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Student Absence, Illness, and Other Adverse Circumstances

All students are expected to fulfil all necessary academic commitments such as attending taught sessions and completing assignments. However, it is inevitable that some students will experience difficulties outside their control (such as illness or personal problems) that will adversely impact on their work or prevent them from fulfilling their commitments. This guidance indicates action to be taken when issues arise unexpectedly during the year. See our page on Reasonable Adjustments for guidance on supporting students with disclosed additional needs.  

The University has two main principles which guide how it deals with students and serious adverse circumstances: 

  • circumstances should be mitigated at the earliest opportunity, and dealt with as part of the setting and completing of assessments wherever possible; 
  • marks should not be given or changed as a result of a student’s circumstances. 

Mitigation for Problems which arise in year 

TEIs should encourage students to inform them of any adverse circumstances as soon as they occur and, wherever possible, in advance of summative work. This will help to ensure that students can be given support at the earliest opportunity. 

Missed Academic Commitments 

If a student is unwell or affected by some other adverse circumstance beyond their control and as a result is absent or anticipates being absent in the short-term and cannot attend he/she should inform the TEI as soon as possible. This is particularly important when their absence will directly affect their engagement in a taught session or their assessments (e.g. if the student was to give a presentation or participate in group work). It is the student’s responsibility to ‘catch up’ on missed academic commitments by making mutually agreeable alternative arrangements (for instance, to read the expected texts; to attend an alternative seminar on the same topic). TEIs should endeavour to support this when possible, but this will not always be feasible. Longer term illnesses should be dealt with by requests for suspensions of study via the Concessions process, where necessary. See our page on Concessions for more guidance.  

Students who fail to inform TEIs of an expected absence may be subject to the Academic Progress procedure.

Circumstances Affecting Summative Work 

Illness or circumstances may affect a students’ ability to complete or submit work as expected. Where this occurs, the University would expect TEIs to consider granting extensions to deadlines or otherwise permitting students to submit/resubmit work at a later point. Extensions should be approved by (or by a nominee reporting to) the Chair of the Board of Examiners, and should be recorded by the TEI. Extensions will only need to be considered by the Common Awards Management Board if the extensions will take the student from one academic year into the next. In such circumstances, TEIs may wish to consider a period of suspension for the student instead. 

Where a student is suffering from longer term or recurring conditions, TEIs may need to make alterations to assessments (for instance: giving a student more time to complete an examination; replacing the standard assessment with an appropriate equivalent). Where alterations are required, it is important to ensure that learning outcomes are still assessed, and to ensure that students are appropriately prepared and supported for further study. If a TEI is unsure of whether an alternative assessment would still permit a student to demonstrate they have achieved the learning outcomes, contact Durham to seek further advice. 

TEIs assess evidence for illnesses or other circumstances. University advice is that medical evidence is preferred, but TEIs are free to use discretion and act pragmatically by, for instance, accepting other sources of evidence – if a staff member has witnessed a student illness, it would be appropriate for verification. TEIs may also permit students to self-certify reported short-term illnesses, particularly when these affect class attendance only (in contrast, self-certification is not considered appropriate during an examination period – illness during an examination period should be dealt with by retrospective mitigation). 

When circumstances arise, or only become apparent, very late in the day, or where supportive action taken has not fully mitigated the impact of the circumstances, the Serious Adverse Circumstances procedure can be used. See our Serious Adverse Circumstances page for more guidance.