Loughborough Doctoral College

6. Absence from studies

The different circumstances for absence of studies explained.

6.1 Definitions

Short absence

A short absence is an approved break from studies for up to 1 month where there is no academic engagement. It is intended to assist a doctoral researcher through short-term adverse circumstances, including, but not limited to, illness and recovery from illness, and minor or moderate injury.

Short absence can only be given for a period of up to 1 calendar month.

The doctoral researcher’s next review date and submission date will not be adjusted when a short absence is taken.

Where a doctoral researcher is on a short absence, but it is anticipated that the circumstances for which it was taken are likely to affect them for more than one month, the doctoral researcher and their supervisors should seek advice from the Doctoral College Office as to whether submitting a Leave of Absence request is appropriate to support the student’s wellbeing and academic progress. 

Leave of Absence

Leave of Absence is a recognised and authorised break from studies where there is no academic engagement. Leave of Absence is not a means to extend study periods.

Leave of Absence will normally only be given for requested periods of absence exceeding 1 calendar month and not exceeding 12 calendar months.

Leave of Absence must not be used to accommodate a short period of absence (less than 1 calendar month).

Leave of Absence should not be used where an alternative option to support the doctoral researcher’s academic progress, such as the Mitigating Circumstances procedure, would be more appropriate.

Leave of Absence will be appropriate where a doctoral researcher wishes to take maternity leave, paternity leave or other parental leave, and in cases of prolonged physical or mental ill health. Requests on the grounds of difficult personal circumstances will also be considered. In exceptional circumstances, Leave of Absence for the purposes of short-term employment, temporary lectureships, exchanges, voluntary service or expeditions/sport will also be considered.

The doctoral researcher’s next review date and submission date will be adjusted by the period of Leave of Absence taken. All time spent on Leave of Absence for a doctoral researcher is excluded when calculating the time limit for the submission of the thesis.

6.2 Sickness policy

Where a doctoral researcher is absent from their research programme due to short-term sickness or illness, they must notify their principal supervisor at the earliest opportunity.

Where a doctoral researcher is absent for up to 7 calendar days, they should notify their supervisors and PGR administrator as soon as possible after it is obtained.

Where a doctoral researcher is absent for more than 7 calendar days, they must provide a medical certificate to support their absence. This should be submitted to their supervisors and PGR administrator as soon as possible after it is obtained.

If the doctoral researcher’s period of sickness extends beyond 14 calendar days, they must notify their supervisors as soon as possible. The supervisors must then consider, in consultation with the doctoral researcher and the DDP, whether requesting a short absence may be appropriate.

Where a doctoral researcher is receiving a stipend funded by a research council, the Doctoral College, or a funding body where payments are administered through the University, they will normally be entitled to a total of 13 weeks sickness pay within a 12-month period. This is dependent on the absence being supported by medical evidence.

6.3 Short absence (up to 1 month)

An approved absence of up to 1 calendar month is defined as a short absence. It will not be processed as a Leave of Absence and should instead be recorded by Schools on Co-Tutor with appropriate documentation and evidence. If the doctoral researcher holds a Tier 4 visa, the short absence must be reported to the Doctoral College Office so that they can fulfil reporting obligations to UKVI.

The short absence process must not be used to request or record annual leave. Doctoral researchers should request annual leave using the Annual Leave Request Form in Documentation for Doctoral Researchers.

Short absences are approved by the doctoral researcher’s Director for Doctoral Programmes. 

The doctoral researcher’s record will remain active for the period of the short absence.

The doctoral researcher’s next review date and submission date will not be altered.

The doctoral researcher will be expected to attend their monthly supervision meeting during the 1-month short absence, but this can be over the phone or via Skype as appropriate.

Where applicable, a doctoral researcher will continue to receive their stipend payment during the 1-month short absence. Their absence will be recorded and, where appropriate, will count towards the 13 weeks of sickness pay that is permitted per 12-month period.

The doctoral researcher will be charged fees during the 1-month short absence.

If a student submits a Mitigating Circumstances claim at the end of the Part in which the short absence is taken, they may refer to it as part of their claim.

Where a doctoral researcher has requested more than one short absence in a short period of time, the DDP and the doctoral researcher’s supervisors should have a constructive and supportive discussion with the doctoral researcher about the circumstances that have led to the requests and whether requesting a period of Leave of Absence may be the most appropriate action to support their wellbeing and academic progress. DDPs and supervisors are encouraged to consult with the Doctoral College Office as necessary.

6.4 Leave of Absence (> 1 month and < 12 months)

Leave of Absence is a recognised and authorised break from studies where there is no academic engagement. It applies to a period of authorised absence of more than 1 calendar month and up to 12 calendar months.

Although there remains a contractual obligation with the University, the doctoral researcher’s record will be inactive for the period of the Leave of Absence.

A Leave of Absence request form must be completed by the doctoral researcher and, where relevant, supporting evidence and documentation must be supplied. The doctoral researcher’s supervisors must indicate whether they support the request and provide a clear plan for the doctoral researcher’s Return to Studies meeting (which should normally be held within 10 working days of their return to studies).

The Director for Doctoral Programmes is responsible for approving the request.

The doctoral researcher’s next review date and submission date will be adjusted by the period of Leave of Absence taken. All time spent on Leave of Absence is excluded when calculating the time limit for the submission of the thesis.

Where applicable, fees will not be charged to a doctoral researcher during the period of their Leave of Absence.

During a Leave of Absence, there may be an impact on provision of funding for doctoral researchers in receipt of stipends. Stipend payments may be stopped for the period of Leave of Absence, except where a doctoral researcher is entitled to sickness pay or family leave.

Doctoral researchers who have entered the UK on a Tier 4 visa are permitted a maximum of 60 days absence during which the University can continue immigration sponsorship. During this time, the University’s statutory responsibilities as a Home Office Tier 4 sponsor will apply. Any international doctoral researcher whose circumstances may require a period of absence for more than 60 days – which may include up to 30 days taken as a short absence – must seek advice from the Doctoral College Office.

It is normal practice for a Leave of Absence to start on a Monday and for the doctoral researcher to return to their studies on a Monday.

The maximum period of Leave of Absence that can be requested in the first instance is 12 months. For guidance on extensions to Leave of Absence, see section 6 of this policy.

If a School receives a Leave of Absence request form that they do not wish to approve, and the doctoral researcher cannot be persuaded to return to, and adequately participate in, their studies within 1 month, the Doctoral College Office should be informed.

6.5 Leave of Absence beyond 12 months

Leave of Absence cannot be requested for more than 12 months in the first instance.

A doctoral researcher is not normally permitted to take more than 24 months consecutive Leave of Absence. Please refer to section 6 of this policy for guidance on extensions to Leave of Absence.

6.6 Leave of Absence during R3 Extension and R3 Additional Extension

Leave of Absence will normally apply only during the period of tuition fee-paying registration stipulated for the relevant research degree under paragraph 3.1 of Regulation XXVI.

Where there are adverse circumstances affecting a doctoral researcher who is due to progress from R3 to R3(E), but they have been required to revise their annual report by a Progression Board, it is recommended that their academic progress is supported through the submission of a Mitigating Circumstances claim rather than a Leave of Absence request. This will not be appropriate where the circumstances affecting them are exceptional or they relate to serious illness or maternity, paternity or other parental leave. DDPs and supervisors are encouraged to consult with the Doctoral College Office as necessary.

Leave of Absence during the extension period will not normally be considered except on the grounds of serious ill-health or maternity, paternity or other parental leave.

If a doctoral researcher in the R3 Extension period wishes to request a Leave of Absence, they should submit the Leave of Absence request form in the usual way.

6.7 Extending Leave of Absence

Leave of Absence will not normally be back-dated, but back-dating by up to 10 working days will be considered in exceptional circumstances. Any Leave of Absence prior to this will be treated informally and will not contribute to the amendment of the doctoral researcher’s next review date and submission deadline.

Where a request to extend a doctoral researcher’s Leave of Absence occurs at the point when they are due to return to their studies, the School can extend the Leave of Absence without further paperwork for a period of up to 2 weeks.

Any request to extend a doctoral researcher’s Leave of Absence beyond this 2-week period must be accompanied by supporting evidence, unless agreement is given by the Senior Assistant Registrar. This will not be permitted for Tier 4 doctoral researchers beyond the 60 days of absence that they are permitted under the terms of their Tier 4 visa.

If a doctoral researcher has already had a 12-month Leave of Absence and wishes to request an additional 12-month Leave of Absence, this must be justified with appropriate supporting evidence.

If appropriate evidence is not provided, the doctoral researcher’s studies will be terminated in accordance with the provisions of Regulation IX. The doctoral researcher shall have the right to appeal this decision.

In accordance with paragraph 34.3 of Regulation IX, the maximum consecutive period of Leave of Absence for full- and part-time doctoral researchers shall normally be two years.

In addition to the above principles, the Doctoral College Office has the authority, with the agreement of the School, to extend a doctoral researcher’s Leave of Absence where there are serious circumstances (such as terminal illness) and it is not considered appropriate to contact them.

6.8 Leave of Absence request form

The Leave of Absence request form can be found in Documentation for Doctoral Researchers.

6.9 Management of progression reviews and boards

Principles

As well as indicating how they will conduct a Return to Studies meeting with the student, supervisors and Schools must assess the impact of the Leave of Absence on a doctoral researcher’s next review date at the point when the request form is submitted.

Wherever possible, it is helpful to support the doctoral researcher’s academic progress by not adjusting the date of their next review. However, Schools must make decisions based on what is in both the academic and wellbeing interests of the doctoral researcher by examining the circumstances and ability of the individual, assessing what is reasonable, and consulting with the Doctoral College Office for advice if necessary.

Following any necessary discussions between the doctoral researcher’s supervisors and DDP, the PGR administrator must ensure that arrangements for how the student’s next review will be managed are communicated to the doctoral

 

Leave of Absence, Mitigating Circumstances and progression boards

If it is decided that a doctoral researcher should not be taken to the next progression board as scheduled due to the circumstances relating to their Leave of Absence, they should not have the additional pressure of submitting a Mitigating Circumstances claim. The circumstances affecting them – and any supporting evidence – should already be known through the original Leave of Absence request form. This scenario is likely to only affect students whose Leave of Absence began shortly before or after the deadline for submitting their annual report.

It is the responsibility of supervisors to decide whether the doctoral researchers should be taken to the next progression board, in consultation with the DDP. This decision should be made as soon as possible after the doctoral researcher has submitted the Leave of Absence request form. The Doctoral College Office can offer guidance if required.

If the information on the doctoral researcher’s original Leave of Absence request form indicates that there are likely to be Mitigating Circumstances affecting their next review (such as bereavement or illness), and that they were due to be taken to that review as a first attempt (i.e. they have not previously had an unsatisfactory review for that Part), the Leave of Absence request form shall constitute the paperwork for the progression board, rather than a Mitigating Circumstances claim.

Doctoral researchers who have not taken a Leave of Absence but who plan to submit a Mitigating Circumstances claim ahead of their annual review, or who have taken a Leave of Absence but whose Mitigating Circumstances claim relates to a separate matter, should submit their claim in the usual way using the forms available in Documentation for Doctoral Researchers.

6.10 Returning from Leave of Absence

4 weeks prior to the date on which a doctoral researcher is due to return from Leave of Absence, they will be emailed by the Doctoral College Office and asked to confirm whether they intend to return to their studies.

The doctoral researcher shall be required to re-register when they return to their studies.

When they have returned to their studies, the doctoral researcher should have their Return to Studies meeting with their supervisors. This should normally take place within 10 working days of their return to study.
Supervisors should use the Return to Studies meeting to: ensure that the doctoral researcher is fit to return to their studies; confirm arrangements for their next annual review and any amendments to their submission deadline; identify any needs for additional support (which may require consultation with the Counselling and Disability Service); and to agree the immediate priorities for the post-Leave-of-Absence period.

For guidance on extending Leave of Absence, see the relevant section of this policy.

6.11 Failure to return from Leave of Absence

If a doctoral researcher has not returned and re-registered within 2 weeks of the due date for their return from Leave of Absence, they will be sent a reminder email.

If the doctoral researcher has still not re-registered after 4 weeks, a final reminder email will be sent, advising them that they have 10 working days in which to respond and advise the Doctoral College Office or their School of their intentions, and that their studies will be terminated if they fail to respond within that timeframe.

If there is no response from the doctoral researcher within 10 working days, their studies will be terminated in accordance with the provisions of Regulation IX. The doctoral researcher shall have the right to appeal this decision.

6.12 Failure to engage

If a doctoral researcher ceases to engage with their programme adequately, the principal supervisor should discuss the situation with the Director of Doctoral Programmes.

Unauthorised absence for more than one month, whatever the circumstances, must be followed up by the School and the Doctoral College Office must be informed of the concerns.

If a doctoral researcher does not respond adequately within a further 2 weeks, the situation must be reported to the Doctoral College Office who will make further enquiries and may initiate the termination of studies procedure under Regulation IX (see also paragraph 5.1 of Regulation XXVI).

6.13 Fitness to Study procedure

This procedure may be applied to doctoral researchers whose ability to cope with University life, to study and progress on their research degree programme, is seriously compromised as a result of their health, wellbeing, or a disability.

This procedure is designed to ensure that any concerns relating to a student’s ability to study are managed and addressed in a timely, equitable and supportive manner.

More information is available in the University’s Fitness to Study procedure (PDF document).