Leave of absence
Information and support for PGR students considering or returning from a leave of absence.
The University recognises that, during the course of a research degree, students may encounter difficulties that are outside of their control and that significantly affect their ability to undertake their research, for example, illness or serious personal problems. Students can apply for an authorised leave of absence from their programme of research, where there is good reason, in order to overcome these difficult circumstances.
The University defines a leave of absence to mean an entire cessation of academic work for a defined period. Periods of leave of absence do not count towards the time limit for the degree and are considered a suspension of normal academic requirements. During the leave of absence, the student will temporarily leave their programme of study and their registration will be suspended for the duration of the absence.
Supervision should not be provided during a leave of absence and the student should not undertake any work that relates to their research degree. The student’s registration will resume at the end of their leave of absence, after they have re-registered with the University.
Please be aware that a leave of absence may have implications for funding, i.e. stipend payments may be put on hold for the period of leave.
Students can apply for Leave of Absence (LOA) on the following grounds
- Parental (maternity/paternity/adoption)
- Financial (requests for LOA on financial grounds are not normally approved, but may be considered if a student's financial situation changes due to unforeseen and exceptional circumstances)
Examples of situations for which LOA may be appropriate are as follows:
- Accidents, physical or mental illness (medical grounds - a student must be certified as fit to return by the University Health Service before they can re-register with the University)
- Maternity, paternity, adoption (parental grounds - supporting evidence such as a birth certificate or MATB1 form is required)
- Bereavement or serious illness of a close family member or sudden and unexpected caring responsibilities (personal grounds)
- Significant personal difficulties, e.g. family crisis, crisis in the student’s home country, etc. (personal grounds)
- Unexpected and serious financial difficulties, e.g. devaluation of currency (financial grounds)
- During an ongoing appeal against an assessment result, e.g. a Confirmation Review downgrade, especially if the student is on a Student or Tier 4 visa and is required to leave the country to apply for a new visa before they can continue studying on the MPhil (academic grounds)
Leave of absence will not normally be approved where a student is undertaking teaching duties.
Leave of absence will not be granted to allow a student to go on holiday. Holidays should be taken from a student’s holiday entitlement - see our working and holidays guidance for more information.
Students must apply for permission from their department and faculty to take a leave of absence, using the Leave of Absence (PGR) form.
It is essential that students notify their supervisor/department as soon as any difficulties arise that are starting to affect their research and that applications for a leave of absence are made promptly. Requests for retrospective leave of absence will not normally be approved if they date back further than 30 days.
Absences that are taken without the student having formally requested a leave of absence, or without the leave of absence having been formally approved by the faculty will be treated as unauthorised absences and may lead to action being taken against the student for non-attendance/loss of contact.
Students and their academic department will always be notified by Research, Partnerships and Innovation whether the leave of absence request has been approved or rejected by the faculty. Students should normally await this confirmation from Research, Partnerships and Innovation before proceeding with the LOA, unless the absence is being taken as an emergency.
Students are expected to submit any leave of absence requests themselves. In exceptional circumstances, a department may be permitted to apply on behalf of a student, if they can demonstrate that they have the student’s permission to do so.
The University expects all students to manage minor illnesses and other short-term absences themselves, e.g. coughs, colds, sore throats, and to exercise the ability to plan for such contingencies. To that end, the minimum period of leave of absence that will normally be granted is four weeks (i.e. 28 days or over in length).
Exceptions to the minimum limit will be considered under certain circumstances, such as where there is a statutory requirement, e.g. the student is applying for parental leave or is entitled to statutory bereavement leave, to undertake extended jury service, or where the student has an ongoing and long-term medical condition resulting in symptoms which fluctuate in intensity and impact (this must be evidenced by a Learning Support Plan). Such students may need to take time off in small, regular amounts which, over the course of the degree, would amount to a significant amount of time lost.
Requests for other exemptions to the minimum period of leave of absence, due to very exceptional circumstances that are outside the student's control, may be considered at the discretion of the faculty.
Where a student needs to take a short-term absence from their degree of under four weeks (up to a maximum of 27 days), they may request an authorised absence, or use some of their holiday entitlement, depending on the reasons for the absence. Neither option will extend the student’s expected end date for their degree; therefore, students will be expected to manage their time accordingly and make up for any time lost due to short-term absences over the remainder of their degree.
To request an absence of any length students should complete the Leave of Absence (PGR) form and pass it to their supervisor for consideration in the first instance. Short-term absences of four weeks or under will be recorded on the student record, but the student’s time limit will not be extended.
For medical absences that are under 7 days, students may normally self-certify (unless their department requires otherwise).
A student’s research must remain academically viable for the award of a degree to be feasible. Prolonged and lengthy absences from a degree can severely affect the viability of students’ research and diminish the chances of a successful and timely submission of a thesis of doctoral standard. As a result, the maximum amount of leave of absence that can be granted, by regulation, is normally no more than two years. Requests for leave of absence beyond two years, on grounds other than parental, will not normally be considered unless there are exceptional circumstances. Requests for more than 12 months’ leave of absence at a time will not be approved.
A Special Cases Committee will consider requests for leave of absence where any of the following conditions apply:
- The student has already been granted more than two years’ leave of absence OR the student’s current request would mean they exceed 2 years of LOA in the period for which the application is being made (other than where this was on the grounds of parental leave).
- The student’s request is not supported by their supervisor and/or academic department, or the department has raised concerns about the viability of the student’s research should further leave of absence be taken.
- The student’s request is made towards the end of their time limit and it is clear that the student will not be able to complete their degree without also requiring an extension to their time limit.
The Special Cases Committee will also consider requests for individual and/or cumulative time limit extensions of 12 months (non-Covid) or 18 months (with Covid), see 'Time limits and extensions'. Limits to both LOAs and time limit extensions apply equally to students regardless of their mode of attendance.
The Special Cases Committee will consider the feasibility of the student’s request, taking into consideration whether the request is supported by the student’s department, the continued viability of the student’s research and the likelihood of a successful submission. The Committee may request additional information, where required, to help them reach an informed decision, e.g. an evaluation of the student’s progress to-date and a thesis plan.
It should be noted that the Special Cases Committee meets once per month; therefore requests for leave of absence requiring consideration by the Special Cases Committee will take longer to consider and students should be aware that they may not be notified of the outcome of their request for several weeks.
Where a leave of absence request is rejected, the student will be informed of the reason why and will be required to either return to their degree or to withdraw. Students required to withdraw may subsequently apply for readmission at a later date. Requests for readmission will be carefully considered, taking into account factors such as the reasons for withdrawal and the viability of the research project. However, there is no automatic right to readmission following a withdrawal.
Students must submit appropriate documentary evidence to support their leave of absence request. For a leave of absence on medical grounds, a medical or doctor’s note is required that covers the entire period of leave of absence requested. Applications on medical grounds without an appropriate medical note will not normally be approved.
Where a request is made on grounds other than medical, but is considered to be a medical leave of absence, the University will notify the student that the grounds for their request must be changed to medical and that fitness to resume evidence will be required.
All fully registered students returning from a leave of absence must re-register with the University before recommencing their studies. This is also a requirement for students with a Student or Tier 4 visa at any stage in their degree. Information on re-registering is available on the registration webpage. Students returning from a short authorised absence of under four weeks are not normally required to re-register.
Students returning from a leave of absence on medical grounds must obtain a certificate from the University Health Service to confirm that they are well enough to resume their studies before they will be permitted to re-register with the University. UHS can be contacted on +44 114 222 2100 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Students who are registered with the University Health Service should book an appointment with UHS in order to verify that they are fit to resume their studies. Students who are not registered with UHS should book an appointment with their own healthcare professional to obtain medical evidence that they are fit to resume, and must send this to UHS at email@example.com. If the fit note has been issued by a non-UK medical practitioner, the UHS will need to assess it first in order to confirm that the student is fit to resume their studies, so these cases will take longer to process and students may be asked for additional evidence. If students are unable to obtain evidence of fitness to resume from their own GP they should contact UHS to discuss the options for an appointment.
Any medical evidence obtained outside the UK must be translated into English before it is submitted to UHS.
There may be occasions when a student is returning from a leave of absence due to ill health or maternity leave and is not yet able to undertake effective research on a full-time basis. Under such circumstances a 'phased return' to study may be considered. In practice, a student would need to apply for a leave of absence, which, if granted, would be applied to the student’s record on a pro rata basis, i.e. it would cover only a proportional amount of time lost due to these exceptional circumstances, and not the entire period during which these circumstances were a factor.
International students studying on a Student or Tier 4 student visa should note that it may not be possible to support a 'phased return', due to the additional requirements of immigration regulations.
Students should check with their funder whether or not they will support a phased return from a leave of absence, as not all funding bodies will support this, or they may only support a phased return over a limited period. UKRI-funded students are restricted to a maximum of four weeks phased return from a leave of absence where this is part of a written plan to return to working full-time.
If it is unlikely that a student's circumstances will improve, it may be considered more appropriate for the student to consider requesting a change of mode of attendance from full-time to part-time, subject to any restrictions from e.g. the student’s financial sponsor or immigration regulations.
In November 2022, UKRI amended their Training Grant Terms and Conditions to include provision for paid and unpaid time off for emergencies and/or compassionate leave for the students whom it funds. The University has recently agreed to extend this policy to cover University of Sheffield-funded students. Students must be within their funded period (i.e. still receiving a maintenance stipend) in order to receive any additional paid leave.
Students who receive financial support to undertake their research degree, i.e. those funded by UKRI, a UK Doctoral Loan, or by an employer or an overseas government, should notify their sponsor when applying for a leave of absence, and take note of any restrictions. Students funded by the UKRI should note that they are normally not allowed to have more than 12 months' leave of absence throughout the duration of their scholarship, and they should not normally take any leave of absence during their unfunded period, unless there are exceptional circumstances.
Students funded by a Doctoral Loan who return from a leave of absence part way through an academic year will need to make a new Student Finance application for that academic year, in advance of their return. Registration with a future date cannot be confirmed and therefore the new application will not be reviewed until after re-registration. This may take up to six weeks to release any future loan instalments. If a student experiences any financial difficulties during this time, please refer to the University's Financial Support webpage.
Students are reminded that stipend payments will normally be suspended during a period of LOA and will resume when the student re-registers following their LOA. There are some exceptions to this rule. Students who receive a maintenance stipend from either the UKRI or the University of Sheffield may be entitled to a certain amount of paid medical leave and paid or unpaid time off for emergencies/compassionate leave. Please refer to the Stipend Extension for Medical LOA Policy and the Guidance on paid and unpaid compassionate leave for further details.
In addition to the above guidance, international students who are subject to immigration regulations that require them to be studying in the UK, i.e. those on a Student or Tier 4 visa, should note that they must be fully registered and attending in order to meet the requirements of their Student or Tier 4 visa. International students considering applying for a leave of absence are strongly advised to use the leave of absence self-help tool which will provide information on the immigration implications of their request, including whether it will require reporting to the UKVI.
Any outstanding queries should be addressed to International Student Support, Advice & Compliance.
Please note that requests for retrospective leave of absence could raise questions and concerns regarding the effectiveness of an academic department’s student attendance monitoring procedures. Any justifications for the amount of time it has taken for a retrospective leave of absence request to be agreed, and if necessary, reported to UKVI will need to be defensible in the event of an audit by UKVI.
Students who require ATAS clearance will need to apply for a new ATAS certificate if their time limit is extended by more than three months due to a leave of absence or cumulative leaves of absence. Please note that most visa categories are subject to the requirement to have ATAS clearance for affected courses and to apply for new ATAS clearance if the course end date is delayed by three months. This will affect most students requiring ATAS who are subject to immigration regulations and not just those with a Student or Tier 4 visa. Please contact International Student Support, Advice & Compliance if you are not sure if you are subject to these ATAS requirements.
International students should note that the University may be required to report Student or Tier 4 visa holders who are on a leave of absence to the Home Office. If the leave of absence must be reported, the Home Office would expect such students to return to their home country for the duration of the leave of absence and will cancel the Student or Tier 4 visa. Such students will need to reapply for a new visa when they are ready to recommence their studies.
International Student Support, Advice & Compliance will inform students of the immigration implications of their leave of absence.
Unlike a leave of absence, the University does not consider authorised absences of less than four weeks to be a deferral of the student’s studies, as the expectation is that the student will still submit within their time limit, which is not being extended. Therefore, authorised absences will not normally be reported to UKVI or require a new ATAS application. Should a student request repeated authorised absence, this will be monitored to ensure that students continue to meet their Student or Tier 4 visa requirements. If the cumulative total of authorised absences is sufficient to impact on the student’s ability to complete within their CAS course end date this may trigger a report to the UKVI.
Likewise, where an authorised absence is immediately followed by a period of LOA, the LOA will be deemed to have started from the first day of the student’s combined absence.