Leave of absence

The University recognises that some students may face difficulties during their research degree that are outside their control and that significantly affect their ability to undertake their research, for example, illness or serious personal problems.  In some cases, students may be able to recover any time that is lost, but where there is significant disruption to a student’s studies, this may not be possible. A leave of absence (LOA) enables a student to take an authorised break from their studies in order to overcome these difficult circumstances. During the period of 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.

Students must apply for permission from their department and faculty to take a leave of absence, using the Leave of Absence (PGR) form.  Students are asked to note that once an application is submitted to the faculty it will normally take approximately two weeks for faculty consideration and processing, but may take longer if additional information is required.  Students will be notified by Research Services whether or not their leave of absence has been approved. 

Students can apply for LOA on the following grounds:

  • Medical
  • Personal
  • Parental (maternity/paternity)*
  • Academic
  • Financial**

* Where shared parental leave is being applied for, further guidance on how this works is available at: www.gov.uk/shared-parental-leave-and-pay

** 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 the sorts of situations for which LOA may be appropriate are as follows:

  • Accidents, physical or mental illness (medical grounds - supporting medical evidence is required and a student must be certified as fit to return by the University Health Service)
  • Maternity, paternity, adoption (parental grounds)
  • Bereavement or 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)
  • The student is appealing a downgrade, especially if the student is overseas and is required to leave the country to apply for a new visa before they can continue studying on the MPhil (academic grounds)
  • The student is undertaking a placement that is unconnected to their doctorate. It should be noted that placements that are directly related to the student’s research degree are not eligible for consideration under this process and should be incorporated within the usual time limit for the student’s degree (Placement status is applied which works in the same way as an LOA and suspends the student’s candidature)

Students should not apply for a leave of absence to cover a period of annual leave. Annual leave should be taken from a student’s holiday entitlement.

Leave of absence will not normally be approved where a student is undertaking teaching duties.

When applying for a leave of absence, appropriate documentary evidence must be provided in order for the department and faculty to consider whether to approve the request.  In order to respond to the current situation in the UK, in relation to the impact of COVID-19, the University of Sheffield has updated the procedure for students requesting leave on medical grounds. If you are applying for leave on medical grounds, you currently do not need to obtain a medical certificate from the University Heath Service (or another doctor, if you are not registered with the UHS) to submit along with your completed LOA Form. Forms will be accepted without a supporting medical certificate.

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 0114 222 2100 or email health.service@sheffield.ac.uk.  

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 in order to obtain medical evidence that they are fit to resume, and must send this to UHS at sheffieldccg.uhs.loa@nhs.net. 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.  Any medical evidence obtained outside the UK must be translated into English before it is submitted to UHS.

Students applying for a leave of absence to cover maternity leave should, wherever possible, provide a copy of their MATB1 form.

All students returning from a leave of absence must re-register with the University before recommencing their studies.  Information on re-registering is available here

It is essential that students notify their supervisor/department as soon as any difficulties arise that might affect their research and that applications for leave of absence are made promptly and, wherever possible, not retrospectively. 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 faculty, will be treated as unauthorised absences and may lead to action being taken against the student for loss of contact.  

Students should note that requests for indefinite leave of absence will not be considered. It is unlikely that a request for more than 12 months at a time will be approved and requests to further extend a lengthy period of leave of absence will be carefully reviewed and may be rejected.  When considering requests for a leave of absence there should be a reasonable prospect of submission of a thesis of the appropriate standard for examination if the leave of absence is to be granted. There are a number of reasons why lengthy periods away from research are not recommended and may not be approved, e.g. the possibility that the research will lose currency and/or originality and changes to departmental structures and staffing, which may mean that appropriate supervision is no longer available.

There may be occasions when a student is returning from a leave of absence due to ill health or maternity leave, but is not yet able to undertake effective research on a full-time basis. Under such circumstances a ‘phased return’ to work 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 circumstances and not the entire period during which these circumstances were a factor. Note: during the current COVID-19 pandemic, students may also apply for a pro rata LOA on other grounds e.g. personal.  International students studying on a 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.

If it is unlikely that a student's circumstances will improve, it may be considered more appropriate for the student to request 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.

Sponsored students

Students who receive financial support to undertake their research degree, i.e. those funded by UK Research Councils, a Doctoral Loan, or by an employer or an overseas government, should notify their sponsor when applying for a leave of absence, in case there are any restrictions.

Students funded by the UK Research Councils should be aware that they are not allowed to have more than 12 months' leave of absence throughout the duration of their studies, and they should not take any leave of absence during their unfunded period, unless there are exceptional circumstances. 

Leave of Absence for International Students

In addition to the above guidance, international students who are studying in the UK subject to immigration regulations (e.g. those on a Tier 4 student visa) should note that they must be fully registered and attending in order to meet the requirements of their student 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 or not it will require reporting to the UKVI.  Any outstanding queries should be addressed to International Student Support.  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 a University audit by UKVI.

Leave of absence self-help tool

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 as a result of a leave of absence. Please note that most visa categories are now 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 the majority of students who are subject to immigration regulations and not just those with a Tier 4 visa. Please contact the International Student Support Team if you are not sure if you are subject to these ATAS requirements.

International students should note that the University is required to report Tier 4 visa holders who are on a leave of absence to the Home Office. Depending on the circumstances of the leave of absence the Home Office may expect such students to return to their home country for the duration of the leave of absence and curtail the Tier 4 visa. Such students will need to re-apply for a new visa when they are ready to recommence their studies.  International Student Support will inform students of the immigration implications of their leave of absence.

If you are submitting a leave of absence specifically because you are unable to continue your studies for a reason which is related to Coronavirus (COVID-19), please ensure you confirm this by completing the section at the top of the leave of absence request form. Examples of this would include where you are ill or have symptoms, are self-isolating, or cannot access learning materials remotely.  This provides the University with greater flexibility as to the requirement to report any LOAs to UKVI during this period. Please contact International Student Support before submitting your leave of absence form if you have any questions about this.

Student pregnancy

Students who are pregnant, or whose partners are pregnant, can apply for a period of leave of absence. As a result of the Equality Act 2010, the University has developed a Student Pregnancy and Maternity Policy, along with advice pages aimed at both students and staff.

International students who are studying in the UK on a Tier 4 visa should refer to the information above on leave of absence.  The immigration rules outlined in this section also apply to those who require maternity leave.

The majority of postgraduate research scholarship holders will be entitled to a payment during a period of maternity leave. PGR students who do not have access to sponsor or statutory maternity pay may be eligible for a one-off support payment from the University. 

Apply for maternity support payment

Please contact the relevant Research Services Faculty Administrator in the event of any queries.