Exceptional Circumstances - A student guide

Things don’t always go to plan during your time at University, something may happen that has an impact on you personally or your academic progress. For those factors that 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.

It is vital that you recognise that there are very strict and inflexible deadlines within which you must make the University aware of any exceptional circumstances – key dates are outlined below, along with guidelines on what the University will accept as “exceptional circumstances” and what you should do in the event that situations such as these arise.

This guide will help you understand what exceptional circumstances are and explain how and when you should inform your School. It is vital that you read the University 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?

Unforeseen factors, or factors outside your control which have a negative impact on your 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 turn up and attempt an examination you are deeming yourself to be fit to be examined. 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 there is a demonstrably close relationship between the student and the deceased, a death certificate or a letter confirming the death from an independent person should be submitted.

Serious illness of student. An incapacitating illness or an on-going 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.

Serious illness of a close relative. See notes above for definition of ‘close’.

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 the appropriate medical professional; or
• A letter from the University Counselling Service, or equivalent confirming the nature of the student’s circumstances*

*If attending counselling, you can request an academic letter from your counsellor once you have attended a number of sessions.  This letter can be submitted  as part of your supporting evidence if you are making a request for extenuating circumstances to be taken into consideration in the assessment of your coursework or exams. However it is very important that you do not rely on this letter as your only evidence for exceptional circumstances. Due to confidentiality the letter will only confirm the number of sessions you have attended with Carecall and therefore is unlikely to be 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.

Significant Financial Problems. Stress brought on by acute financial concerns. It is the student’s responsibility to maintain a proper balance between work and study.

Serious personal disruption. Divorce; fire; burglary; serious assault; jury service, serious childcare difficulties. Corroborating evidence must be produced.

Pregnancy. A medical report from the student’s doctor or midwife must be provided in support of such grounds. This also includes the stages following childbirth. Pregnancy of a wife/partner would be acceptable in appropriate circumstances.

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 (other than in the writing hand/arm).

Non serious personal and domestic disruptions which could have been anticipated or planned. Moving house, weddings, holiday, failed transport arrangements.

Work Commitments. Paid work in the evenings and weekends.

Other issues not considered to be exceptional circumstances

  • Misreading the examination timetable.
  • Over sleeping / alarm clock not going off causing you to be late for or miss an exam or assessment. 
  • Completing and submitting coursework too late and missing deadlines (time management problems).
  • Non-availability of books or other resources.
  • Losing coursework (not backed up).
  • Problems with postal delivery of work (you are advised to obtain receipts for assessments submitted in this manner).
  • Appointments (legal, medical, etc.) which could be re-arranged.
  • A long-standing condition, such as susceptibility to hay fever.

What about long-term illness or disability?

Long-term life circumstances such as a disability or a chronic/on-going medical condition are not dealt with under the Exceptional Circumstances 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 assessment. A worsening of a condition may be considered if documented by a letter from your GP outlining how the condition has worsened and the impact it has had on your studies.

What evidence is required?

You must provide relevant and current independent documentary evidence. Post-dated evidence will not normally be accepted. It is entirely your responsibility to submit all the necessary documentary evidence. Failure to do so will result in your request being rejected. You must explain the impact of the exceptional circumstances on your performance or progression.

Evidence must be:
• Original, photocopies will not be accepted.
• In English.

Medical evidence must:
• Relate specifically to the dates and duration of the illness.
• Contain a clear medical diagnosis or opinion and not merely report the claim that you felt unwell, nor merely report any claim that there was reason to believe that you were ill.

What if my circumstances are confidential or sensitive?

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

If you feel that the exceptional circumstances are highly personal, then you should speak to your Personal Tutor or to a University Support Service i.e. Student Counselling Service, Student Welfare, Disability Officer, Occupational Health, Sabbatical Officer to discuss options.

How do I inform my School?

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 the form. If you are unable to locate a School specific form then submit this Form along with all necessary documentary evidence, to your School Office by the publicised deadlines.

When should I submit my evidence?

If you believe your performance has been adversely affected by exceptional circumstances, please inform your School as soon as you can. You must provide the relevant evidence to your School Office by the following deadlines:

Assignments/coursework/class tests

For absences from University relating to assignments/coursework/class tests you should submitted evidence of exceptional circumstances within three working days of returning to study.

Other Examinations

For examinations which take place out of the normal cycle of University examinations, the deadline for submission of exceptional circumstances will be set and communicated to you by your School. For up to date information about exceptional circumstances submission deadlines please visit your School webpage.

August 2014 Examinations

The deadline for submission of Exceptional Circumstances is 4.00 pm, Wednesday 27 August 2014

Evidence will not be considered after the publication of results.

What if I need further assistance?

If you require assistance with the procedure, such as how to complete the exceptional circumstances form or procedures in relation to the submission of exceptional circumstances to the University, you should contact either the Education and Welfare Adviser agnes.crawford@qub.ac.uk or a member of staff in Academic Affairs on academic-affairs@qub.ac.uk

How will my circumstances be considered?

Evidence of your exceptional circumstances will be considered by the School Exceptional Circumstances Committee (SEEC) which meets prior to the Board of Examiners’ meeting. It may make recommendations to the Board, regarding concessions on the basis of exceptional circumstances as appropriate.

The Board of Examiners cannot change your mark or award extra marks. For more information the School Exceptional Circumstances Committee (SEEC) Click here 

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

You should try to meet regularly with your personal tutor and discuss all 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:

Advice Centre

Education and Welfare Adviser, agnes.crawford@qub.ac.uk

Student Officer

Vice President Education, su.vpeducation@qub.ac.uk

What happens next?

Your resit examination marks will be publicised on Qsis on Tuesday 2 September 2014. If your School is concerned with your progress, you may be called to discuss these concerns with your personal tutor or a student support meeting in your School. It is strongly recommended that you attend this meeting and avail of the advice provided.

You are likely to be invited to a meeting if you are

• Not in good academic standing.
• Being required to undertake re-sits at the next opportunity.
• Required to withdraw, or,
• Of a concern to the School in relation to your academic progress.

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

Appealing the decision
You can request an appeal of the Board of Examiners decision to the Central Student Appeals Committee (CSAC). The grounds for appeal are clear and it is your responsibility to identify the grounds upon which you wish to appeal. Guidance on the procedure can be found below.

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. However it can be referred to the Director of Academic and Student Affairs who will consider if it should be referred back to the Board of Examiners for consideration. You will not be required to complete the appeal form but instead may write directly to the Director of Academic and Student Affairs dasa@qub.ac.uk.

A student guide to the Central Student Appeals Committee

The Committee
The Central Student Appeals Committee (CSAC) is comprised of a group of academic members of staff who volunteer to hear student appeals. Each member will have many years’ experience of hearing appeals and all information disclosed will remain strictly confidential. The Committee will not contain a member of staff from your School. The Director of Academic and Student Affairs or her nominee will chair the CSAC.

Once you have received your examination marks/Board of Examiners decision, you have 10 working days to submit your appeal to the CSAC.  If you miss this deadline, the Committee will not be able to hear your appeal. You should use this time to write your personal statement and gather all the relevant information and supporting documentation for your appeal.

Grounds for Appeal
In order for CSAC to be able to hear your appeal, you must state on what grounds you are appealing on. While you might feel unhappy with e.g. your exam marks, this does not mean you have grounds for an appeal. There are 3 grounds on which you can appeal:

  1. New evidence has become available which could not have been provided to the Board of Examiners (BoE) meeting (evidence that a student chooses to withhold from the Board of Examiners, will not normally constitute new evidence at an appeal).
  2. There has been a procedural irregularity. You need to be able to explain how this impacted on your academic progression.

  3. For Postgraduate taught students: that there was inadequate supervision of the thesis/dissertation element of the Postgraduate programme. An appeal will not be considered on this ground, unless there is good reason to show why such issues were not raised by the student promptly at the time they first arose.

Not grounds for appeal
• Not being aware of the University regulations.
• Not knowing the university procedures (this is not a procedural irregularity).
• Being unhappy with your module mark or thinking you can do better.
• Wanting to re-sit examinations or resubmit coursework in order to improve grades.
• You have heard that another student has been allowed to resubmit/repeat.
• Being awarded a degree classification that does not satisfy your career plans.

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. However it can be referred to the Director of Academic and Student Affairs who will consider if it should be referred back to the Board of Examiners for consideration. You will not be required to complete the appeal form but instead may write directly to the Director of Academic and Student Affairs dasa@qub.ac.uk.

Preparing Your Appeal
Once you have established that you have grounds for an appeal, it is strongly recommended that you seek the advice and assistance on preparing your appeal. The Students’ Union will be able to assist you with the form and a representative will also be able to accompany you to the Committee hearing.

Education and Welfare Adviser, agnes.crawford@qub.ac.uk

Vice President Education, su.vpeducation@qub.ac.uk

You will be asked to present your case to the CSAC in a clear and complete format. To assist with this, here are some helpful tips and questions to help you assemble your appeal. The Committee will not know your circumstances, so it’s best to imagine that you are unable to attend the hearing, what information do you think the Committee should know in order to help it make its decision?

• State clearly what decision you are appealing.
• What are your grounds for appeal? 
• Give a summary of each year and what if any issues helped/prevented progression.
• Did you encounter exceptional circumstances? If so what are they?
• Did you inform the school of these circumstances? Have you any emails/correspondence to support this?
• What would you like the CSAC to do? 
• If you are requesting another attempt at an assignment/exam/repeat year, what will be different next time?
• Is there any additional information you would like the Committee to know about?

You should not list the questions and answers but try to include some detail in relation to everything on the list. This will help the Committee to understand your case and to reach a fair decision. Please be careful to make sure that the appeal document is not one big block of text, try to break it up into smaller paragraphs.

Submitting your Appeal  
Once the document is complete, please ask someone from the Students’ Union to read through it before submitting it by email to appeals@qub.ac.uk or by hand to Academic Affairs, Level 6, Administration Building, Queen's University Belfast BT7 1NN. It is your responsibility to ensure that the information is accurate, includes all supporting documentation and is submitted on time. The deadline for appealling decisions of the August Board of Examiners is 

4.00 pm, Tuesday 16 September 2014

CSAC Appeal Form

What Happens Next?
The secretary to the CSAC will contact you to confirm receipt of your appeal. Your School will be then be asked for their response to your appeal and this response will be forwarded to you. This will allow you to see all the issues which may be raised during the appeal hearing and help you understand how the School reached its decision.

The secretary to the CSAC will then contact you to give you a date and time for your appeal to be heard. It is important to ensure that you are available to attend and you should let the Students’ Union know the date and time of your hearing so that they can attend with you.

The Appeal Hearing: 6-8 October 2014

The CSAC will normally take approximately 20 minutes to hear your appeal. You will be asked to outline the decision you are appealing against and on what grounds you are making your appeal. Your School Representative will explain the School’s decision. Members of the Committee may ask you some questions in order to clarify some of the issues you have raised in your appeal. It is important to disclose all relevant information to the Committee.

The CSAC Decision
The Committee’s decision will be communicated to you within five working days of a decision being reached in writing to your University email address unless it has been agreed that further information is required.