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. The University enables students to take an authorised break from their programme of research, where there is good reason, in order to overcome these difficult circumstances, through a leave of absence.

The University defines a leave of absence to mean an entire cessation of academic work for a defined period of time. 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 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.  Please be aware that a leave of absence may have implications for funding.

Grounds for leave of absence

Students can apply for LOA on the following grounds:

  • Medical
  • Personal
  • Parental (maternity/paternity/adoption)
  • Academic
  • 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 considered 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 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 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)
  • To undertake a placement that is unconnected to the student’s doctorate (placement status is applied which works in the same way as a LOA as it suspends the student’s candidature). 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 must be incorporated within the usual time limit for the student’s degree

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: Working and holidays).

Making a leave of absence application

Students must apply for permission from their department and faculty to take a leave of absence, using the Leave of Absence (PGR) form. Students and their academic department will be notified by Research Services whether or not the leave of absence request has been approved by the faculty officer. 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 department and/or faculty will be treated as unauthorised absences and may lead to action being taken against the student for non-attendance/loss of contact.

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, where they can demonstrate that they have the student’s permission to do so.

Minimum period of leave of absence

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 4 weeks. 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 less than 4 weeks, 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 under 4 weeks 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), but for any absence on medical grounds over 7 days, students should obtain a medical note from UHS or their own GP.

Maximum period of leave of absence

Whilst there is no formal limit to the amount of leave of absence a student can request, it will normally only be granted where the student’s research degree remains academically viable and where it is felt that there is still a reasonable prospect of the student successfully submitting a thesis of the appropriate standard for examination within their time limit. Requests for more than 12 months’ leave of absence at a time will not be approved and requests for further leave of absence where the student has already had more than two years of leave (consecutive or non-consecutive), on grounds other than parental, will be carefully reviewed and may be rejected.

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 2 years’ leave of absence (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 consider the feasibility of the student’s request, taking into consideration whether or not 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 facilitate their decision, e.g. an evaluation of the student’s progress to-date and a thesis plan.

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 reinstatement at a later date. Requests for reinstatement will be carefully considered, taking into account factors such as the reasons for withdrawal and the viability of the research project.

Evidence to support a leave of absence

Students must submit appropriate documentary evidence to support their leave of absence request. Where a leave of absence is requested on medical grounds, a medical or doctor’s note is required that covers the entire period of leave of absence requested. Applications made on medical grounds without appropriate medical evidence will not 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 supported by a medical or doctor’s note.

Covid update: In light of 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. LOA forms will be accepted without a supporting medical certificate.  However, please note that where a student is eligible for additional stipend payments as a result of a medical LOA (University of Sheffield or UKRI students only), medical evidence will be required in order to approve the payment of additional stipend, in accordance with the relevant terms and conditions.

Returning from leave of absence

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 Tier 4 students at any stage in their degree.  Information is available on re-registration. Students returning from a short authorised absence of under 4 weeks are not 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 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.

Phased return from leave of absence

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 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 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. In addition, not all funding bodies will support a phased return from leave of absence; therefore, students should also check with their funder.

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.

Sponsored students

Students who receive financial support to undertake their research degree, i.e. those funded by UK Research Councils, 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 UK Research Councils should note that they are normally not allowed to have more than 12 months' leave of absence throughout the duration of their studies, and they should not normally 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 3 months as a result of a leave of absence or cumulative leave of absences. 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 3 months. This will affect the majority of students requiring ATAS 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 may be required to report 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 curtail the Tier 4 visa. Such students will need to re-apply for a new visa when they are ready to re-commence 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.

Unlike a leave of absence, the University does not consider authorised absences of less than 4 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 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.

Maternity, shared parental and adoption leave

Students who are pregnant, or whose partners are pregnant, can apply for a period of leave of absence on parental grounds. 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.  Please note that the 4-week minimum leave of absence rule does not apply to students taking a leave of absence on parental grounds.

Where shared parental leave is being applied for, further guidance on how this works is available here.

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.