Student Fitness to Study Policy

Policy Owner
Office of Vice President Academic Affairs
Document Type
Policy
Document Approval Date
Version
2.0

Dublin City University (DCU) recognises its responsibility to support students to complete their studies. For the majority of students, progression to completion of their studies is uneventful, with little or no need for additional support. This is not always the case, however.  In certain circumstances there is a need for a formalised coordinated response to support a student in distress. Occasionally, even with additional support, the behaviour, welfare or wellbeing of an individual student is so adversely affected as to make continuation in study difficult or impossible and/or their continuation in studies is likely to interfere with the learning, working or living experiences of others to such an extent as to be deemed unreasonable and unsustainable. 

This policy and procedure is expressly intended to be supportive of individual students who may be in distress or difficulty whilst also recognising the right of the wider university community to study, work and live free of undue duress/distress caused by others. In matters relating to a student’s fitness to continue in study, DCU is guided by relevant legislation as may be amended from time to time. In this regard, the University remains particularly mindful of its obligations under the Equal Status Act 2000 and the Equal Status (Amendment) Act 2012.

There are established policies and procedures in place in DCU to deal with students who are not achieving academically or whose behaviour breaches the DCU Student Code of Conduct. This Policy and Procedure is intended for circumstances not covered by the University’s existing academic regulations or the Student Code of Conduct.

The Policy and Procedure to Support and Determine a Student’s Fitness to Continue in Study, hereinafter referred to as the ‘policy’, is in place to:

  1. identify and support students: a) whose behaviour, well-being or welfare are of concern to themselves or others or b) whose behaviour or actions, are impacting adversely on the learning, working or living experiences of others to such an extent as to give rise to concerns as to their fitness to continue in study.

and

  1. to provide supportive formal procedures to: a) enable students to withdraw / take leave of absence voluntarily on grounds of fitness or b) determine if a student is to be required to take leave of absence or be required to terminate their studies on grounds of fitness.

Ownership

The development, implementation and on-going review of this policy is the responsibility of the Director of Student Support & Development, under delegated authority from the Vice President for Academic Affairs/Registrar.

Invoking this Policy

This policy may be invoked at any one of three levels, according to the level of response needed, as judged by the person invoking it. Level 1 of this policy (see section 13 below) may be invoked by the Chairperson of the relevant programme, in consultation with the Head of the School with responsibility for the student’s programme of study and, if appropriate, members of Student Support & Development. Level 2 can be invoked by the Head of School and Level 3 of this policy (see below sections 14-15) can be invoked by the Director of Student Support & Development.  

Advice may be sought by the Chairperson or Head of School from the Director of Student Support & Development, if in doubt as to the appropriate level.

All registered students of DCU shall be subject to this policy. Students subject to this policy shall also include any student visiting DCU for a period of study or research under the Erasmus Programme, Study Abroad programme or other similar programmes involving placement in DCU from another domestic or international university or institution. By registering at the University, or attending under a placement agreement, all students are automatically subject to this policy and to all other relevant university policies. DCU students who are visiting another university or institution for a period of study or research shall be subject to the host institution’s rules, policies and procedures for the period of their visit. DCU will endeavour to support its students whilst registered at another institution as part of their DCU programme, in association with the host institution, where possible and practicable.

This policy generally shall not be invoked for circumstances already being considered under the Student Code of Conduct or breach of academic regulations. However, in exceptional circumstances where the Disciplinary Committee are of the view that a serious fitness to continue in study issue arises, the outcome of the disciplinary procedure may be referred back to the Head of School or the Director of Student Support & Development for consideration, who in turn may decide to invoke this policy in relation to the matter. 

Operation of this policy shall be consistent with the requirements of the University’s child protection policy (‘Keeping Children Safe – Policies and Procedures Supporting Child Protection at DCU’). Please note that the University’s child protection policy defines a child as someone under 18 years of age (excluding a person who is or has been married) and regard should be had to the provisions of that policy when dealing with persons under this policy.

There is a strong tradition of support for students in DCU. Many students facing difficult and distressing circumstances will overcome adversity and develop and grow from these experiences with the help and support provided by friends, family, academic staff, and the administrative and professional support services in the University.  It is very much in the interests of students and the University that this tradition of support continues. This policy is intended to build on that tradition, and to enhance it, by identifying steps to be taken when it is considered that the circumstances are such as to be unlikely to be resolved through the use of existing supports. The following list shows examples of such circumstances where there may be concern as to a student’s support needs and fitness to continue in study. The list is not exhaustive and each circumstance should be considered on its own merits. 

  • 3rd party reports of concern are disclosed. The 3rd parties may be family members, classmates, flatmates, student support services staff, lecturers or other university staff, work or research placement supervisors or even on occasions, members of the public. The concerns may be around a student’s:
  • wellbeing, appearance, social-withdrawal, mood, physical health or welfare
  • unexplained deterioration in academic performance
  • behaviour which is very unusual or bizarre 
  • behaviour putting themselves or anyone else clearly at risk
  • behaviour which is significantly distressing to others
  • behaviour which is impacting significantly on the learning, working or living experience of others.  

‘Behaviour’ is intended to include behaviour which is face-to-face and in public as well as expressed in written or on-line communications in print or via social media, text messaging or by other electronic means. 

All behaviour which appears to be a breach of the Student Code of Conduct rather than a fitness to continue in study issue, should be considered under the Student Code of Conduct and as a disciplinary matter.

The University recognises and celebrates the rights of individuals to be different, and embraces and supports diversity. The lived experiences of one person are often very different to those of another. The customs and practices of the many diverse ethnic groups in our increasingly international University community may vary and require a degree of mutual understanding and mutual respect. It is important that these differences be recognised and accepted, within the boundaries of the law of the land.

This policy is intended to help students who may be significantly distressed and not in a position to identify their level of distress. In supporting a student who is causing real concern or who may be significantly distressed, staff should act in accordance with the advice contained in the ‘Working with Students in Distress’ guidelines, which can be found on the Counselling & Personal Development webpages of the University’s website. The appropriate course of action to be undertaken will often depend on the urgency of the situation. The course of action may also need to be reviewed if the situation alters.

When a student is significantly distressed, it is always worth considering the option of activating the Policy and Procedures to Support and Determine a Student’s Fitness to Continue in Study. Occasionally actions will need to be taken before there is time to formally invoke this policy. Situations classified as non-urgent / non-emergency should prompt consideration of invoking at least Level 1, and possibly Level 2 of the policy. Urgent / emergency situations should prompt consideration of invoking at least Level 2 and possibly Level 3 of the policy. 

The safety and welfare of the student and those around them is to be considered in the first instance.

The behaviour and actions of a student may be a cause of concern for the safety of the student and / or the safety of others, prompting consideration of the need to immediately suspend the student from the University temporarily pending further investigation and / or management of the situation. Where it appears, in the opinion of the Vice-President for Academic Affairs/Registrar, that there are such grounds for concerns, then he / she, having sought such advice as he / she deems appropriate, shall be entitled to suspend a student on the basis that suspension is temporary and necessary to protect the University community (see Appendix E).

The safety of individuals is paramount and overrides our obligation to confidentiality. If you are very concerned about a student, contact the student support services immediately, irrespective of whether this is breaching students’ confidentiality or not. This approach is supported by our Third Party Confidentiality Policy.

Occasionally, the behaviour or actions of a student can put themselves or others in proximate danger. It is important that appropriate and timely actions are taken in response. The steps illustrated in the flow chart below are those recommended. In urgent / emergency situations these actions may need to be taken before there is time to invoke this policy. The fact that the University may invoke other policies shall not prejudice its right to also invoke this policy. 

REMEMBER: If there is an immediate concern for the safety of any person, this should be reported to the National Emergency Services on 999. DCU Security Services should also be informed via the DCU Emergency Tel. contact number 7005999.

Further information can be found here.

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As per Section 6 above, in varying circumstances, concerns may be noted as to a student’s support needs or their fitness to continue in study. These should then be reported to either the Head of School or the Director of Student Support & Development. The seriousness of each circumstance and response required is a matter of judgement for the Head of School and/or the Director of Student Support & Development and will determine whether or not any of the levels 1, 2 or 3 responses are to be invoked.  

A student may be referred at any stage of this policy to a relevant healthcare professional which includes, but is not limited to, the Student Health Centre or the DCU Counselling & Personal Development Service. Any such referral will be made through the Director of Student Support & Development. The Student shall be obliged under this policy to attend such medical consultation and examination as required and shall cooperate with the Medical Practitioner concerned in the provision of a medical report to the University. Failure to attend or a failure, in the opinion of the Medical Practitioner, to cooperate with any such Practitioner shall be deemed to be a failure to cooperate with the University’s procedures.

The Level 1 Response of this policy is intended for circumstances where there are emerging concerns about a student which have been raised with the student directly but which continue to persist. The particular circumstances can vary, as described in Section 6 above. A Level 1 response will usually (though not necessarily always) be preceded by low level support, informal signposting and / or advice given to the student by the University’s academic or support staff. In the event that the concerns persist, the Chairperson, in consultation with the relevant Head of School, should consider invoking Level 1 of these procedures as follows:

  1. Chairperson of Programme, in consultation with the relevant Head of School, raises a ‘Note of Concern’ (see Appendix A)
  2. The student is notified in writing of the nature of the concerns expressed 
  3. A face-to-face meeting is arranged to provide support or advice to the student from the School or through Student Support & Development
  4. The ‘Note of Concern’ is closed if no further action is deemed necessary following step 3 above or the concern is escalated to Level 2 or Level 3.

See Appendix B for further information.

Level 2 of this policy is intended for circumstances where there are either:

a) Continuing and on-going concerns persisting and unresolved from a Level 1 ‘Note of Concern’

or

b) Significant first concerns where it is deemed invoking a formal multi-disciplinary case review meeting at Level 2 or 3 is required.

The Head of School will invoke Level 2 of these procedures as follows:

1) The Head of School, in consultation with the Chairperson of the relevant programme raises a ‘Note of Concern’ (see appendix A).

2) The student is notified, in writing, of the nature of the concerns expressed.   

3) A multi-disciplinary case-review meeting (see Appendix C) is arranged to:

3.1) consider the nature of the concerns, 3.2) develop an agreed plan of action to support the student, 3.3) arrange to monitor the effectiveness of the plan in resolving the issue of concern; and 3.4)arrange formal follow-up. 

4) Proceed to:

4.1) The ‘Note of Concern' is closed if no further action is deemed necessary following step 3 above.

or 

4.2) A student who wishes to voluntarily withdraw or take leave of absence from studies on grounds of fitness is supported to do this, without the need to proceed to a Level 3 Response. It is intended, but not essential, that all students who are voluntarily withdrawing or taking leave of absence from DCU on grounds of fitness should have been considered under a Level 2 response of this policy.

or 

4.3) The Director of Student Support & Development, upon consultation with the Head of School, invokes a Level 3 Response because of concerns that the student’s fitness to continue in study needs to be formally considered and determined at this level.

See Appendix D for further information.

The Level 3 Response of this policy is intended for circumstances where there are concerns that immediate consideration and determination of a student’s fitness to continue in study is required. It may be invoked immediately following either a Level 1 or Level 2 response, or it may be invoked directly with no preceding Level 1 or 2 response, due to the seriousness of concern for the health, wellbeing or welfare of the individual concerned, or for the impact the student’s distress or behaviour is having on others.

The Director of Student Support & Development, in consultation with the Head of School, invokes Level 3 of these procedures as follows:

1) Raise a ‘Note of Concern’ with the Vice-President Academic Affairs/Registrar (see appendix A).

2) Vice-President Academic Affairs/Registrar notifies the student in writing of the nature of the concerns expressed.

3) Vice-President Academic Affairs/Registrar arranges a Fitness to Continue in Study Panel Review (see Appendix D) so that the panel can consider the concerns expressed about the student. The outcomes possible from this review are:

The student is fit to continue in study, subject to an action plan (as per Level 2 Response).

or

The Vice-President Academic Affairs/Registrar requires the student to take leave of absence from study for an agreed period.

or

The student must terminate their studies at the University.

4) Close the ‘Note of Concern’ if no further action is deemed necessary following step 3 above. 

A student has the right to appeal the decision of the Vice-President Academic Affairs/Registrar to require the student to take leave of absence from study for an agreed period or to terminate their studies at the University (see Appendix F).

A student who withdraws / takes leave of absence voluntarily or is required to take leave of absence, on grounds of fitness, shall be entitled to apply to re-register to re-commence their studies at the end of the agreed period of absence. In such circumstances, the conditions of return to study will be determined by the relevant School, subject to the rules and regulations governing the relevant programme and, where relevant, in consultation with the Director of Student Support & Development.  If the module or programme is not running at the time, the relevant School will provide guidance about the recommencement of the student’s studies. Return to study procedures shall apply. (See Appendix H). 

It is good practice for staff to keep brief notes of any interactions with students where there has been guidance or decisions in relation to personal issues, and to inform the student that such a record is being kept. This should apply in particular for students causing concern.

The record should be dated and written as soon as possible after the interaction with the student. It should state the nature of the interaction and any action taken or advice given. If appropriate, it should also state whether or not the student gave consent for further action. 

Records should be kept safely in Schools until the student has graduated, and then destroyed. Confidentiality and security of notes should be maintained in accordance with the University’s Data Privacy Policy. 

Once a Level 1 or 2 Response of these procedures have been invoked, a Note of Concern (Appendix A) must be raised and retained by the Head of School or the Director of Student Support & Development, as appropriate. In addition to the Note of Concern, for Levels 2 and 3 responses, a written record of all multi-disciplinary case review meetings and Fitness to Continue in Study Panel Review meetings shall be raised and retained by the Head of School and the Director of Student Support & Development, in accordance with the University’s Data Privacy Policy.

If an office holder post is vacant at the time that this policy is being invoked, then the Vice-President for Academic Affairs/Registrar or another appropriate office holder shall appoint a person to carry out the designated functions under this policy. Furthermore where power or authority or functions are to be performed by a particular office holder of a post referred to in this policy, such power or authority may be exercised by a person acting or deputising in such a role from time to time. Where this policy contains reference to a particular office holder as described in this policy and where the name or title of such office or post is changed, then for the purpose of exercising the powers or functions, any reference to the old name shall be deemed reference to the new name.

Document Name

Fitness to study policy for students

Unit Owner

Student Support & Development

Version Reference

Version 2.0

Approved by

Executive

Effective Date

June 1st 2021