they represent management or visitors to their office. In addition, the Office of the Ombud does not provide legal or psychological assistance.

6. Adjudication of Issues

The Office of the Ombud shall not have authority to adjudicate, impose remedies or sanctions, or to enforce or change policies or rules.

7. Conflict of Interest

The Ombud shall avoid involvement in cases where there may be a conflict of interest. A conflict of interest occurs when the Ombud’s private interests, real or perceived, supercede or compete with his or her dedication to the impartial and independent nature of the role of the Ombud. When a real or perceived conflict exists, the Ombud should take all steps necessary to disclose and/or avoid the conflict.

C . Retaliation against the Ombud or Service Users

1. All members of the constituencies served by the Office of the Ombud shall have the right to consult the Office of the Ombud without fear of retaliation or reprisal.

2. The Office of the Ombud should be protected from retaliation (such as elimination of the Office or the Ombudsman, or reduction of the Ombud budget or other resources) by any person who may be the subject of a complaint or inquiry.


1. IOA Standards of Practice 

2. IOA Code of Ethics 

3. IOA Best Practices: A Supplement to IOA’s Standards of Practice