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Policy and Procedure on Fitness to Study

Purpose

1. The University seeks to ensure that all students have the opportunity to study, achieve and enjoy University life to the best of their ability, in a safe and supportive environment which is conducive to development.

2. As part of its commitment to the student experience, the University offers a range of student services and support to help students reach their potential and prepare effectively for life beyond University. Whilst students are responsible for the management of their own wellbeing, the University aims to work with and support students in a collaborative manner. Further information on support for students is provided in Appendix 1.

3. In working to provide an excellent student experience, the University aims to create a community that operates under the principles of support, transparency, and a culture of respect for equality and diversity. In line with this, the University expects that students conduct themselves in a way that is consistently appropriate, does not negatively affect another member of the community, and is in line with the Student Code (http://www.stir.ac.uk/campus-life/student-code/).

4. Whilst the University’s process for dealing with student conduct that falls outside these expectations is set out in Ordinance 2, the Code of Student Discipline, it is recognised that in some instances, student conduct or engagement, which does not meet the expectations of the University or its community, may be linked to mental or physical health conditions, or other personal circumstances. In such instances, it may be that disciplinary action is not appropriate, but equally that continuing to study or reside at the University at that point could be detrimental to the safety or wellbeing of the student, or another member of the University community (students, staff or visitors). In these circumstances, the University has a duty, and reserves the right to consider, whether the student is fit to continue to study at that time and to take mitigating action if not.

Defining fitness to study

5. When students are fit to study and engage effectively in university life, the University can be confident that:

i. they are able to engage effectively with and benefit from their academic studies in a way that facilitates on-going progress towards obtaining the qualification or academic outcome for which they have enrolled;

ii. their behaviour does not disrupt members of the University community in carrying out University business , or University business more broadly, to the extent that the disruption has a detrimental impact upon members of the University or wider community, or it causes concern or distress;

iii. their communications (verbal, written and online), engagements and interactions with other members of the University community (students, staff or visitors) are courteous, constructive and in line with the Student Code; and

iv. they do not and are not likely to put their own, or others’ health, safety or general wellbeing at risk.

Scope

6. The policy applies to any enrolled student of the University, including undergraduate, post-graduate taught and postgraduate research students, students on placement/ Study Abroad, visiting/exchange students, and students with INTO University of Stirling.

7. The University’s primary process for considering and responding to matters of student conduct is Ordinance 2, the Code of Student Discipline. The existence of this policy is not an indication that the University will take no action under the Code of Student Discipline in response to student conduct which is linked to/with physical or mental health, or other personal circumstances. Whether action is initiated under the Code of Student Discipline or this policy will depend on the individual circumstances of a case.

8. In instances where the University determines (in line with the Supporting Student Fitness to Study Procedure, set out below) that it is appropriate to consider a student’s conduct or engagement on the basis of their fitness to study rather than through the Code of Student Discipline, this policy will apply.

9. As a general rule, this policy is intended for use in cases: where the disruption or risk to the student, other students, staff or the University community as a whole, as a result of a student’s conduct or circumstances, is considered to be so acute that usual support arrangements may be insufficient to mitigate the risk; but that where action under Ordinance 2 may not be the appropriate course of action to be taken, in terms of the best interests of the student, or the potential outcomes of the process.

10. Fitness to Practice Policies are in place within the University in respect to the conduct and performance of students on specified professional programmes. This policy therefore does not apply to decisions regarding Fitness to Practice.

11. The policy is not intended to address a student’s general support requirements, as established student support arrangements exist for this purpose.

12. The policy is not designed to address academic performance issues (which should be dealt with under the normal assessment procedures), issues relating to attendance, or individual circumstances that can be considered through an Extenuating Circumstances Sub-Board.

Points of Policy

13. A student’s fitness to study may be considered by the University on the basis of any or all of the points in paragraph 5. Such a consideration may result from a wide range of circumstances including (but not restricted to) the following:

i. The student discloses information to a member of University staff which indicates there is a need to consider their fitness to study;

ii. Someone associated with the student (e.g. a fellow student, friend, colleague, placement provider, member of the public, medical professional) raises a concern for or about the student, which indicates that there is a need to consider their fitness to study;

iii. A progressive or sudden deterioration in a student's engagement or conduct;

iv. A student’s behaviour is impacting adversely on the health, safety or wellbeing of other students and/or staff and it is thought this behaviour may stem from mental or physical ill-health.

14. The Supporting Student Fitness to Study Procedure is followed where this policy is to be applied.

15. Students are encouraged to engage with and contribute to the process and are treated fairly and in a supportive manner throughout.

16. In circumstances where a decision has been taken through a Fitness to Practise policy that a student is not fit to practice within a specified profession, this will not necessarily mean they are not fit to study or that a consideration of their fitness to study is required. In such circumstances, it may be possible for the student to change their programme of study and continue as a student with the University.

Proceedure

Supporting Students

17. In line with the University’s commitment to supporting students, a range of advice and support services are offered to students. Staff who have a concern about a student’s engagement, conduct, physical or mental health, wellbeing or safety, can contact the Student Services Hub to seek advice. Further details on support for students, and on taking action in emergency situations, are provided in Appendix 1.

Procedure Summary

18. The Fitness to Study Procedure is structured around two stages:

a) Stage 1: Fitness to Study Concern Referral
Where a member of staff has or is made aware of a concern that a student’s conduct or presentation may call into question their fitness to study (based on the criteria set out in paragraph 5), they may refer their concern for consideration under this policy.

The aim at this stage of the procedure is to engage with the student to seek to resolve the concern. The possible outcomes of a consideration at this stage are: provision of support to assist the student; a specified review period in respect of the student’s conduct or presentation and determination of the steps the student should take in that period; a follow up meeting towards the end of the review period; a referral of the concern to Stage 2 of the procedure.

A Fitness to Study Concern referral is appropriate where the seriousness of the concern could be effectively dealt with under Stage 1 of the procedure, and does not warrant an immediate Stage 2 consideration (see paragraph 18b for more detail).

The full Stage 1 procedure is detailed in paragraphs 19 – 32.

b) Stage 2: Fitness to Study Review
Where a student does not engage with Stage 1, or the action at Stage 1 has not been successful, or the nature of the case is too serious to be dealt with under Stage 1, Stage 2 of the procedure can be initiated.

Whilst it is not possible to include an exhaustive list of concerns that are serious enough to warrant immediate consideration under stage 2, these might include: Repeated suicide attempts or repeated use of language indicating suicidal intentions; Behaviour that indicates a serious mental health condition and/or which is likely to put the student or a third party at risk of harm; Acute or repeated behaviour causing extreme distress or disruption to other members of the University community.

At Stage 2, consideration of a student’s fitness to study is undertaken by the University’s Fitness to Study Review Group.

The decisions available to the Fitness to Study Review Group, and therefore the potential outcomes of a consideration at this stage are set out in paragraph 48.

The full Stage 2 procedure is detailed in paragraphs 33 – 54.

Procedure Stage 1: Fitness to Study Concern Referral

19. If, despite usual forms of support and guidance being offered, a member of staff has or is made aware of a concern that a student’s conduct or presentation may call into question their fitness to study, based on the criteria set out in paragraph 5, a Fitness to Study Concern referral can be prepared by documenting: the student’s name, student number, programme of study; the concern that exists regarding the student; specific details of the conduct or presentation that has led to/contributed to the concern; details of any steps that have already been taken to seek to support or resolve the concern. Note it is expected that all reasonable efforts will have been made by staff to provide appropriate academic and pastoral support and to engage students in the provision of that support before a Fitness to Study Concern Referral is made.

20. Fitness to Study Concern referrals should be submitted to fitnesstostudy@stir.ac.uk. Senior members of staff within Academic Registry and Student Support (normally the Academic Quality and Governance Manager and the Head of Student Guidance and Wellbeing) will review the concern and agree how to proceed. This may include liaising with a qualified mental health professional e.g. a Student Adviser with a specialism in Mental Health & Wellbeing or an external practitioner, from an early stage in the process.

21. The Academic Quality and Governance Manager and the Head of Student Guidance and Wellbeing (or nominees) will agree which members of staff could most appropriately discuss the concern with the student in the first instance, and will then liaise with the relevant members of staff to organise a Fitness to Study Concern Meeting. Normally, depending on the nature of the concern, this meeting will be undertaken by two of: a Personal Tutor; a member of academic staff who works with the student; a member of staff from Student Support Services (generally a Mental Health Adviser or a Senior Student Support Adviser), a member of staff from Accommodation Services or a staff member from the Academic Registry. Specific arrangements will be determined on a case-by-case basis.

22. The student will be invited to attend the Fitness to Study Concern Meeting with at least five days’ notice, and will be advised of the purpose and nature of the meeting. The invitation will state that concerns about the student’s conduct, demeanor and/or wellbeing have emerged which have resulted in the University requiring to consider their fitness to study. The invitation will follow the provided template format and will come from the members of staff who will meet with the student.

23. The letter will also provide details of the support available to the student within the University, and the ways that the student can access the support, if they choose to.

24. At the meeting, the student may be accompanied for support by one person who is either: a Students’ Union representative; a fellow student; a parent/guardian; or a support worker. The accompanying person will not contribute to the meeting unless expressly invited to do so by the Chair or the student is unable to speak for themselves.

25. Where a student wishes to be accompanied, they will be required to advise the members of staff organising the meeting of the name and designation of the person who will accompany them at least two working days before the meeting.

26. The aim at this stage of the procedure is to engage with the student to seek to resolve the concerns that have arisen. The student will be given the opportunity to provide their own view on the situation. Discussion will take place with the student to explore and understand the basis of the concerning behaviour or presentation, how they might resolve the behaviour, potential options at that stage, and how the University might support them. This might include consideration of academic arrangements such as leave of absence. If appropriate, the student will be encouraged to access one or more of the support services offered by the University, or external support e.g. GP. 

27. A reasonable review period will be determined by the staff members at the meeting, in discussion with the student. During this period, the student should take steps to resolve the concerning behaviour, utilising support services if agreed to be appropriate. A date for a follow up meeting prior to the end of the review period will be agreed.

28. A note should be kept of the discussion at the meeting, including what was discussed and actions that the student and the University agreed to take. This note should be distributed to all those attending the meeting, including the student, as a record within seven days of the meeting date, and passed to fitnesstostudy@stir.ac.uk for Academic Registry to retain on file. The note will also be made available to the Head of Student Guidance and Wellbeing for sharing as appropriate with members of the Student Support Services team, and with other members of staff who need to know the outcomes of the meeting in order to provide ongoing support to the student e.g. Head of Accommodation Services, Personal Tutor.

29. The follow up meeting should be held approximately one week prior to the end of the review period, normally involving the same staff members who participated in the Fitness to Study Concern Meeting. At this meeting, steps taken by the student and staff to address the concern will be discussed; this may involve reference to evidence or correspondence provided by other staff in the institution. If the staff members consider that the concern has been addressed satisfactorily, this will be noted and recorded. If appropriate, further meetings may be scheduled to continue to monitor the situation/progress and help ensure that continued support is provided to the student to enable them to demonstrate their fitness to study. If the concern has not been addressed satisfactorily, a further review period may be agreed, or the case may move to the next stage of the policy, as appropriate in the circumstances.

30. At the conclusion of any course of action taken under stage 1 of the procedure, the discussions, advice and any actions taken by the student and/or the University should be documented in a summary document to be provided to the student and held on file by Academic Registry. This summary note will also be made available to the Head of Student Guidance and Wellbeing for sharing as appropriate with members of the Student Support Services team, and with other members of staff who need to know the outcomes of the meeting in order to provide ongoing support to the student e.g. Head of Accommodation Services, Personal Tutor.

31. If a student is unable or unwilling to co-operate with the stage 1 procedure, or modify their behavior during the defined period, the University will decide whether or not it is appropriate for stage 2 of the procedure to be initiated, or for action to be taken through another policy. The Academic Quality and Governance Manager and the Head of Student Guidance and Wellbeing will normally make this decision, in consultation as appropriate with Faculty/Professional Service colleagues, the Head of Accommodation Services, the Academic Registrar and the Head of Student Support Services.

32. Administrative support for the stage 1 process will be provided by Academic Registry.

Procedure Stage 2: Fitness to Study Review

33. If the student has not engaged with action taken under stage 1, the action has not been successful, or the case is too serious to be dealt with under stage 1, stage 2 of the procedure can be initiated.

34. Formal consideration of a student’s fitness to study will be undertaken by the University’s Fitness to Study Review Group.

35. Normally, these formal considerations will be undertaken in line with the provisions of paragraphs 36 – 54. However in cases of urgency, where the student may pose an immediate risk to themselves or others within the University community, a consideration may be taken, on the basis of the available information, by the Dean for Student Experience/nominee and/or the Academic Registrar/nominee. As a result of taking an urgent consideration of a student’s fitness to study, the Dean for Student Experience/nominee and/or the Academic Registrar/nominee may make any of the decisions open to the Fitness to Study Review Group as set out in paragraph 47, and as appropriate must also then progress the implementation of the provisions of paragraphs 48 – 53.

36. A meeting of the Fitness to Study Review Group will be chaired by the Dean for Student Experience (or nominee), and the Group membership will comprise:

a. A representative of the student’s academic division or faculty;
b. The Academic Registrar;
c. The Head of Student Support Services;
d. A representative of the Students’ Union to be nominated by the Students’ Union.

37. Representatives from other areas of the University such as Accommodation Services or Student Support Services may also be invited to contribute to the Group’s considerations in an advisory capacity where appropriate. The Academic Quality and Governance Manager (or nominee) will act as adviser to the Group in terms of policy and procedure. The Head of Accessibility & Inclusion (or nominee) may be invited to provide advice on the legal implications of the Equality Act 2010.

38. The student will be invited to attend the meeting of the Fitness to Study Review Group, with at least five working days’ notice, and will be advised of the purpose and nature of the meeting. The invitation will also explain that concerns about their conduct, demeanor or wellbeing have emerged which have resulted in the University requiring to consider their fitness to study, and will summarise the possible outcomes of the meeting. The invitation will come from, and the meeting will be organised by, Academic Registry.

39. The invitation will provide details of the support available to the student within the University, and how this support can be accessed if the student would like to. Furthermore, the letter will advise the student of the opportunity for them to provide any documentation they may wish the Group to consider, at least two working days in advance of the meeting date.

40. At the meeting, the student may be accompanied for support by one person who is either: a Students’ Union representative; a fellow student; a parent/guardian; or a support worker. The accompanying person will not contribute to the meeting unless expressly invited to do so by the Chair or the student is unable to speak for themselves.

41. Where a student wishes to be accompanied, they will be required to advise the member of staff organising the meeting of the name and designation of the person who will accompany them at least two working days before the meeting.

42. The purpose of the meeting will be to ensure that:
a. The student is made fully aware of the nature of the concerns which have been raised;
b. Any steps that have already been taken by the University to support the student or address the concerns are discussed;
c. The student is fully aware of the possible outcomes of the meeting;
d. The student’s views are heard and taken account of; and
e. A decision is taken on the student’s fitness to study.

43. Depending on the circumstances of the matter to be considered by the Group, before the meeting an independent medical or psychological assessment of the student may be sought by the University. Where such an assessment is undertaken, it will form part of the information that the Group will consider in order to make an informed decision. Where the University considers such an assessment to be required, the student will be encouraged to engage with the assessment process and will be requested to provide consent for the assessment to be undertaken and for the outcome/result of the assessment to be disclosed to the University. The assessment, in tandem with other information, such as diagnostic reports or Needs Assessment reports completed by qualified University staff e.g. Mental Health Adviser/Accessibility Adviser, as well as evidence submitted by staff or other students, will be used to determine the following matters:

  • the nature and impact of any medical or psychological condition experienced by the student;
  • the prognosis;
  • whether the student will be receiving any ongoing medical treatment or support, either from the University or from external agencies;
  • any impact the ongoing behaviour/presentation may have or risk it may pose to the student or others;
  • the extent to which the condition may affect their fitness to study (including fitness to reside in University accommodation and otherwise manage the demands of student life);
  • whether any additional reasonable adjustments could be made by the University to support the student to effectively study or remain at the University;

44. Where an assessment is sought by the University and the student is not willing for such an assessment to be undertaken or for the assessment information to be disclosed to the University, this will not prevent the University from progressing the procedure and the Fitness to Study Review Group reaching a conclusion or decision. In such instances, the University will use the information already in its possession to continue the procedure.

45. The Fitness to Study Review Group will order its proceedings at its own discretion. It may initiate enquiries to assist its deliberations and may arrange for input to discussions from relevant individuals, including University staff who have been working with the student.

46. The Group’s deliberations and decision-making on a student’s fitness to study will take place privately and as such the student will not be present at that stage of the meeting.

47. The Review Group may decide:

i. That no further action is required;

ii. That, in line with the structure of the student’s programme and other relevant factors, an opportunity exists for mutual agreement between the University and the student that their studies be adjourned through the student taking a period of leave of absence for a mutually agreed period of time up to one academic year;

iii. That the student’s fitness to study requires to be supported through a variation in their study/student life arrangements. Such variations could include, but are not restricted to the following: a revised pattern or mode of study, within the parameters of what the University can practically offer; a variation in the student’s accommodation contract or arrangements; postponement or cancellation of a period of Study Abroad.

iv. Where a variation is required by the University, the student would be informed that, unless the revised arrangements remedy the concerns to the University’s satisfaction, their fitness to study may be considered by the Group again, through another meeting of the Group.

v. Where a variation is required by the University, and the student is not willing to undertake the variation, they would be informed that a mandatory leave of absence for a specified period of time up to one academic year would be required;

vi. To formally monitor the student’s progress for a specified period. In this case, the steps which the student will need to take and/or any support that is to be provided to the student to address the concerns identified will be set out in an action plan prepared by the Group. Regular review meetings with the student will be arranged with a nominated member of staff to ensure that the plan is being appropriately followed and/or that reasonable support to enable the student to study effectively is being provided. The student will also be informed of the consequences of any breaches of the plan, which might involve their fitness to study being considered by the Group again;

vii. That the student is not fit to study and, as such, is required to take a mandatory leave of absence for a period of up to one academic year; or

viii. To recommend that, based on the circumstances, action would be more appropriate under Ordinance 2 (the Code of Student Discipline) or Ordinance 30 (Exclusion from University campus), rather than action being taken through this policy.

48. If the Group concludes that the student is not fit to study, the decision taken must be clear as to whether or not the student is fit to continue as a student of the University, and whether or not the student is fit to reside on the University campus.

49. Where the Group concludes that the student is unfit to study, they will be required by the University to take a mandatory period of leave of absence of a minimum of one semester and a maximum of one academic year.

50. Where, because of individual circumstances, this mandatory leave of absence will mean it is not possible for the student to return to continue their studies and complete a qualification with the University due to e.g. the requirements of their programme, exceeding the maximum allowable duration of study or funding, advice and support will be provided to the student.

51. In reaching any decision arising from this procedure, the Fitness to Study Review Group will determine whether the student’s emergency contact should be informed, and discuss with the student whether any statutory services should be contacted.

52. If a decision is made that a student is not fit to study, the Deputy Principal, Education and Students will be advised of the decision.

53. The decision of the Fitness to Study Review Group, together with a concise record of the meeting, should be sent to the student within five working days of the date of the meeting, and a copy kept on the student’s record. The note will be made available to relevant staff who need to know the outcomes of the meeting in order to provide ongoing support to the student or other students affected e.g. Head of Student Support Services, Head of Accommodation Services, Personal Tutor.

54. Administrative support for the stage 2 process will be provided by Academic Registry.

Return to Study

55. After a period of leave of absence on the grounds that the student was not fit to study, the decision as to whether or not the student should return to study or to reside in University owned/managed accommodation will be made by the Fitness to Study Review Group.

56. The University may require a medical or psychological assessment to be undertaken, and the Group will consider the ensuing report as part of the evidence to help determine whether the student is declared to be fit to return to University. The Group will consider all the information available in making a decision.

57. If the University is satisfied that the student is fit to study/reside and able to comply with any conditions agreed to facilitate their return, support will be provided to the student in making the transition back into student life, as per a “support for study” plan. This plan will be determined by the Fitness to Study Review Group in consultation with other staff as appropriate. The University will normally wish to agree a schedule of regular review meetings as part of this plan. If so, the student will be expected to attend any meetings deemed to be necessary to support their reintegration. Non-attendance at these review meetings may result in the Fitness to Study Group having to review the student’s fitness to study again, as per the procedure above.

58. Having considered the information available, should there be any doubt that return to study is not appropriate, any of the decisions outlined in paragraph 49 will be available to the Fitness to Study Review Group in concluding the case.

Right of Appeal

59. A student can appeal a decision of the Fitness to Study Review Group.

60. Appeals will be required to be submitted in writing to the Deputy Secretary within ten working days of the date of the decision notification. The Deputy Secretary will determine whether or not there are grounds for appeal and if so, the appropriate Appeal Officer.

61. The grounds for appeal are that:

a) there was a defect in the procedures employed in the making of the decision such as to render the decision or penalty unsound, inappropriate or unfair;
b) new information is available, which was not available at the point the decision was made, and that could render the decision unsound.

62. In respect of 61b, where new information is provided with an appeal, the Deputy Secretary will consider:

  • whether or not the information could have been submitted at an earlier point in the process. If it could be reasonably concluded that it could have been submitted at an earlier point but was not, the information will be concluded to be inadmissible to the appeal and will not be considered within the appeal.
  • if the information has or could have a material bearing on the decision that the appeal has been submitted against. If the information has no direct, material bearing on the decision, it will not be considered as a basis for the appeal to be upheld.

63. Where there are grounds for an appeal, on receipt of an appeal, the Appeal Officer will consider the information available to the Fitness to Study Review Group together with the Group’s reasons for its decision, and will collate any additional information required in order for the appeal to be considered.

64. The result of the appeal and the reasons for the decision of the Appeal Officer, will be communicated to the student in writing. This decision will be final.

65. If the Appeal Officer does not uphold the appeal, the original decision will stand. If the appeal is upheld in full or in part, the original decision may be revised or reversed as appropriate.

66. The reasons for the Appeal Officer’s decision must be fully recorded and sent to Academic Registry.

Appendix 1

Supporting Students

In line with the University’s commitment to supporting students, a range of advice and support services are offered to students.

Any member of staff with a working relationship with a student can make an initial approach to the student in order to discuss the situation. This should be done in a supportive and understanding manner, clearly identifying the nature of the concerns to the student, and encouraging them to discuss the issues from their perspective. In all instances, the student should be advised of appropriate sources of support and be encouraged to access them.

It is anticipated that, in most cases, students will respond positively and will co-operate by seeking support and, where appropriate, modifying their behaviour. It is helpful if the member of staff who made the initial approach follows up with the student on an informal basis.

Staff who are concerned about a student’s engagement, conduct, physical or mental health, wellbeing or safety, can also contact the Student Services Hub to seek advice or to advise Student Support Services about their concern, and/or any action they have taken in response. Depending on the issues identified, advice may be provided straight away, or a referral may be made to an appropriate colleague e.g. an Adviser from Student Support Services, Student Learning Services, or one of the Academic Registry teams such as Student Programmes or Student Immigration. If the issue constitutes an emergency or crisis, the Student Hub team will invoke its usual emergency/crisis procedures.

Where a member of the University community has an urgent concern regarding a student’s wellbeing or conduct to the extent that they consider the student or a third party to be at risk of immediate harm, the guidance in the Emergency & Crisis Protocol, and these emergency procedures should be followed:

i. Off campus, call 999 to reach any of the emergency services.

ii. On campus, call the Security Team any time, 24/7 on x2222 (on an internal phone) or 01786 467999 if using your mobile phone to request the Police

iii. If an ambulance is required, dial 999 directly to speak to a call handler. Once this has been done so, the University Security Team should also be contacted on x 2222 or 01786 467999 to advise that an ambulance will be arriving.

As soon as possible after responding to the emergency, the Head of Student Wellbeing and Guidance should also be made aware of the incident.

Sources of Support

Student Support Services (accessed via the Student Services Hub)
E: ask@stir.ac.uk
W: Student Support Services
T: 01786 466022
A: Student Services Hub, Cottrell Building, Queen’s Court

Student Learning Services (accessed via the Student Services Hub)
E: ask@stir.ac.uk
W: Student Support Services
T: 01786 466022
A: Student Services Hub, Cottrell Building, Queen’s Court

Students Union
E: theunion@stir.ac.uk
W: https://www.stirlingstudentsunion.com
T: 01786 467166
A: The Robbins Centre, Cottrell Building

Information for Personal Tutors
W: Information for Personal Tutors

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