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1. Purpose

1.1 Queen’s University is committed to providing a supportive environment for its students, takes a positive attitude to the management of students’ physical and mental health, and recognises that the wellbeing of students is critical to their learning, academic achievement and wider student experience.

1.2 Fitness to Continue in Study relates to a student’s capacity to participate fully and satisfactorily as a student in relation to their academic studies and student life generally at the University. 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 These Guidelines apply in situations where the student’s health, wellbeing and/or behaviour are having a detrimental impact on their ability to progress academically and function effectively at the University.


2. Scope and Limitations

2.1 Fitness to Continue in Study applies equally to any person currently enrolled as a student at Queen’s University Belfast, where there is concern for their wellbeing impacting on the health and safety of themselves or others around them.  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.

2.2 These Guidelines are developed with the underlying principle that a student leads the management of their own wellbeing and 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, and the student is not well enough to continue. In such instances this process may recommend or require the student to withdraw from studies and concentrate on their wellbeing.

2.3 The process outlined in these Guidelines should be used where a student’s fitness to study gives cause for concern and other procedures are not considered appropriate at the time or have already been exhausted. Examples of such situations include (but are not limited to) those which:

  1. there is evidence of significant non-engagement by the student with their studies which have not been satisfactorily addressed through other interventions and processes
  2. there are serious concerns about a student’s wellbeing
  3. a student’s support needs are beyond the type or level of support which the University can reasonably be expected to provide (including, but not limited to, the student’s health, wellbeing or financial needs)
  4. a student’s behaviour is adversely affecting the activities of the University or placement provider
  5. a student’s behaviour is perceived to pose a risk to the health, safety or wellbeing of themselves or others
  6. a student’s behaviour is adversely affecting the teaching, learning and/or experience of other students.

Note: 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 may be subject to disciplinary procedures. However, if there is evidence that the issues of concern may relate to the manifestation of a diagnosed condition, or to behaviours deemed consistent with a long-term condition or disability consideration should be given as to the appropriateness of enacting disciplinary procedures.

2.4 Where a long term condition or disability is involved, decisions should be based on evidence and assumptions about a condition or disability must be avoided.  Such assumptions may give rise to instances of direct unlawful discrimination on the grounds of a student’s disability.

2.5 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.

2.6 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.

2.7 Variance from these Guidelines may be undertaken with agreement from the Director of Academic and Student Affairs.  Also see Other Regulations: Student Health Regulations.

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


3. Overview

The process outlined below comprises two distinct levels of intervention:

Level 1 Initial Concerns

Level 2 Serious and/or continuing Concerns

3.1 Level 1 – Initial Concerns

3.1.1 Ordinarily when initial concerns are raised about a student’s fitness to continue in study, a Level 1 intervention should be initiated.  A Level 1 intervention requires a meeting with the student to discuss the concern(s) This meeting should ideally be led by a relevant person who knows the student (e.g. personal tutor, course leader, or appropriate member of accommodation service staff).

3.1.2 The lead staff member should notify the student of the meeting in writing; confirming that the meeting is in relation to initial concerns raised about their fitness to continue in study and that resolution is being sought at Level 1 of the Fitness to Study process.

Note: It is imperative that the meeting is convened in a timely manner to reduce the likelihood of the concerns increasing. If unsure if this is the correct course of action, staff can contact the Student Disability and Wellbeing Service for advice and guidance on how to manage the situation in accordance with the Student Support Protocol (which can be found at:http://www.qub.ac.uk/directorates/sgc/wellbeing/PoliciesProcedures/).  A member of staff from Student Disability and Wellbeing Service can attend the meeting. If deemed appropriate, the student should be notified of this in-advance of the meeting.

3.1.3 At the meeting, the staff member should:

  1. explain the concern(s)
  2. discuss the perceived impact/implications on the student’s wellbeing and fitness to study
  3. gather an initial understanding of the student’s perception of the matter
  4. allow the student the opportunity to respond to the concern(s)
  5. identify with the student any related support needs the student may have
  6. agree an appropriate time-bound action plan setting out the ways in which the concerns will be managed including any obligations on the part of the student (e.g. in respect of their engagement with their studies, conduct, or additional supports the they should seek)
  7. identify and agree review and follow-up arrangements.

Note: 

  • A written record of the meeting, agreed actions, follow-up and review outcomes should be recorded by the lead staff member and shared with the student and any other attendees at the meeting;
  • If deemed appropriate information can be shared with appropriate University staff, their GP or external organisation, as in line with the University’s Student Privacy Notice.
  • If the student does not attend the meeting, the staff member raising the concerns should notify a senior member of staff in the School or Directorate and, then contact Student Disability and Wellbeing Services for further advice and guidance as in line with the Student Support Protocol.

3.1.4 Following the meeting and implementation of the agreed actions, if effective resolution of the concerns is not reached under Level 1, escalation to a Fitness to Continue in Study Level 2 intervention should be considered and followed if deemed appropriate.

3.1.5 Refer to Annex 1 for Level 1 Process Overview.

3.2 Level 2 – Serious and/or continuing Concerns

3.2.1 As a general rule, a Level 2 Intervention of the Fitness to Continue in Study process will only be invoked when the student’s personal circumstances or behaviours;

  1. continue to be of concern despite Level 1 intervention, and/or;
  2. are perceived to be of a serious or potentially serious nature.

3.2.2 Because of the continuing or serious nature of the behaviour leading to instigation of a Level 2 intervention, 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.

3.2.3 In such instances the staff member raising concerns should speak with a senior member of staff in the School or Directorate to agree instigation of a Level 2 intervention under the Fitness to Continue in Study process.

3.2.4 Once agreed at a senior level the staff member raising concerns should schedule a Level 2 meeting with the student (where possible, within 5 working days). The student should be advised that they are entitled to be accompanied to the meeting by another University student or staff member including; a Sabbatical Officer or University Chaplaincy for support.

Note: It is imperative that the meeting is convened in a timely manner to reduce the likelihood of the concerns increasing.

3.2.5 The student should be informed that the meeting is in relation to concerns raised about their fitness to continue in study and that resolution is being sought at Level 2 intervention as per the Fitness to Continue in Study Guidelines.

3.2.6 If unsure if this is the correct course of action staff can contact the Student Disability and Wellbeing Service for advice and guidance on how to manage the situation in accordance with the Student Support Protocol (which can be found at: www.qub.ac.uk/directorates/sgc/wellbeing/StaffResources/).  A member of staff from Student Disability and Wellbeing Service can attend the meeting. If deemed appropriate, the student should also be notified of this in-advance of the meeting.

3.2.7 At the meeting, the staff member should:

  1. explain and/ or review the concern(s)
  2. discuss and/or review the perceived impact/implications on the student’s wellbeing and fitness to study
  3. gather or get an up-to-date understanding of the student’s perception of the matter
  4. allow the student the opportunity to respond to the concern(s)
  5. identify with the student any related support needs the student may have
  6. agree a referral to the University’s Occupational Health Service (OHS) on the grounds of Fitness to Study, as per the OHS Student at Risk of Fitness to Continue in Study/Practise Referral Pathway
  7. agree any further interim time-bound actions to help manage concerns while the OHS referral and assessment process is undertaken including; any obligations on the part of the student (e.g. in respect of their engagement with their studies, conduct, or additional supports the they should seek).

Note: 

  • A written record of the meeting, agreed actions, follow-up and review outcomes should be recorded by the lead staff member and shared with all attendees at the meeting;
  • If deemed appropriate information can be shared with appropriate University staff, their GP or external organisation, as in line with the University’s Student Privacy Notice.
  • If the student does not attend the meeting the staff member raising the concerns should notify a senior member of staff in the School or Directorate and, then contact Student Disability and Wellbeing Services for further advice and guidance as in line with the Student Support Protocol.

3.2.8 Within 3 working days of receiving the student’s OHS Assessment Report the referring staff member should convene a follow-up meeting with the student and any other relevant individuals including; a member of staff from the University’s Student Disability and Wellbeing Service.

3.2.9 The student should be notified of the meeting in writing and details of who will be in attendance should be included. The student should also be reminded that they can be accompanied to the meeting (by another University student, or staff member including a Sabbatical Officer or University Chaplaincy for support).

3.2.10 At the meeting the recommendations outlined in the OHS Assessment Report should be considered alongside the impact of any agreed interim actions on the student’s Fitness to Study to allow a determination to be made on the student’s ability to continue on their chosen course of study.  Determinations include but are not limited to;

  1. Implementation of reasonable adjustments and appropriate support arrangements to be reviewed periodically
  2. A recommendation is made that the student takes a voluntary temporary withdrawal from their studies or the relevant area of activity (e.g. student accommodation)
  3. A decision is made that requires the student to take a temporary withdrawal from their studies, placement, overseas study or other University related activity
  4. The student is permitted to continue their studies on a part-time basis or to study away from the University if this is practicable
  5. Imposing on the student a formal suspension from study for a stated period of time and/or exclusion from specified University facilities/activities, with or without conditions for any subsequent return to study or readmission to those facilities of activities
  6. Termination of the student’s studies at the University.

Note: Minutes should be taken of the meeting and the resulting determination. These minutes should be held as a formal record by the School/Directorate.

3.2.11 Where possible, the final determination should be clearly communicated to the student at the meeting and in writing thereafter. 

3.2.12 Where a final determination cannot be reached at the meeting, the reasons for this should be clearly communicated to the student and an agreed timeframe for the determination to be made should be given.  Thereafter, the student should be notified of the determination within the agreed timeframe by an agreed means and this determination should also be formally communicated in writing.

3.2.13 If the student does not or cannot attend the meeting the University has the right to continue with the process in their absence and confirm the determination in writing thereafter.

3.2.14 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.

3.2.15  Refer to Annex 2 for Level 2 Process Overview.


4. Review of Decision

4.1 A student can request a review of the decision of the Fitness to Continue in Study Panel.  Requests should be submitted (in writing) to Academic Affairs (appeals@qub.ac.uk) no later than 10 working days after the receipt of the outcome of the Panel. Students should state the basis on which they are requesting a review. The decision will be reviewed by the Vice-Chancellor (or nominee), the Director of Academic and Student Affairs (or nominee) and a member of academic staff. 

Note: No member of the Review Panel will have had previous knowledge of the case.

4.2 Students will have the right to present their request for review in person and can be accompanied to the meeting, (see 3.2.4).  The University will seek to review the decision within 10 working days of receipt of the request for review and will give the students 5 working days’ notice of the meeting, should they wish to attend.

Note: Time frames may vary depending on the time of year, the availability of University staff and / or the student.  However, the University will endeavour to hear the appeal as quickly as possible.

4.3 Should a student decline to attend, or fail to attend without fair notice, the University reserves the right to proceed with the meeting without the student present.

4.4 The outcome of the Review Panel is final. Students will be informed of their right to submit a complaint to the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman.

4.5 Refer to Annex 3 for Review of Decision Process Overview.


5. Return to Study

5.1 Any student who is required to withdraw, who withdraws before there is an outcome or who chooses to withdraw temporarily from study 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, their School and the University’s Occupational Health Service at the time of withdrawal. 

5.3 Where a student has been required to withdraw or has withdrawn voluntarily, following the Level 2 stage of this process, their return to the University must be considered by a Panel, comprising the Head of Student Affairs (or nominee), a representative from the University’s Occupational Health Service 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 University’s Occupational Health Service, to enable a report to be prepared 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.

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

  1. the actions the student has taken to improve their situation;
  2. the support they have accessed;
  3. any support they would find helpful in ensuring a successful return to study, including a re-referral to the Disability and Wellbeing Team;
  4. appropriate information sharing/GDPR.

5.8 Outcomes from this meeting may include:

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

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

5.10 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 (in writing, within 5 working days of the Panel meeting).  The student will also remain under the monitoring of the Student Disability and Wellbeing Team for the remainder of the academic session, subject to ongoing review. 

5.11 The student may request a review of the Panel’s decision by the Director of Academic and Student Affairs. This request should be submitted in writing.

5.12 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.

5.13 Refer to Annex 4 for Return to Study Process Overview.


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 the University’s Safety Team on extension 2222 or 028 9097 5099.  The Safety Team 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

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

  1. Individual support services accessed by a student maintain their own records, in accordance with the University’s Data Protection Policy. 
  2. Records and information held under the Student Support 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 Disability and Wellbeing Team, as appropriate, in line with the University’s Student Privacy Notice.
  3. Records and information relating to School Fitness to Continue in Study meetings will be held within the respective School.
  4. Records and information relating to Appeals will be held within the office of the Director of Academic and Student Affairs.

7.2 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.