Last updated: August 2023. Review date: August 2024
1. Scope and Purpose
1.1 The purpose of this policy is to make staff and students on taught programmes aware of the University's policy on Leave of Absence for students on taught programmes. The policy applies to postgraduate and undergraduate students.
1.2 Academic Regulation, Section B (20) applies to Leave of Absence for undergraduate and taught postgraduate students. Academic Regulation, Section F (7) applies to Leave of Absence for students taking the PGCE.
2.1 For the purpose of this and associated documents, Student shall refer to any person registered at St Mary's University on a programme of study at undergraduate or postgraduate level, be it full-time or part-time.
2.2 A Leave of Absence can be defined as a pause in studies when a student temporarily and formally, and with the agreement of the university authorities, disengages from their studies at the university. St Mary's University deems a Leave of Absence to be a period between one semester and no longer than twelve months.
3.1 The university expects all students to engage fully with their studies, attend all lectures, seminars and teaching as required and submit all work by published deadlines. From time to time, students can experience personal, family or health-related problems that may require them to take a period of time away from their studies. In some cases, the university may require that a student takes a leave of absence from their studies. Typically, a Leave of Absence may be suggested and ultimately imposed if necessary and after seeking medical advice when a student's health is giving cause for concern.
4. Reasons for taking Leave of Absence
4.1. The University recognises that students may wish to take a break from their studies for a number of reasons. The following will be considered as appropriate reasons for requesting a leave of absence:
a. Medical reasons, as recommended by the Student's GP or consultant
b. Maternity/paternity/adoption leave
d. Other valid personal reasons
e. To undertake work experience not included as a formal course-based work placement but which is closely related to the course of study and can be demonstrated to be of value to it.
f. To participate in competitive sport at national or international level.
4.2 Students requesting a leave of absence may be asked to provide documentary evidence for their request, for example:
a. Medical certificates
b. Birth or adoption certificates
c. Death certificates/divorce decrees
d. Contract of employment
4.3 The University reserves the right to decline a request to take a Leave of Absence if insufficient, or inadequate or irrelevant documentary evidence is provided.
4.4 In the case of the University requiring a student to take a Leave of Absence, full reasons will be given in writing and will include measures to be taken before the student can return to the university. Typically, the student will be required to produce a note from a GP confirming that they are fit to return to their studies. Where a Leave of Absence is required, the University's Student Services department will meet with the student to ensure that they are aware of the implications of taking a Leave of Absence.
5. Duration of a Leave of Absence
5.1 Normally, it is expected that a Leave of Absence will last for a full semester or alternatively, and ideally, a full academic year, to enable the student to engage fully with their studies on their return and so as not to disadvantage them in terms of learning and taking assessments. In some cases, such as pregnancy, it may not be possible to take a semester or a year off. Requests for a Leave of Absence made more than two weeks after the start of each Semester will not normally be granted. Where exceptional circumstances are not deemed to exist and the student still wishes to take a Leave of Absence at that time, any assessments taken on their return will be treated as repeat assessments and capped at 40%.
5.2 Absences of over a year will not be granted initially. In exceptional circumstances, it may be necessary for a Leave of Absence of more than a year to be granted. Requests for absences over a year must be discussed with the relevant School following the first period of absence, and then made in writing to the Registry. Absences over two years are subject to approval by the Head of Registry Services.
5.3 Normally, only one period of Leave of Absence will be granted for the duration of a programme. Any request for an additional period of absence will be reviewed and a decision made by the Head of Registry Services.
5.4 It is the Student's responsibility to ensure that they are aware of the full financial and academic implications of taking a Leave of Absence before making an application, but see 4.4 above in the case of required Leave of Absence.
5.5 A student wishing to return from a medical Leave of Absence, whether instigated by them or imposed by the University, should produce a note from their GP or consultant which confirms both their fitness to return to study and to cope with the requirements of university life. If a student is unable to provide satisfactory evidence that he/she is fit to return, the University may, in exceptional circumstances and with the approval of the Vice Chancellor, formally terminate his/her studies.
6. Returning From a Leave of Absence
6.1 A student returning from an approved or imposed Leave of Absence will be allowed to defer any assessments due for any modules they have completed before their period of Leave of Absence.
7.1 The following Complaints Procedure applies to complaints against the implementation of this policy. Please read the Complaints Procedure.
Leave of Absence Procedure
This document sets out the processes for applying for, and taking, a Leave of Absence under the University's Leave of Absence Policy. The procedure applies to all students on taught undergraduate and postgraduate courses at St Mary's.
The University expects all students to engage fully with their studies, attend all teaching events and produce assessments by the stated deadlines. From time to time, a student may experience personal circumstances that make it difficult for them to continue to engage fully with their programme and with student life. In such cases, a Leave of Absence may be a way of giving the student a necessary temporary break from their studies as an alternative to programme withdrawal.
2. Definition of a Leave of Absence
As defined in the Leave of Absence Policy, a Leave of Absence is a pause in studies when a student temporarily and formally, and with the agreement of the university authorities, disengages from their studies at the university. St Mary's University deems a Leave of Absence to be a period between one semester and no longer than twelve months, normally.
3. Implications of Leave of Absence
The student must be made aware of the implications of taking a leave of absence on their studies, their finances and, potentially, on their accommodation. The Programme Director should signpost these issues in any conversation with a student considering a Leave of Absence, and refer them to the appropriate departments.
The initial conversation should cover:
- All of the options available to the student, including taking LOA or a shorter break, repeating a year, changing course, changing some modules, deferral or withdrawal.
- The implications of LOA on their finances, with clear advice that the student contact Student Finance and/or any other funding agency or sponsor to discuss their particular circumstances.
- Where they might live when they are on LOA, and what support will be available to them there (in the case of health related or personal reasons).
- What their programme of study will comprise on their return, including any planned changes in the programme of study that may occur whilst they are away and affect their choice on their return.
- The proposed duration of the LOA.
- The implications of LOA on their accommodation. Students in St Mary's accommodation should be directed to Accommodation Services, and those in private rented accommodation who are concerned about their liability for continuing rent can be referred to Student Services who should be able to advise.
4. Imposing Leave of Absence
From time to time, the University may decide that it would be in the best interests of the student and/or the university community if they were to take a Leave of Absence. The decision will be made with reference to the University's Fitness to Study Policy. The most likely reason for requiring a student to take a Leave of Absence is mental ill health. When a Leave of Absence is required, the University will establish the initial duration of the period of absence in conjunction with the student. Regular communication will be established between a link staff member allocated by the university, and the student, during their period of absence.
Two months before the student is scheduled to return, the University will contact the student and arrange for a Doctor's report to be produced indicating whether the student is fit to return to their studies and to university life. Planned ongoing support will be established either at a pre-return meeting or by email correspondence. This may include referral to support services external to the university.
5. Voluntary Leave of Absence
If the student has asked to take a Leave of Absence, they should submit a change of status request through their online portal on E-vision. This will trigger emails to be sent to their programme to approve this request. The student will be able to submit any documentary evidence associated with their request.
Once the request has been submitted and approved, the student will be notified through the online portal. University staff can submit a Leave of Absence request on behalf of a student.
Where the issue leading to an application for a Leave of Absence is highly sensitive and if a student has been in contact with Student Services, Wellbeing Services may be asked to provide supporting evidence.
6. During the Leave of Absence
During a period of Voluntary Leave of Absence, a representative of the programme team should contact the student at least twice by email to enquire about the student's welfare and their plans to return to St Mary's. The correspondence must also cover any support needs or questions relating to their course the student may have at the time and any additional help they may feel they need on their return, so that appropriate arrangements can be made. In addition, any changes to the programme, modules or assessment that occur after the student has begun their LOA must be communicated to them swiftly.
Any student on a Leave of Absence should inform the Registry immediately if their circumstances or contact details change whilst they are on Leave.
Two months before the planned return, staff from Registry services will contact the student to discuss arrangements for their return.
Any student who plans to return to St Mary's accommodation must be included in all communications from Accommodation Services regarding application deadlines etc.
7. Return from Leave of Absence
When a student returns from Leave of Absence, they should meet their Programme Director to discuss the plan for the year, any concerns the student might have following their period of leave, and to identify any academic support needs. The programme director should initiate the meeting and send reminders if no response is received. Registry Services will be responsible for providing each Faculty with the names of all students who are taking, or due to return from, a Leave of Absence.
8. Refusal of a Request for a Leave of Absence
In the event of a request for LOA being refused, the student should receive a letter from the Programme Director giving the reason for the refusal within five working days of their discussion. The student may appeal to The Head of Academic Services within five working days of receipt of the notification, enclosing additional evidence if appropriate. A panel comprising Registry Services staff and Faculty representatives will review the decision and respond to the student within ten working days of receipt of the appeal.
9. Extension to Leave of Absence
In the case of an imposed Leave of Absence, if the appointed Doctor does not deem that the student is fit to return to study as per the Fitness to Study Procedure, it may be necessary to extend the period of Leave of Absence further. In such cases, ongoing support will be vital to facilitate the student's return once they are able to do so. Any request to extend the Leave of Absence beyond a year must be approved by the Head of Registry Services.
In the case of a voluntary Leave of Absence, a request to extend beyond a year should be submitted in writing to the Head of Registry Services, with reasons and evidence in support of the request.