Guidance for staff if a doctoral student considers suspending their studies
Advice for staff when a doctoral student is considering or needs to suspend their studies, and how to get support from other teams within the University.
Reasons doctoral students suspend their studies
Doctoral students can suspend their studies for a number of reasons:
- a serious injury, illness or medical condition
- an ongoing physical or mental health condition suddenly getting worse
- significant disruption of personal life
- maternity, paternity or adoption
- election as a Students' Union Officer
- in the case of part-time students only, pressure from other business/employment
- work placements
For a full definitive list, please see Regulation 16 of the Student Regulations.
Going into suspension can have a significant impact on many aspects of a student’s life. Students should be encouraged to seek the appropriate advice from the relevant services before making a final decision about whether or not they should suspend.
Academic staff are not expected to advise a student on all concerns they raise, and should refer the student to the appropriate services. Students will often have queries about, or not appreciate, how suspension will affect their situation with respect to their academic progress, funding, housing situation, disability support or support for physical or mental health issues and for visa holders, their immigration status. Staff may consult the Doctoral College for advice on the approval process for suspension requests.
Meeting with the student
The Director of Studies (DoS) or supervisors should arrange or invite the student to a meeting as soon as possible. If a face-to-face meeting is not possible then contact should be made via email, telephone or Microsoft Teams in order to ensure:
- the student has considered the potential impact of suspending their studies
- the supervisor(s) and/or DoS understand the student’s issues leading to the request
- the correct information is gathered
- the student has been provided with the opportunity to get specialist advice
This meeting will allow you to discuss in confidence with the student their academic progress and circumstances affecting their studies. Staff should discuss possible options for the student in relation to their studies, which can include alternative options to suspension.
These options could include:
- Referral to specialist services, such as Student Services, Doctoral College, Careers, Independent Advisers for Postgraduate Research Students, the Students’ Union Advice & Support Centre, the Skills Centre or the Student Finance Office
- Reasonable Adjustments and/or Disability Access Plan if the student has a disability or long-term medical condition that is affecting their studies. The Disability Advice team can provide staff with further advice and guidance
- Extension or change of mode of study (see Regulation 16 of the Student Regulations for the procedure and the Student Records and Examination Office webpages for the relevant forms).
We recommend referring students to suspending your studies if you are a doctoral student which provides important information and guidance on key areas at the pre-suspension, during suspense and return to University stages.
Refer to specialist services for advice
A student may disclose circumstances to an academic member of staff which are affecting their studies, where specialised advice and guidance would be beneficial. The following services are available which students can be referred to:
- Student Services (Counselling & Mental Health, Disability, Wellbeing, Money Advice)
- Students' Union Advice & Support Centre (independent advice and representation)
- Careers Service
- Student Immigration Service (visas)
- Skills Centre (Academic Skills) and MASH (maths resources)
- Student Finance Office (tuition fees) and Studentships team
- Doctoral College (issues related to doctoral progression)
Staff should signpost the student or make the appropriate referral themselves with the permission of the student. Staff can do this by providing the student with the contact details of the relevant service, or by calling or emailing the service to initiate contact on behalf of the student.
We strongly recommend all students seek advice from the Doctoral College and Student Money Advice (Student Services) before suspension to understand the impact on their funding. Students need to consider the terms and conditions of their funding, as well as verifying the suspension processes required by research councils or other sponsors. Students on a University studentship should contact the Studentships Team.
Visa holders will be required to meet with the Student Immigration Service (SIS) for visa advice.
If you are unsure where to direct students, the Doctoral College can help to signpost to the right service.
What to do if a student decides to suspend
Students must seek Board of Studies (Doctoral) approval of the suspension. The student should contact their programme administrator in the Doctoral College to do this. Appropriate corroborating evidence (such as a medical certificate) will normally be required in support of the request for suspension. Students can request to suspend their studies for a period of up to 12 months.
Once the suspension has been approved, the student, lead supervisor and DoS will then receive an email confirming the suspension. This will also include the date when we expect the student to resume their studies and any conditions for their return.
Process for returning to study
Before the agreed date when students will resume their course, they should contact their Director of Studies and supervisors to confirm that they will return. The Director of Studies and/or supervisors should include a reminder of any conditions for their return in any response.
If you haven’t heard from your student within one month of the scheduled return date, please make contact with them.
Return to study
For suspensions approved from March 2019, Student Services will run the Return to Study process for the following categories of suspension:
- Health reasons where the period of suspense is at least three months, or
- Multiple periods of suspense due to health reasons
Once the suspension is approved the Doctoral College will write to the student to confirm that they will be offered Return to Study. Student Services will write to the student six weeks prior to their expected return date. They will be requested to complete a Self-Assessment form and to provide contact details of their medical practitioner/health professional, as we may need to request medical information. The Self-Assessment form will help the student start to think and plan for a successful return. Their answers will also help Student Services identify if the student might be entitled to extra support or funding. Following the Return to Study review, Student Services will contact the student, the Lead Supervisor and Director of Studies, to detail the outcome and support offered.
If there are significant concerns about a student’s fitness to study, the decision will be referred by the Director of Student Services for consideration under the University's Fitness to Study policy.
Preparing to return to the University
Students are advised to talk to their Director of Studies and their supervisors about how they should prepare for returning to their doctorate. Students should also let their programme administrator in the Doctoral College know when they have returned, and the Student Records and Examinations Office so their student record can be updated.
Returning to the UK (visa holders)
Once students have confirmed that they will be resuming their course, they must reapply for their visa before they can return to the UK.