1 Providers will deliver academic and wider welfare support to students in several different ways. Sometimes, students will still be concerned that they are not able to pursue their studies to the best of their ability, even with such support in place.
2 Support for study (or fitness to study) processes can be followed when there are concerns that a student’s mental or physical health is significantly affecting their ability to participate fully and effectively in their academic studies, or life generally at the provider. The aim of a support for study process is to assess whether students who have a pattern of ill-health or prolonged ill-health need additional support to continue with their studies, or whether they may need to take time out from their studies. Students who are affected by a sudden and serious life event, such as the death of a family member, or being the victim of crime, may also need to use a support for study process to take time away from their studies.
3 It is good practice to set out clear processes for students to request time away from their studies. Providers should set out clearly:
- How a student should request time away from their studies;
- Whether the student is required to provide evidence about why they want to take time away from their studies;
- Who will decide if they can be allowed time away from their studies;
- The route for appeal against a decision not to allow their request;
- Whether there is a maximum period of time for the student to complete their course.
4 Processes to consider a student’s request for time away from their studies should be proportionate and completed in a timely manner. It is important to protect the sensitive personal information that students may share in support of their request. Providers should take steps to ensure that decisions are taken consistently, whilst recognising the individual factors in each case.
5 It is important that students are given advice about the wider impact of taking time away from their studies, particularly around the impact on their eligibility for student finance in the current and future academic year(s). International students may need advice about how time away from study will affect their visa status. Students may also have questions about whether they may remain in accommodation which is specifically for the use of students. It is good practice to direct students to sources of expert advice in these areas. Providers should explain to students whether and how their tuition fee liability will change as a result of taking time away from their studies.
6 It is also important to tell a student if taking time away from their studies is likely to limit or change their options when returning to the course, for example, if a particular module will not be running in subsequent academic years. It is essential to tell students studying for a qualification in a regulated profession of any impact that time away from the course could have upon their ability to complete a professionally recognised qualification. Providers should keep students who are not currently engaged with their studies informed about any substantive changes to their course of study.
7 It is good practice to ensure that the student’s record shows accurately the dates when they were not actively pursuing their course of study. A student’s status should be recorded accurately. It is good practice to explain any term used to indicate the student’s status (deferred, suspended, temporarily withdrawn etc).
8 Sometimes, a provider may decide to begin the support for study process, rather than this being sought by the student. Clear guidance on when, and under what circumstances, a student may be referred to the support for study procedure should be provided to students. Where a provider begins a formal support for study process, it should ensure that the student understands the process being followed, and that its purpose is to be supportive. The provider should signpost the student to sources of appropriate support through the process, for example from disability support staff or the student representative body’s advice centre.
9 In some circumstances, there may be sufficient concern about the student’s wellbeing, or their impact on other members of the academic community, that it is appropriate to take immediate action before detailed information about the student’s circumstances can be gathered. Providers should follow the principles set out in the Good Practice Framework: disciplinary procedures (paragraphs 115-120) if it is necessary to limit a student’s access to the provider’s services.
10 It is important to explain clearly to the student what evidence will be considered about their ability to engage with their studies. Where providers require supporting evidence about a student’s mental or physical health, it should ensure that such requests are proportionate, and that the information gathered is handled sensitively and appropriately. It is helpful to explain what will happen if the student refuses to provide this kind of evidence or refuses to engage with the support for study process.
11 It is not usually appropriate to require a student to consult a named practitioner specified by the provider in order to obtain information about their health. A student’s own medical practitioner is likely to be best placed to provide details about their health. However, providers may ask students to participate in a new assessment by someone with appropriate expertise, to consider what measures may be put in place to support the student (for example, an occupational health practitioner or a disability needs assessment practitioner). It is helpful to explain what will happen if a student refuses to participate in such an assessment.
12 It is good practice to provide the student with the information being considered, and to give the student an opportunity to respond to that information. This may take place at a meeting, or in writing. It is important to operate the procedure flexibly to take account of the student’s individual circumstances. The procedure should explain whether and in what circumstances a decision may be reached without the student’s participation.
13 It is good practice to tell the student who the decision-maker(s) will be, and to give the student an opportunity to object to the involvement of an individual before sensitive personal information is shared.
14 Decisions reached under a support for study process should be reasonable and proportionate and should be explained clearly to the student.
15 Where a decision is made that a student needs to take time away from study, it is good practice to specify how long the period is expected to be. It is important to set out clearly any conditions for the student’s return, and what evidence a student is expected to provide to confirm that they are ready to re-engage with their studies. It is not usually appropriate to require a student who has taken time away from their studies, for reasons connected with their health and wellbeing, to complete additional academic work in order to be allowed to return to the course.
16 The student should be given information about:
- Their right to appeal against a decision made under a support for study process;
- The grounds on which they can do so;
- The time limit for submitting an appeal;
- Where and how to access support.
17 The appeal should be considered by someone with no previous involvement in the decision that the student should take some time away from their studies.
18 If the appeal is not upheld or is not permitted to proceed under the grounds of appeal, a Completion of Procedures Letter should be sent to the student within 28 days.