Supporting students who have impacting personal circumstances

It is not unusual for students to face a range of personal challenges while at university, which can affect their ability to study. Sometimes, this might mean that they need additional support, such as special consideration or maybe time away from their studies.

Students may also be unhappy with something that has happened on their course, wish to appeal or make a complaint and there are processes to follow in this case, too 

The information on these pages outlines the key academic process you may need to advise a student on and offers guidance on supporting students through academic issues and support needs. 

It is important that the correct processes are followed, and the required administrative forms completed. If not, this could lead to problems further down the line; for instance, it can impact a student’s ability to continue their studies, and/or secure future funding.  

Supporting students who have impacting personal circumstances 

This section covers how you can support a student whose personal circumstances are impacting their ability to engage with their studies.  It will also provide links to key academic processes including mitigating circumstances and additional considerations. 

Students may experience difficult situations that can impact on their studies and time at university.  These can be wide ranging – for example, suffering a bereavement, experiencing a traumatic assault, illness, relationship problems, or mental health difficulties.  There is a variety of formal processes that we can use to support students in these situations, which will be detailed later in the section, and part of your role will be about explaining these to the student. You may also be the first person a student speaks to about their problems, and so.  

Some key things you can do to help. 

  • Take time to talk and listen to what is happening for them, discussing with them what support would be helpful.  Sometimes a chat and knowing that support is available is all they may need in the moment. Remember, though, that your role is to sign-post to support, and not to try and advise or counsel them about what is happening to them. 

  • If a student would benefit from support, avoid giving an extensive list of support options as this can be overwhelming.  Showing them to the For Students Support and Wellbeing site can help them know what support they can access. 

  • If challenges are impacting on a student’s ability to engage with their studies, it is important to  

    • identify the processes that will help this student,  

    • explain the relevant processes to them,   

    • manage their expectations about outcomes and timelines. Sometimes students might not want to follow a process and will just want a quick answer, so you may also need to explain that the process is part of supporting them to mitigate against the impact their circumstances are having on their studies.  

  • You must always follow up conversations in writing, so there is a record of what action is needed and what was discussed.  This can help students to remember what they need to do, especially if conversations have contained a lot of information. It also serves as a record of the advice that you gave in case there are any issues further down the line, or in case you move on from your role and somebody else needs to take over. 
  • Remember: Your role is about upholding formal processes. It is not within our gift to find ‘workarounds or alternatives in place of a set process. Sometimes, you may be asked things like “can’t we just do X instead” as a ‘quick fix’ or something that feels easier. However, doing this can cause issues further down the line; it can raise expectations for a student that exceptions will always be made for them, and it is also unfair to other students who follow the correct processes.  Academic Processes for students with impacting personal circumstances.

Academic Processes for students with impacting personal circumstances  

Mitigating Circumstances 

The information in this section outlines what mitigating circumstances are, the links to the process and has some common FAQ’s. 

If the personal circumstances are  

  • unanticipated and short term that will impact on assessment - for example, ill health, bereavement, victim of an assault - a student can apply for mitigating circumstances.   

  • normally for exceptional, short term, unforeseen and unpreventable events that significantly disrupt their studies e.g., complete assessments. 

To request that their circumstances be considered a student must follow the correct process. There are two routes of mitigation available.   

  1. Extensions to Coursework 

Where circumstances have a short- term impact on a piece of coursework, for example illness, this can be covered by an application for a coursework deadline extension of up to 14 days – these are calendar days, not working days.   

A student can self- certify for up to 7 days, but only if the reason is medical; any extension applications for non-medical reasons, or for longer than 7 days, must be supported with evidence. Students need to complete the Extensions to Coursework form  

If a student is granted the additional 14 days but is still unable to submit their work, they  should apply for Additional Consideration. This is partly because marking turnarounds and assessment deadlines are firmly set – marks cannot necessarily be processed if a student’s work is submitted more than two weeks after it is due. It is also because granting indefinite extensions may not be in a student’s best interests; if two weeks has not been enough time, then they may need a different kind of support. 

  1. Additional Consideration 

Where circumstances cannot be mitigated by an extension of up to 14 days – for example, if the assessed work is an exam or Online Time Limited Assessment, not a piece of coursework; or, if the circumstances are more serious meaning that a 14 day extension is not sufficient or appropriate – a student can apply for Additional Consideration.    Applications for Additional Consideration mut be submitted within 5 days of the original assessment. Additional Consideration can offer: 

  • First attempt resits at next available opportunity. 

  • Removal of penalties. 

  • Something else – such as a repeat of all or part of the year, consideration of marks profile at Awards Boards. 

Students need to complete the Additional Consideration form. 

Further information for staff on Extensions to Coursework and Additional Considerations 

What is not covered by Mitigating Circumstances 

Something that is ongoing, or a part of a student’s everyday life, is not usually a reason to apply for mitigating circumstances – but that does not mean that support is not available. Encouraging a student to access any additional support they need as early as possible can reduce the need for apply for mitigating circumstances.  

How you can help 

  • If they are struggling with their emotional wellbeing/mental health, having a chat or asking some workshops can help to reduce worry, anxiety or stress.  Student Counselling and Wellbeing have daily drop in session, workshops and 1:1 support. 

  • If a student has a disability or an ongoing health condition (12+ months) then Disability Services can help. It is vital that you make students aware of this service as many students come to University believing that any support they had at School will automatically continue – but they do need to register in order to access support. With adjustments recommended by Disability Services in place, there should normally be no need for separate mitigation – unless 

  • 1) adjustments that were recommended were not put in place, or  

  • 2) a student experiences an acute, significant incident that is unexpected or unusual, in which case they would apply for mitigating circumstances supplying relevant evidence as needed. 

Mitigating Circumstances FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Q: A student has submitted an application after the deadline – what do we do? 

A: Unless the student can provide compelling evidence to show why they were unable to meet the application deadline, you will be required to reject the application. In these cases, the student uses the appeals process if they wish to contest this decision. Remember that your role is to uphold process and that we should treat all students fairly – we cannot make exceptions for some and not others. 

Q: A student has provided evidence, but we are not sure that it is real, is there a process to follow? 

A: It is within your gift as a School to request additional evidence from a student in support of an application. There is not currently a process to report these suspicions, but there are clear stipulations about what we can and cannot accept in the mitigating circumstances guidance, including that information must be from a verifiable source.