Exceptional Circumstances - A Student Guide

Things may not always go to plan during your time at University; something may happen that has an impact on you personally and, therefore, on your academic progress.  If any such factors have a significant effect on you and your studies (especially around the time of assessment deadlines or exams), you should always let someone in your School know at the earliest opportunity.

There are very strict deadlines for submission of exceptional circumstances applications.  Key dates are set out below, along with guidelines on what the University will accept as “exceptional circumstances” and what you should do in the event of such circumstances.  You should be aware that the deadline for submission of an exceptional circumstances application in respect of an assignment, coursework or a project is three working days after the deadline for submission of the piece of work or your return to study (whichever is sooner) UNLESS the piece of work is due within a University assessment period.  The deadline for submission of exceptional circumstances applications for work due or for an exam within a University assessment period is three working days after the date of the last assessment or your return to study (whichever is sooner).  If you are in any doubt about the procedure or the relevant deadline, you should contact your School as a matter of urgency.

In some Schools the examination period, and therefore the deadline for submission of exceptional circumstances applications may differ from the University timetable.  In such cases the deadlines set by your School will take precedence.  It is your responsibility to check with your School and to ensure that you adhere to the relevant deadline. 

Every student’s circumstances are different.  Therefore, every case is considered on its own merits. 

This guide will help you understand what exceptional circumstances are and explain how and when you should inform your School.  It is essential that you read the University Study Regulations in conjunction with this guide. In the event of any confusion, the University will rely on the Regulations in order to reach a decision.

What are exceptional circumstances?

Exceptional circumstances are unforeseen factors or factors outside your control which have a negative impact on your ability to study or your academic performance.  Some events, even if difficult, distressing or unpleasant, are not in themselves deemed exceptional. Chronic conditions for which you have received support and reasonable adjustments do not constitute exceptional circumstances.

If you encounter difficulties at any stage during your studies, you should contact your School as soon as possible to discuss your options.  If difficulties arise during an assessment period or close to an assignment deadline, you may submit an exceptional circumstances application.  However, you should be aware that if you turn up and attempt an examination, or submit a piece of assessed work you are deeming yourself fit to be examined.  The decision on whether to attempt the examination or submit the assessed work, and the consequences of that decision, are your responsibility.  If necessary, you should consult your doctor before taking the assessment.

Please remember that exceptional circumstances should not be submitted as an insurance against possible poor performance and acceptance of exceptional circumstances will not result in individual marks being raised.

Exceptional circumstances - normally acceptable

Death of a close relative or friend.  ‘Close’ means parent or guardian; partner or spouse; child or sibling. Where the death is recent and there is a demonstrably close relationship between you and the deceased, a death certificate, an order of service, a letter confirming the death from an independent person or other proof of death (eg a death notice in a newspaper) should be submitted.  Where the death is not recent or the relationship between you and the deceased is not demonstrably close, you should also provide evidence of impact on you and your studies (eg a GP’s letter).  

Serious illness of student - an incapacitating illness or medical condition. This includes breaks and serious sprains to the normal writing hand/arm.  Medical certification must be obtained, self-certification is not acceptable.  Long-term or chronic illnesses or medical conditions are not considered as exceptional circumstances and will not, therefore, be dealt with under the Exceptional Circumstances Procedure.  If you suffer from a chronic or on-going illness or medical condition, you should contact Disability Services for advice (see below ‘What about long-term illness or disability?’).  You may be entitled to ‘reasonable adjustments’ to assist your study.   

Severe pain – if you experience severe pain which is affecting your ability to study or your academic performance, you should inform your School or Student Wellbeing, even if you have not received a diagnosis of an illness or condition (for example, severe back pain which is later diagnosed as sciatica).  It is the pain which is impacting on your ability to sleep, study or attend an examination - not the diagnosis. 

Serious illness of a close relative. See notes above for definition of ‘close’.  Detailed medical evidence of your relative’s illness is not required.  You should provide confirmation that your relative has been ill and medical evidence (eg a letter from your GP) setting out details of the impact your relative’s illness had on you and your academic performance. 

Hospitalisation. A medical letter/certificate from the relevant hospital confirming the nature and severity of the student’s circumstances and the likely impact it has on the student’s ability to undertake formal assessment will be required.

Acute Personal/Emotional Circumstances. The following will be required:

  • A medical certificate or letter from your GP or other appropriate medical professional or counsellor

Emails or letters from the University’s counselling service, Inspire, are of little assistance to your School in assessing your exceptional circumstances application as, for reasons of confidentiality, the detail provided is extremely limited.  The email/letter will only confirm the number of sessions you have attended with Inspire and therefore is not sufficient evidence on its own to demonstrate that your circumstances have had an impact on your studies.

Victim of Crime. A written statement of events which is supported by written evidence from the police and/or appropriate medical professional (or equivalent) will be required.  Please note that a letter from the police stating the crime number is not, on its own, sufficient evidence that you have been the victim of a crime.   It is the stress brought on by being a victim of a crime which may be considered as exceptional circumstances, rather than the crime itself.  The stress and its impact on your academic performance must be evidenced, normally by a letter from your GP or another medical professional who has been treating you.

Significant Financial Problems. Stress brought on by acute financial concerns. It is the stress brought on by the financial problems which may be considered as exceptional circumstances, rather than the financial circumstances themselves.  The stress and its impact on your academic performance must be evidenced, normally by a letter from your GP or another medical professional who has been treating you.  It is your responsibility to maintain a proper balance between work and study. 

Serious personal disruption. Stress brought on by divorce; fire; burglary; serious assault; jury service, serious childcare difficulties.  Corroborating evidence of the stress and its impact on your academic performance must be produced, normally by a letter from your GP or another medical professional who has been treating you.

Pregnancy-related illness or stress.  Pregnancy is not in itself considered to be an exceptional circumstance.  However, illness, stress, anxiety or upset related to a pregnancy may be considered.  A medical report from your doctor or midwife must be provided in support of such circumstances.  This also includes the stages following childbirth.  Anxiety or stress suffered by a student about the pregnancy of a partner may also be considered in certain circumstances.

Self-certification for short-term illness. Self-certification is acceptable for absence arising from a short-term illness, comparable to that which would result in absence from work, in circumstances where you are unable to seek medical advice, or where it would not be appropriate to seek medical advice, e.g. gastroenteritis, flu, food-poisoning, migraine. Brief details of your symptoms or condition should be included on the form‌, and this will form the supporting evidence for your application. No supporting medical evidence is required. A separate self-certification will be required for each assignment/examination/class test.

A full list of FAQs in relation to self-certification is available here.

Evidence of the impact the exceptional circumstances have had on you and your academic performance will normally be required (except where you are self-certifying your absence).  

The following are not exceptional circumstances

Social activities. Hectic social or sporting life, parties, visits to/from friends.

Temporary self-induced medical conditions. Hangover, drug taking (excluding prescribed medication).

Minor ailments. Coughs, colds, sprains, minor fractures (unless in the writing hand/arm – please see Student Wellbeing website).

Non serious personal and domestic disruptions which could have been anticipated or planned. Moving house, weddings, holiday, failed transport arrangements.  Attending a wedding is not deemed to be an exceptional circumstance, although participating in a wedding as a best man or bridesmaid may be accepted.

Work Commitments. Paid work in the evenings and weekends.

Other issues not considered to be exceptional circumstances:

  1. Misreading the examination timetable.
  2. Over sleeping / alarm clock not going off causing you to be late for or miss an exam or assessment.
  3. Completing and submitting coursework too late and missing deadlines (time management problems).
  4. Non-availability of books or other resources.
  5. Losing coursework (not backed up).
  6. Problems with postal delivery of work (you are advised to obtain receipts for assessments submitted in this manner).
  7. Appointments (legal, medical, etc.) which could be re-arranged.
  8. A long-standing condition, such as susceptibility to hay fever.
  9. A late diagnosis of a physical illness or condition, the symptoms of which you were aware (even if you had not received a formal diagnosis).

What if my condition or illness recurs before a subsequent assessment or during a subsequent exam period – can I use the same medical evidence again?

No.  You will need to obtain up-dated medical evidence to cover the relevant assessment, exams or exam period.

In the case of self-certification, students must contact their School and complete an exceptional circumstances application clearly indicating on the form each examination, or each assignment deadline that they miss, as a result of their short-term illness.

If your condition or illness is on-going you should seek advice from the Student Wellbeing Team  or Disability Services.  You should also speak to your Personal Tutor or Adviser of Studies about the option of taking a period of temporary withdrawal from your studies.

Students should always consult their GP if their illness is severe, if it persists, or if they are in any doubt about their health.

Students should be aware that self-certified absences will be monitored, and that multiple self-certifications will not be considered, and may lead to a referral to the University's Occupational Health Services, or the Fitness to Continue in Study Procedure.

 

What about long-term illness or disability?

Long-term life circumstances such as a disability or a chronic/on-going medical condition are not considered as exceptional circumstances where a student has registered with Disability Services and, therefore, are not dealt with under these procedures.

You should seek advice from the University’s Disability Services, ideally at the beginning of your studies if you have a disability or medical condition that may affect your studies or academic performance so that any reasonable adjustments recommended by Disability Services to support your learning may be put in place, and to prevent further evidence being requested in the future in relation to your disability or medical condition.  You should contact Disability Services as soon as possible as it may take a while for your assessment to be carried out and for support or reasonable adjustments to be put in place.

If you suffer from a disability or a chronic/on-going medical condition, and decide not to register with Disability Services, the University will not be aware of your condition, and an application for exceptional circumstances will be required if e.g. you have an acute episode or flare-up of your condition before an assignment deadline or examination.

Please see the following links for further information, particularly in relation to flexibility with deadlines:

How do I inform my School?

If you believe your performance has been adversely affected by exceptional circumstances, please inform your School as soon as you can. 

You should email or telephone the School Office to inform them that you are unable to meet a submission deadline or attend an examination.  You should do so in advance of the deadline or examination, if possible, and ask the School Office to send you an email confirming that you have told them that you are unable to submit your assignment or attend your examination and the time and date of your notification.  If you are unable to notify your School, you should ask someone else to do so on your behalf.  If you do not inform your School, you will be expected to explain why you did not do so.

If you are self-certifying your absence, you must advise your School in advance, or on the day of the examination or submission deadline. You must email or telephone the School Office to inform them, and to indicate that you will be self-certifying your absence. If you are unable to notify your School, you must have someone else do so on your behalf.    

Informing your School is not sufficient.  You must also submit an exceptional circumstances form and the necessary supporting documentation before the deadline for such applications.  A number of Schools have their own specific exceptional circumstances forms. In the first instance you should log in to your QOL account and search for this form.  If you are unable to locate the School’s form then you should submit this form‌ ‌along with all necessary documentary evidence, to your School Office by the relevant deadline. Remember that if you are self-certifying your absence, supporting medical evidence is not required. The self-certification statement is the evidence.

If you attempted other examinations or assessments during the same exam period, you should be able to explain why the exceptional circumstances relate to only the one missed/ failed examination or assessment.

Students should also ensure that they meet any School or programme requirements concerning notification of absence.

When do I inform my School?

You must submit the form and provide the relevant evidence to your School Office by the following deadlines:

Assignments/coursework/class tests

During illness, and especially if you know that you will miss an assignment deadline or class test because of illness, you should inform the relevant School Office in advance by telephone or email.  You should ask the School Office to send you an email confirming that you have told them that you are unable to submit your assignment or attend your examination and the time and date of your notification.  You must then submit an application for exceptional circumstances, along with the appropriate medical evidence/certificate/self-certification statement within three working days of returning to study or within three working days of the deadline for submission of the assignment (whichever is sooner).

Examination Period

In some Schools the exam period may differ from the University exam period, in which case the deadline for submission of exceptional circumstances will also differ from the University’s published deadline.  In these instances the School deadline will apply

It is your responsibility to ascertain the correct deadline applied by your School and to submit any exceptional circumstances application (and supporting evidence) to your School within the specified time.  For up-to-date information about exceptional circumstances submission deadlines please visit your School webpage.

If you have any queries about the procedure or are in doubt about the deadline, you should contact your School immediately. 

The University deadline for the submission of exceptional circumstances can be found here.

Applications for Exceptional Circumstances will not be considered after the publication of results.

What evidence is required?

Although evidence will be required of your exceptional circumstances, it is evidence of the impact that the exceptional circumstances have had on your ability to study or perform academically (rather than the exceptional circumstances themselves) that will be considered by the University.

The only exception to this is where you are self-certifying your absence due to a short-term illness (e.g. gastroenteritis, flu, food poisoning, migraine). In these circumstances, you will not be required to provide details of the cause of your absence. Generic terms such as 'sick' or 'ill' will not be sufficient, and you will need to provide details of your symptoms or condition (if known). It will not normally be necessary for you to provide supporting medical evidence for self-certification, although it is worth noting that submission of an application for exceptional circumstances on the basis of self-certification does not guarantee that the absence will be approved. Self-certification is intended for short-term illnesses where you were unable, or it would not be appropriate, to attend with your GP, and this will be taken into consideration by your School when considering the application. Depending on the information provided in your self-certification statement, your School may request medical evidence prior to making a decision on your application.

It is entirely your responsibility to submit all the necessary documentary evidence on or before the relevant deadline.  Failure to do so will result in your request being rejected.  The evidence must explain the impact of the exceptional circumstances on your academic performance (except where you are self-certifying your absence).

Evidence must be:

  1. Original; photocopies will not be accepted.
  2. In English.  If you provide an English translation of a document in another language, the translation must be certified as an accurate translation.  The University may check that the translation is accurate.
  3. Relevant to the missed/failed examination or assessment.
  4. From an independent body, e.g. your G.P.

Medical evidence must:

  1. Relate specifically to the dates and duration of the illness.
  2. Contain a clear medical diagnosis or opinion and indicate how this impacted on your academic performance.

A letter from a G.P. stating that you report that you felt unwell is not considered sufficient evidence on its own.

A self-certification statement must:

  1.  Give details of your symptoms or your condition if known. Try to give as many details as possible. Words like 'unwell', 'ill' or 'illness' are not acceptable.
  2. Relate to a specific examination or assignment deadline.

If, following submission of your exceptional circumstances application (on the basis of self-certification), your School requests medical evidence to verify your condition, you should contact your G.P. in order to obtain the evidence as quickly as possible.

Do not assume that a self-certified absence is approved. The University reserves the right to reject requests for absence, including self-certification of illness, if there are concerns about a student's overall pattern of attendance.

Please be aware that, should a School have any concerns about the authenticity of evidence of exceptional circumstances, it reserves the right to contact the author of the supporting evidence. This is also applicable to self-certification statements; where Schools are concerned about authenticity or truthfulness, they may contact you to discuss, or may require you to provide supporting medical evidence from your GP. Fabricating or falsifying supporting evidence (eg medical evidence or a self certification statement) is considered to be a serious disciplinary offence.  If you are suspected of fabricating or falsifying supporting evidence, the School or University may require the matter to be investigated under the University’s Conduct Regulations.  The standard penalty for a first offence of fabricating or falsifying evidence submitted to the University is expulsion from the university.   

A full list of FAQ's in relation to self-certification is available here.

How many times can I self-certify?

If you self-certify your absence for an examination/assignment or a number of examinations/assignments, you will be expected to sit the examination(s) during the re-sit period or to submit the assignment(s) on the resubmission date(s). This will be in addition to any scheduled examinations or assignments at that time, in the normal course of your studies, and is likely to increase your workload and could lead to bunching of deadlines at that time. This may also mean that you give up your summer to re-sit an examination or re-submit an assignment during the re-sit assessment period. Please note that examinations will not be re-arranged for an earlier or different date, other than the normal re-sit period.

You should also remember that if you fail a re-scheduled examination, then it is likely that you will be required to repeat the year. Talk to your School for more information about this.

You should bear in mind that self-certification should only be used where absolutely necessary, and the University expects you to manage minor ailments yourself e.g. coughs or colds. Before you self-certify, you should weigh the risks of needing to self-certify again for a short-term illness in the future. Cases of multiple self-certified absences will not be permitted and may result in referral to the University’s Occupational Health Service, or to the Fitness to Continue in Study Procedure.

During University Examination Period

If something happens during the examination period which you believe had a significant impact on your academic performance, you can submit an form‌.  Please note that there are deadlines for such applications during examination periods.  The University has a deadline but your own School may have its own deadline (which will take precedence) and it is your responsibility to ascertain which deadline applies to you.  If you are in doubt, check this with your School.

However, if you feel that your circumstances are of such a personal or sensitive nature that you do not feel able to disclose the details to your School, you can contact the Directorate of Academic and Student Affairs (dasa@qub.ac.uk) for advice on the Personal and Sensitive procedure.  You should do this as early as possible, as all information required must be submitted to the Director within seven working days of the publication of your exam results.

Your circumstances will be considered by the Director of Academic and Student Affairs, or nominee.  The details will remain confidential between you and the Director and will not be disclosed to the School or to the Board of Examiners or any other party.  (The only exception to this is if you disclose information which raises concern for the safety or wellbeing of yourself or others or relates to serious criminal activity).

Evidence which was not disclosed to your School and/or withheld from the Board of Examiners because it was of a highly sensitive and personal nature is not a ground for appeal.  The Director of Academic and Student Affairs will contact your School to ascertain what information the School has, if any, relating to your circumstances but will not disclose the information you have provided in your Personal and Sensitive application. 

The Director of Academic and Student Affairs will decide whether your case should be referred back to the Board of Examiners for consideration.  

Please be aware that if you do not want to share your circumstances with the University, this may result in the details of your situation not being taken into account in progress / assessment / award decisions.

Appeal

If your application under the Personal and Sensitive Procedure is refused, you may submit an appeal to the Faculty Student Appeals Committee (FSAC) but you must do so by the FSAC deadline (which is three working days after the deadline for applications under the Personal and Sensitive Procedure). 

Although evidence will be required of your exceptional circumstances, it is evidence of the impact that the exceptional circumstances have had on your ability to study or perform academically (rather than the exceptional circumstances themselves) that will be considered by the FSAC. 

Insofar as possible, the details of your circumstances will be redacted or kept confidential and only disclosed to the Chair of the FSAC or the Committee members if absolutely necessary.   

What if I need further assistance?

If you require assistance you should, in the first instance, contact your School Office

If you require advice on how your circumstances will affect your academic progression, you should contact your Personal Tutor or Adviser of Studies. 

If you require guidance, such as how to complete the ‌form or on the procedures in relation to the submission of exceptional circumstances to your School, you should contact Advice SU by submitting this ‌form‌.

What if my circumstances are confidential or sensitive?

All information provided will be treated by the University within the normal bounds of confidentiality and in accordance with Data Protection requirements.  Please be aware that, if you do not want to share your circumstances with your School, within the Exceptional Circumstances procedure, this may result in your situation not being taken into account in progression or award decisions.

How will my circumstances be considered?

Evidence of your exceptional circumstances will be considered by the School Exceptional Circumstances Committee (SECC) which meets prior to the Board of Examiners’ meeting.  The SECC will make a recommendation to the Board regarding concessions which may be granted on the basis of the evidence of your exceptional circumstances, as appropriate (e.g. you may be permitted to resit the examination without penalty).

The Board of Examiners cannot change your mark or award extra marks.  

For more information on the School Exceptional Circumstances Committee (SEEC) click here.  

 

Will I be able to talk to someone about my circumstances?

You should try to meet regularly with your Personal Tutor or Adviser of Studies to discuss any issues relating to your progress.  

If you would like to speak to someone outside of your School you should contact one of the University support services:

Students' Union

Advice and support are available from Advice SU or your Student Officers.

Student Resilience and Wellbeing

If you are experiencing personal or emotional difficulties that are impacting on your academic performance you can speak to a member of the Student Resilience and Wellbeing Team about support available to you by emailing studentwellbeing@qub.ac.uk or completing the online contact form; look at online self-help resources or visit the Student Resilience and Wellbeing Zone, First Floor, Student Guidance Centre.

For 24 hour telephone support from a counsellor, contact the Counselling Service on 0808 800 0016 (free from mobile or landline).

What happens next?

Your examination results will be published on Qsis.  If your School is concerned with your progress, you may be called to discuss these concerns with your Personal Tutor or to attend a Student Support Meeting in your School.  It is strongly recommended that you attend this meeting and avail of the advice available.  In any case, you may wish to discuss your progress with your Personal Tutor or Adviser of Studies.

What if I am unhappy with the decision of the Board of Examiners?

Appealing the decision

You can submit an appeal against the decision of the Board of Examiners to the Faculty Student Appeals Committee (FSAC).  The grounds for appeal are set out in the Academic Appeals Regulations (Taught Programmes). It is your responsibility to identify the grounds upon which you wish to appeal.  Guidance on the procedure can be found here.

Highly sensitive and personal circumstances

Evidence which was withheld from the Board of Examiners because it was of a highly sensitive and personal nature is not a ground for appeal to the FSAC.  However, you may contact the Director of Academic and Student Affairs who may consider an application under the Personal and Sensitive Procedure and may decide to refer your case back to the Board of Examiners for consideration.  Please see guidance on personal and sensitive circumstances.

What happens to the information that I provide?

The information that you submit is processed in accordance with the Data Protection Act and successor legislation. It will only be seen in confidence, by a small number of staff in the University dealing with your application. The particular reasons for your absence will not be shared or reported elsewhere, except in the case of multiple self-certifications for absence, where a referral to the University’s Occupational Health Services or the Fitness to Continue in Study Procedure may be required. A record of your absence will be kept.