1. Introduction and Scope of Policy
This Policy provides advice and guidance on issues related to study, health and safety, and finance to:
- Students who become pregnant during their studies; prospective students who are already pregnant when they commence study; students who have given birth within the previous 26 weeks (or are continuing to breastfeed); their partners and those who have recently become parents (e.g. through adoption).
- University staff who may have a role in advising students coming to them with these issues.
The University believes that becoming pregnant or caring for a child should not, in itself, be a barrier to applying for, starting, succeeding in, or completing a programme of study at Queen’s University Belfast. The University is committed to being as flexible as possible; making sure no student is disadvantaged, whilst ensuring academic standards are not compromised. The degree of flexibility that can be offered will vary between disciplines/programmes, but all Schools/Institutes will follow the general approach set out in the Policy.
The health and safety of a pregnant student will be of paramount importance at all times, and Schools/Institutes will deal with all students covered by this Policy in a sensitive, non-judgemental and confidential manner, providing context and advice to students to enable informed student choices. Only members of staff who need to be informed for valid reasons will be informed of a student’s circumstances and this will normally be done with the student’s prior consent.
3. Informing the School/Institute
Students are under no obligation to inform their School/Institute if they are pregnant, have given birth within the previous 26 weeks (or are continuing to breastfeed), or become parents while at the University. However, the University can only make provision for students who have disclosed their circumstances. Students are therefore strongly encouraged to disclose relevant details at the earliest opportunity to ensure that any necessary health and safety and/or other support measures can be put in place. Students may seek independent advice from Advice SU before contacting their School/ Institute.
Students are encouraged to consider the following when making a decision about informing the School/Institute:
- There may be elements of a programme of study that could present a health and safety risk to a pregnant student and/or the child. A student’s School/Institute will not be able to arrange appropriate risk assessments and implement risk management procedures unless it is aware of the pregnancy.
- If a student’s pregnancy-related absence (for example, for antenatal appointments) impacts significantly on the student’s studies, the School/Institute will only be able to take account of the reasons for the absence if they are notified of these.
- In some cases, a student’s pregnancy-related absence from the University might need to be discussed with other organisations, e.g. funding bodies for postgraduate research students.
- In some circumstances the absence of a student from the University can adversely affect the work of other students, for example within a group project or research team. Notification can ensure that plans are put in place to deal with any such issues arising from the absence.
Whilst the Personal Tutor/Adviser of Studies or Supervisor would normally be the first point of contact, students can choose to initially speak to another member of staff to discuss support needs.
4. Risk Management and Study Support Plan
Once a student has made contact to inform the School/Institute of maternity, maternity support, or adoption circumstances, an identified staff contact will arrange a meeting with the student, normally within 5 working days of the date of notification. The meeting will discuss/identify potential options for study support; and, for new and expectant mothers (i.e. a student who is pregnant, has given birth within the previous six months or is breast feeding), it will include the implementation of the risk management procedure (see http://www.qub.ac.uk/directorates/HumanResources/OccupationalHealthandSafety/NewandExpectantMothers/).
Students should be given an opportunity to reflect on potential study support options, while taking account of financial and health and safety considerations, then have a follow-up meeting with the designated staff member to agree a written study support plan. This plan should be retained by the student and designated staff member, and shared with other relevant staff requiring this information, with the student’s permission.
Students should meet regularly with the designated member of staff to review the study support plan and to assess the effectiveness of any special arrangements put in place. Where necessary, further adjustments can be considered.
Study support issues may include options regarding:
4.1 For students on taught degree programmes
- Arrangements for periods of absence and for the student to catch-up on lectures/tutorials missed for pregnancy/birth related reasons, to ensure the student is not at an academic disadvantage.
- Adjusting timescales/deadlines for assessed coursework if the pregnancy or birth prevents compliance.
- Seeking approval, as appropriate, from the School for alternative means of assessment for the student (for example, a written assessment instead of a physical performance if possible) if the pregnancy or birth prevents the normal methods of assessment.
- Allowing the student first attempt re-sits at future examination periods, for example in a situation in which the pregnancy or birth prevents the student from taking an examination at the normal time for the programme of study.
4.2 For all students
- Adjustments in response to the risk assessment/management procedure (e.g. for students participating in field trips/study abroad/placements; studying a laboratory-based subject; working with equipment which poses a danger to the health of a pregnant student or foetus; or taking programmes which involve high levels of physical activity). If it is not practicable to alter the study conditions to respond to highlighted risks, students may need to take time out from study to avoid the risks. A concerted effort should be made by the School/Institute to manage the health and safety risks and find alternative ways of allowing students to continue their course in any situation where a temporary withdrawal is not in line with student wishes.
- The student taking a period of temporary withdrawal, normally for a pre-determined amount of time (also see Financial Considerations section below). Any student who has given birth must not return to Queen’s within two weeks of giving birth for health and safety reasons. Schools should complete the appropriate UG/PGT or PGR Withdrawal request form via the SharePoint site to request a temporary withdrawal (the RDP Exception Request - Temporary Withdrawal form should also be used to request a concession to the regulations for postgraduate research students, if appropriate).
- Reintegration to the programme of study on return from any prolonged absence. This may also include consideration of a transfer to part-time study, where appropriate (funded PGR students should refer to their funder’s terms and conditions (or contact the Postgraduate Awards Team, firstname.lastname@example.org) for any implications to their funding arrangements.)
4.3 For international students
- There may be particular considerations required for international students. In addition to making contact with the relevant School, international students should seek specific advice from International Student Support before making any arrangements, including undertaking any leave of absence.
- The University is likely to be required by UKVI to stop sponsorship of a Tier 4 visa holder if undertaking a leave of absence for more than 60 days. Such students may be required to return to their home country for the duration of the leave of absence.
- International students with a financial sponsor should contact their sponsor and agree amended arrangements.
5. Students whose Partner is Pregnant or Adopting
Students discovering that they are to become fathers, or partners of a pregnant student (including same sex partners) who expect to be responsible for raising the child with the mother, will be entitled to request time out of study. This may include time off for medical appointments prior to, and after the birth, as well as a period of maternity support/shared parental leave up of to 50 weeks following the birth. Students in this situation should contact their Adviser of Studies/Personal Tutor, Supervisor or other staff member, to discuss this and draw up a study support plan, where appropriate (in line with the Risk Management and Study Support Plan section above).
For students receiving research funding, it may be possible for a period of maternity support leave to be allowed, and students should refer to their funder’s terms and conditions (or contact the Postgraduate Awards Team, email@example.com) for any implications to their funding arrangements) prior to arranging leave.
For international students in this position, it is important that specific advice is sought from International Student Support (firstname.lastname@example.org) in relation to visa constraints before making any arrangements, including taking time out from study or an extended leave of absence.
Students about to become parents (e.g. through adoption) should inform their School/Institute of their circumstances as soon as possible. Arrangements can be made to allow time out of study, in line with the previous two sections above, as appropriate. This may vary depending on the age of the child, the programme of study being undertaken, and the point in the academic year at which the adoption takes place.
7. Supporting Information
7.1 Access to University Facilities
Both undergraduate and postgraduate students on maternity leave, maternity support leave or adoption leave will retain their student cards and access to their University email accounts, the University’s electronic resources, and the libraries. Under current arrangements, students on a period of temporary withdrawal are not normally supposed to be studying, and are not entitled to teaching, supervision or other academic provision (e.g. thesis chapter reading), or access to laboratories.
Where there is concern about knowledge of the field being affected by the length of maternity related or adoption related absence for postgraduate research students, the School/Institute should take steps to ensure that the student is kept up to date with developments in the field. Examples include sending lists of key reading and new research, and taking steps to ensure access to key journals.
7.2 Financial Considerations
If a student decides to either permanently withdraw or take a temporary leave of absence from the University, tuition fees will be calculated with reference to the tuition fee liability dates set out in the Section 5 of the Student Finance Framework.
Undergraduate students in receipt of funding from any statutory body, for example Student Finance NI should contact either the relevant funding body or Advice SU in the Students’ Union for advice on fee and maintenance loan related issues. Postgraduate students in receipt of funding should contact either their sponsor or relevant funding body for advice on funding related issues.
It is recommended that students meet with an adviser in Advice SU in the Students’ Union to obtain advice about any available financial support.
Undergraduate students who chose to take maternity leave should note that financial support from funding bodies, such as from Student Finance NI, may stop when the leave begins. Further advice can be provided by Advice SU in the Students’ Union (email@example.com).
Funded students should refer to their funder’s terms and conditions. Students in receipt of University-administered funding should contact the Postgraduate Awards Team on firstname.lastname@example.org for advice regarding any implications to their funding arrangements. Funded international students should contact their offical financial sponsor to determine any implications.
Maternity or Adoption Pay: depending on the funder’s terms, funded students may continue to be paid their full monthly studentship stipend for up to six months (for RCUK funded students a further three months will be paid at reduced stipend rate) while they are on an approved period of maternity or adoption leave (processed as a temporary withdrawal). The expected due date for maternity or official adoption date must occur during the period of the award. The Postgraduate Awards team in the Graduate School requires a copy of the official documentation (maternity certificate MATB1, or letter from the adoption agency with the date of placement and matching certificate) to facilitate maternity payment arrangements.
Subject to terms, normally students in receipt of a full studentship (covering stipend and fees) are eligible for maternity/adoption pay if funded by the Department for the Economy (DfE) formerly the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) or the Research Councils UK: i.e. AHRC, BBSRC, ESRC, EPSRC, MRC, NERC and STFC.
On return from a leave of absence, funded students are required to contact the Postgraduate Awards team on email@example.com to ensure the standard studentship payments resume on time.
Student Support Fund
Students who experience financial difficulties, for example as a result of taking time out due to pregnancy, may be eligible to apply to the Student Support Fund. It should be noted that students can only apply to the support fund if they are on suspension of studies with a return date to their course. If students withdraw from their course they will no longer be classed as a student and will become ineligible for financial support.
Financial Advice and Support
Students may be eligible for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) or Maternity Allowance (MA), which is determined based on employment records. Further information can be found at www.nidirect.gov.uk/, or at Advice SU in the Students’ Union.
International students with a financial sponsor should contact their sponsor for information on any support that may be available.
University insurance, if it applies in the context of a student working and studying overseas as part of their course, does not cover foreseen situations such as a planned birth and related health care; nor does it cover any expenses incurred in respect of bodily injury or sickness which arises directly or indirectly from, or in connection with, or is aggravated by, pregnancy or childbirth within 1 month of the expected delivery date. Any emergency medical expenses for a child/children born during a journey would be eligible for consideration within the cover. This would be for emergency medical expenses arising from bodily injury or sickness of the child/children and would not include the routine costs of childbirth/care including non-emergency caesarean section.
It may therefore be appropriate for the student/designated member of staff to seek advice on the University’s insurance terms. Students may need to purchase additional private health care insurance for any overseas work or study.
Queen’s Accommodation manages a range of self-contained apartments and houses within easy walking distance of the University campus which are rented to support new staff members and students with families at Queen’s. Queen’s Accommodation is committed to supporting all students who reside in accommodation and would encourage pregnant students to consider disclosing their pregnancy to an Accommodation Adviser, if they are concerned that they may need support in an emergency situation, such as early labour or miscarriage. Some University accommodation may be unsuitable for children and all offers of accommodation are subject to availability.
Accommodation Advisers are available to discuss individual requirements and contact details can be found in the following link: http://www.qub.ac.uk/home/accommodation/
7.5 Babies/Children on Campus
Due to potential disruption for the parent and other students, it is not considered appropriate for babies and children to be present at lectures, seminars or other teaching activities.
Baby changing facilities are available in both the male and female toilets at the Welcome Centre, Lanyon Building.
For any babies born to international students who require immigration permission to be in the UK, there may be additional immigration requirements for the new baby. Students should contact International Student Support for specific advice in relation to this.
New mothers are welcome to breastfeed their babies in areas such as shops and cafes which are open to the public.
Anyone returning to study or work who wishes to express milk for their baby will be accommodated with suitable facilities to express and store breastmilk. This will be arranged on an individual basis in conjunction with the School and Occupational Health and Safety Services.
A Nursing Room has also been opened at the Childcare site at 5 Rugby Road. This facility provides a private space for mums to express and store milk in a fridge specifically used for this purpose. For further information and to book the space, please contact Childcare staff on 028 9032 8407 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Admission to Childcare Services at Queen’s is by application. Application forms can be obtained from the Childcare Services at Queen’s website.
Childcare Services at Queen’s offers compassionate, professional care in a structured but fun-loving environment. Quality childcare services are offered on campus which ensures that children are cared for by professional childcare practitioners whilst allowing students to pursue their studies. Registered with the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, Childcare Services offers Day Care services and an Out of School Club.
Any student who is dissatisfied about the standard of service, action or lack of action by the University in relation to this Policy may raise a complaint under the Student Complaints Procedure. It is suggested that problems are resolved as informally as possible in the first instance.
8. Guidance for Staff
(Also see the Risk Management and Study Support Plan section.) At all times, staff must ensure that students are not treated less favourably than any other students on the basis of their circumstances, or given undue special treatment. In line with the University’s legal obligations, flexibility should be shown where possible to ensure continued learning is facilitated; while ensuring that academic standards are not compromised. Information given by students should be treated confidentially and with sensitivity. Staff should not attempt to influence any student’s decision but should provide impartial advice.
When a student contacts a member of staff to discuss any circumstance covered by this Policy, a response should be made within five working days and a meeting arranged as soon as possible thereafter. If the member of staff being contacted by the student is not the student’s Adviser of Studies/Personal Tutor or Supervisor, they should nonetheless be kept informed subject to permission from the student.
8.1 Determining an Appropriate Degree of Flexibility
Decisions about which arrangements are appropriate in each particular case will vary according to a wide range of factors, including the student’s individual circumstances; the time of year; the structure and content of the particular programme of study; restrictions imposed by professional bodies; and any related health and safety matters. The following should be considered:
- Students should be fully involved in the identification of options that will meet individual circumstances and needs, rather than the School/Institute attempting to apply a predetermined set of adjustments.
- Schools/Institutes do not have to agree to any or all requests made by the student. There may be some situations in which it is impossible or unreasonable for a School/Institute to agree to a particular request. To ensure best practice, and avoid any inadvertent discrimination, a School/Institute should not normally decline a request for particular special arrangements solely on grounds that they are too costly to implement (although this may be one factor taken into account when deciding on the overall reasonableness of meeting the request).
- Schools should ensure that advice is sought from International Student Support in relation to international students, especially those holding Tier 4 visas, before any arrangements are agreed.
- If a School/Institute decides to decline a flexibility request that is raised under this Policy, it is considered good practice for the School/Institute to document its reasons for refusing the request and discuss with the student why this particular request is not considered ‘reasonable’ in the particular circumstances.
- In cases where deferring studies would lead to a student taking longer to complete a degree programme than would normally be permissible, the School/Institute may decline a request for further time out from studies (in order to ensure that the information gained in previous parts of the programme remains current enough to count towards the qualification in question). However, in these circumstances the School/Institute should still strive to demonstrate a flexible approach, where practicable, in relation to this deadline for programme completion, whilst ensuring that the student does not exceed the overall time limit allowed for the programme of study by the University or a relevant professional body.
- Where specific arrangements are required to be put in place for a student who is already granted additional arrangements (e.g. on the grounds of disability) these should be kept separate in order that it remains clear which arrangements relate to which particular circumstance. This ensures that arrangements are in place for the required amount of time and also clarifies adherence to all respective legislation.
9. Sources of Information and Help
Student Wellbeing Service based in the Student Guidance Centre (email@example.com)
Advice SU in the Students’ Union (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Advice for international students on babies born in the UK and dependents: UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) http://www.ukcisa.org.uk/Information--Advice/Visas-and-Immigration/Dependants#layer-3382