Leave of absence

Students sometimes find themselves facing difficulties that affect their ability to undertake their research, for example if they are ill or undergoing serious personal problems. A leave of absence enables a student to take an authorised break from their studies in order to overcome the difficulty, without losing valuable time from their registration period, which will be suspended for the duration.

Students must apply for permission from their department and faculty to take a leave of absence, using the Leave of Absence (PGR) form.  Please be aware that once an application is received in Research Services it will normally take up to 2 weeks for Faculty consideration and processing, but may take longer if additional information/clarification is required.  Students can apply for LOA on the following grounds:

  • Medical
  • Personal
  • Parental (maternity/paternity)
  • 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.

Students should not apply for a leave of absence to cover a period of annual leave.

When applying for a leave of absence, appropriate documentary evidence must be supplied in order for the department and faculty to consider whether to approve the 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. Any application made on medical grounds without an appropriate medical note will not be approved. Any student 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 can be permitted to re-register. 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 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 they are fit to resume their studies, so these cases will take longer to process and students may be asked for additional evidence.  

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

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 a formal request for leave of absence being made will be treated as unauthorised absences and may trigger further action.  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 topic.

Students should be aware 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 leave of absence will be carefully reviewed and may be rejected. There are a number of reasons why lengthy periods away from research are not recommended, 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.

In certain specific circumstances, 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 full time. 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 cover only a proportional amount of time lost due to these exceptional circumstances, and not the entire period during which these circumstances are a factor. International students studying on a Tier 4 student visa should note that it may not always 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, which can be undertaken at any time prior to submission of the thesis.

Sponsored students

Students who receive financial support to undertake their research degree, i.e. those funded by Research Councils 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 the International Student Support Team.  Please note that 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. 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 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. The International Student Support Team will inform students of the immigration implications of their leave of absence.

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 Faculty Administrator in the event of any queries.