Guidelines on Fitness to Continue in Study on the Grounds of Health and/or Safety

Guidelines on Fitness to Continue in Study on the Grounds of Health and/or Safety

1. Introduction 2. Informal Stage: Student Intervention
3. Formal Stage 4. Student Appeals Process
5. Return to Study 6. Emergency Situations / serious incidents involving a student
7. Record Keeping  

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These Guidelines and other relevant University procedures and protocols are developed with the underlying principle that a student leads the management of their own wellbeing.   However, these Guidelines also recognise that the University may need to act at times when a student is unwilling or unable to manage their wellbeing in a way that supports their own health and safety, and which may affect people around them.   The University has a duty of care to all students and staff, which must be balanced against the duty of care to an individual student and the limited support that can be provided within the University environment.   However, the University does not stand in loco parentis; that is, the University does not assume the duties, responsibilities or obligations of a parent. Variance from the Guidelines may be undertaken with agreement from the Director of Academic and Student Affairs.  Also see Other Regulations 4.1: Student Health in the University General Regulations.

These Guidelines aim to support students to remain on their programme of study wherever possible; however, it is acknowledged that there are occasions where all options of support have been exhausted (Informal Stage), and the student is not well enough to continue. In such instances this process may recommend or require temporary withdrawal from studies.

The behaviours of a student displayed within the context of fitness to continue in study on the grounds of health and/or safety sit alongside the University’s Conduct Regulations.   There are occasions where a student’s behaviour is such that, under normal circumstances, they would be subject to disciplinary procedures.   However, if there is evidence that the student has an identified mental health difficulty or other diagnosed condition, the processes set out below may provide a more appropriate alternative to disciplinary procedures.

A student who voluntarily withdraws, or who is required to withdraw temporarily on health and safety grounds, is subject to the University’s Regulations for Students, including limits on temporary withdrawals and accommodation regulations.

1. Introduction

1.1 The following Guidelines apply to situations where the University needs to respond appropriately to situations where significant concerns are identified about a student’s health or behaviour which may have a negative impact on the health, safety and wellbeing of the student or other persons.  This behaviour is considered independently to academic concerns.  

1.2 Fitness to continue in study includes a student’s ability to cope with University life and remain in the study environment. This includes being able to take the responsibility expected of all students in upholding the University’s regulations and engaging with relevant procedures as outlined in the Student Charter.

1.3 The University is committed to promoting the wellbeing of all students including those with mental and/or physical ill health.  This includes working to promote positive attitudes and reduce discrimination.  The University recognises that there may be occasions when it may be in the best interest of a student to take a break from their studies in order to concentrate on their health and wellbeing.  Any action taken under this procedure will only take place if it is deemed to be in the best interest of the student and/or others around them.

1.4 It is important to establish that the cause of such concerns may relate to the manifestation of a diagnosed condition, or to behaviours deemed to be consistent with a long-term condition or disability.  It is also important, where a condition or disability is involved, that decisions are based on evidence, and that assumptions about a condition or disability are avoided.  Such assumptions may give rise to instances of direct unlawful discrimination on the grounds of a student’s disability.  The University is committed to creating an inclusive environment and promoting equality, and this procedure applies equally to all students where there is concern for their wellbeing impacting on the health and safety of themselves or others around them.

1.5 The University will make reasonable efforts to engage the student at all steps of the process.  If the student fails to co-operate or to engage with the University at any point in the procedure the University has the right to continue with the process in their absence.

1.6 These guidelines apply to any person currently enrolled as a student at Queen’s University Belfast. However, if undertaking a placement or period of study abroad, the relevant organisation or institution may have their own policies and procedures which need to be followed.

The process outlined in these Guidelines is set out in a flow chart in Annex 1.


2. Informal Stage: Student Intervention

2.1 Ordinarily the first step relating to issues concerning the wellbeing of a student should be to raise them with the Resilience and Wellbeing team or a member of the Student Multidisciplinary Team and, if appropriate, to manage the situation in accordance with the Student Intervention Protocol (which can be found at www.qub.ac.uk/directorates/sgc/wellbeing/StaffResources/).  A Student Multidisciplinary Team meets on a fortnightly basis during semester time to discuss in confidence the progress of students whose overall wellbeing is of concern to colleagues in Schools and/or central support services.   The Student Multidisciplinary Team’s role is to ensure appropriate communication about concerns between support areas, and oversee a framework to support the student in managing their own wellbeing.

The procedure for use in emergency situations is set out in section 6 below.

2.2 Once concerns have been raised with the Resilience and Wellbeing team or Student Multi-disciplinary Team, the student will normally be offered to meet with a staff member to discuss the concerns raised, agree steps to be undertaken and a point of review.  This meeting can be with a member(s) of staff from the School, Resilience and Wellbeing team or Student Multidisciplinary Team. The discussion may include outlining the University’s concerns and expectations around the student’s behaviour and management of their wellbeing, and consider appropriate signposting for further support. Where appropriate the staff member will seek to obtain written permission from the student to share relevant information with the Student Multidisciplinary Team, and if required other areas such as GP or external organisations. If the student chooses not to attend a meeting with the staff member, the student will be made aware of support available to them.  

2.3 A member(s) of staff from the School Resilience and Wellbeing team or Student Multidisciplinary Team may refer a student to the Senior Medical Officer and Occupational Health Physician.   If a student chooses to not accept this referral, the Senior Medical Officer and Occupational Health Physician may review the student’s situation and may require the student to attend for a medical examination, under the Student Health Regulations (see Other Regulations 4.1).   This may include seeking access to medical records or a discussion with the student’s medical support team.   Normally a student will be requested to attend a medical examination with the Senior Medical Officer and Occupational Health Physician before proceeding to the formal stages of the procedure.

2.4 The Senior Medical Officer and Occupational Health Physician will give support and advice to students referred to them, including those undertaking a temporary withdrawal on medical grounds, and will develop a timeline for review of a student’s status.  The Senior Medical Officer and Occupational Health Physician may also direct a student to withdraw temporarily on medical grounds, in line with University regulations (see Regulations for Students 1.19 xii).

2.5 The University may also require the student to attend an examination by a psychiatrist, psychologist or other healthcare professional approved by the University. 

2.6 The Student Intervention Protocol seeks to support the normal work of the School and outcomes will be made known to Schools where there is consent from the student, or where risk to the safety or wellbeing of the student or those around them has been identified.  Academic progression remains the responsibility of the School.  


3. Formal Stage

3.1 As a general rule, the Formal Stage of this Procedure will only be invoked when the behaviour, disruption or risk presented by the student is perceived to be of a serious or potentially serious nature.

3.2 Because of the serious nature of the behaviour leading to instigation of the Formal Stage, it is recognised that consideration must be given at all times to the wellbeing of the student, and how the process is impacting on their wellbeing.  

3.3 Where there are particular and ongoing concerns about a student, their behaviour and their overall wellbeing, and where there is no engagement, no improvement or a further deterioration, despite supportive interventions, the Student Multidisciplinary Team or Head of Student Affairs may recommend instigating the Formal Stage.

In such instances the Student Multidisciplinary Team will meet and compile a report of the facts known about the situation, for submission to the School Fitness to Continue in Study Panel.  

In urgent cases, an additional meeting of the Student Multidisciplinary Team may be convened to consider the student’s case, inviting relevant members of University staff as appropriate.

Fitness to Continue in Study Panel

3.4 The School shall establish a special Fitness to Continue in Study Panel within two weeks of receiving the report from the Student Multidisciplinary Team, consisting of at least three and no more than five members, including the Head of School, another senior member of School staff and at least one of the following, as deemed by the School to be necessary or appropriate:  

  • Head of Student Affairs or nominee
  • Head of Disability and Wellbeing or nominee
  • Head of Accommodation and Hospitality or nominee
  • Head of International Student Support or nominee
  • Head of Public Engagement or nominee

In addition, a member of the Student Multidisciplinary Team may be asked to attend to provide information to the Panel.

The member representing central support services should not be the same person who has met with the student through the Student Intervention Protocol.

Representatives from Occupational Health, Academic Affairs, Legal Services, Security, Student Records and Examinations, Income and Student Finance may be asked to attend at specific points during the meeting in an advisory capacity, to provide further information or to clarify a policy or procedure.

External professionals may be invited to attend and/or to provide information on the student’s case or situation and/or to provide general information and advice on support and care that can be accessed:

  • Representative from the University Health Centre or other GP practice as appropriate
  • Appropriate representative from Health and Social Care
  • Professionals in disability, counselling or mental health fields

3.5 The Panel may ask the student for medical evidence to confirm that they are fit to study or may require the student to attend for examination by a medical professional appointed by the University.  Where external medical evidence is being considered, the University’s Senior Medical Officer and Occupational Health Physician or Head of Student Affairs, or nominee, shall make clear to health care professionals the level of reasonable support the University can provide and the limitations of this support.

Notes of the meeting and any supporting information will be maintained by Student Affairs.  

3.6 A student will be given five days notice of the meeting, and the student may be accompanied by a registered student of the University (which includes a Students’ Union Sabbatical Officer), or by a member of staff of the University or University Chaplaincy.   The student will be provided with any documentation to be considered by the Panel.

In the event that the student feels unable to attend the meeting as arranged, the University will make every reasonable effort to enable the meeting to take place, for example by moving the meeting to a time or location with which the student feels comfortable.

The student may ask the Panel to consider a written statement from him/her.  This may be in addition to attendance at the Panel, or if the student wishes, instead of attendance.

If, despite the University's best endeavours, the student feels unable to attend a Panel meeting to discuss their specific circumstances regarding fitness to continue in study, the meeting may take place in their absence with the Panel's decision being communicated to the student as set out below.

3.7 The Panel will seek to ensure that all possible measures have been put in place to support the student and that the limits of reasonableness have been reached, including consideration for obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and the Special Educational Needs and Disability (Northern Ireland) Order 2005.

3.8 The Panel may choose one of the following options:

  • No further action required;
  • Continue with the current support plan and review student progress on a more frequent basis;
  • Seek further medical information or professional advice before considering any further action;
  • Recommend that a student should withdraw temporarily from studies to concentrate on his/her wellbeing;
  • Direct that a student be withdrawn temporarily from studies to concentrate on his/her wellbeing. 

3.9 The student will be informed in writing of the Panel’s decision and shall be invited to meet the Head of Student Affairs, or nominee, and a representative from the student’s School to discuss the Panel’s decision.    The student may be accompanied by  another student or member of staff of the University (including a Sabbatical Officer) or University Chaplaincy for support.

If the Panel deems it appropriate, reasonable efforts will be made to allow the student access to University support services during their period of withdrawal, which will be discussed at this meeting.  If the Panel deems it appropriate, the student may also be permitted access to some learning material to help them maintain a connection with their School/studies and to assist a possible return to study, unless a complete break has been recommended by medical professionals.

The Return to Study procedure will be discussed with the student at this meeting. 

3.10 Where appropriate, the Panel’s decision and the outcome of the discussion with the student will be communicated to the Head of Accommodation and Hospitality.  All students who have agreed a contract for accommodation with the University are subject to the regulations relating to Student Accommodation, including those relating to withdrawal from the University and requesting release from contracts.   


4. Student Appeals Process

4.1 The student will have the right to appeal against the decision of the Fitness to Continue in Study Panel to the Central Student Appeals Committee in accordance with University regulations (see Academic Appeal Regulations (Taught Programmes)).  


5. Return to Study

5.1 Any student who is required or who chooses to withdraw temporarily from study after following a Fitness to Continue in Study process will be subject to periodic review in the light of further developments or improvements in the student’s wellbeing. 

5.2 As every student’s situation is different, a ‘withdrawal review date’ will be agreed with the student and the University’s Senior Medical Officer and Occupational Health Physician at the time of withdrawal. 

5.3 Where a student has been required to withdraw or has withdrawn voluntarily, following the Formal Stage of this process, their return to the University must be considered by a Panel, comprising the Head of Student Affairs (or nominee), the Senior Medical Officer and Occupational Health Physician and a representative from the student’s School.

5.4 The student will be required to meet with the Panel in person.  In addition the student may furnish written information for consideration by the Panel. 

5.5 Prior to the Panel meeting, the student will be required to meet with the Senior Medical Officer and Occupational Health Physician, who will prepare a report for consideration by the Panel.  The student may also be required to attend for examination by a medical professional, as directed by the Panel.

5.6 The student may be accompanied by another student or member of staff of the University (including a Sabbatical Officer) or University Chaplaincy for support.

The purpose of this discussion is to review the student’s situation and to consider:

  • the actions the student has taken to improve their situation;
  • the support they have accessed;
  • any support they would find helpful in ensuring a successful return to study, including a re-referral to the Student Multidisciplinary Team;
  • Information about confidentiality/sharing of information.

5.7 Outcomes from this meeting may include:

  • Recommend to the Head of School that the student’s return to study be approved;
  • Seek further medical information before considering any further action;
  • Continue the student’s temporary withdrawal and review student progress after a set period of time.

Approval from the student’s Head of School must be obtained before re-registration.

5.8 The student will be informed of the decision and any specific recommendations or suggestions about the support that they are recommended to access if they return to studies.   The student will also remain under the monitoring of the Student Multidisciplinary Team for the remainder of the academic session, subject to ongoing review. 

5.9 The student may request a review of the Panel’s decision by the Director of Academic and Student Affairs.

5.10 All withdrawn students are subject to University regulations relating to withdrawals defined under Regulations for Students.  This may include limits on applications for temporary withdrawal.


6. Emergency Situations / serious incidents involving a student

6.1 Emergency incidents involving students are rare and the immediate situation should be dealt with by calling Security on extension 2222 or 028 9097 5099.  Security will contact appropriate emergency services, respond to the scene and contact other relevant support providers, including the Head of Student Disability and Wellbeing.

6.2 To prevent reoccurrence of any action and to protect the members of the University community in general, or a particular member or members, the Vice-Chancellor may apply a precautionary suspension as set out in the Conduct Regulations, where it is urgent and necessary to take such action pending outcomes from the formal process.  This may include temporarily suspending a student’s access to University information systems or buildings, or prohibit contact with specific students or members of staff, on health and safety grounds.


7. Record Keeping

Records and information relating to specific students will be held as follows:

  • Individual support services accessed by a student maintain their own records, in accordance with the University’s Data Protection Policy. 
  • Records and information held under the Student Intervention Protocol are normally kept in the office of the Head of Student Disability and Wellbeing.  However, information relating to a student’s interactions with support services and Accommodation and Hospitality will be held within the service, shared with the Student Multidisciplinary Team as appropriate and within the Protocol and Service’s confidentiality policy.
  • Records and information relating to School Fitness to Continue in Study Panel meetings will be held within Student Affairs.
  • Records and information relating to Appeals will be held within the office of the Director of Academic and Student Affairs.

All information held about a specific student is subject to Data Protection and Freedom of Information legislation.  Information will be stored and destroyed in line with University records management policies.