Fitness to Study

Stages of Fitness to Practise

Meeting with Wellbeing
Case Conference
Suspension & Withdrawal

This article is for Fitness to Study processes and is intended as a helpful guide that should be read alongside the Fitness to Study Policy, for related processes see Disciplinary, Fitness to Practise, Extensions, Extenuating Circumstances, leave of absence or Withdrawals


Fitness to Study procedures are in place to ensure you have the ability to participate appropriately as a student and as a member of the University community.

Where there are concerns that relates specifically your behaviour, which may be related to a health condition, the university will enact Fitness to study procedures. If your behaviour is not connected to health conditions and is a concern the university may consider Disciplinary or Fitness to Practise procedures.

If University has several methods by which they can explore any concerns or issues including;

  • Informal action with  where there are initial concerns (stage 1)
  • Meeting with the wellbeing team where there are continuing or significant concerns (stage 2)
  • A case conference where there are serious of persistent concerns (stage 3)
  • Suspension or Withdrawal in the most serious of circumstances (stage 4)
    • Usually the university will consider a case conference before taking such action

As a precaution, depending on the nature of the concerns and where serious, you may be suspended whilst concerns are looked into. You should adhere to any guidance given regarding suspensions during this time.

Issues which may raise concerns
The following examples include instances where concerns about your fitness to study may occur;

  • Social isolation / significant withdrawal from others
  • A sudden deterioration in academic performance or motivation
  • Significant nonattendance or engagement
  • Repeated applications for Extenuating Circumstances
  • Psychological symptoms or repeated inappropriate emotional outbursts
  • Inappropriate behaviour, for example inappropriate touching, invading personal space
  • Obvious signs of substance or alcohol misuse
  • A suicide attempt
  • Serious self harming behaviours
  • Aggressive, suspicious or paranoid behaviour
  • Extreme mood swings
  • A declaration to a member of staff that you have a problem and provided details that indicate a need to consider your fitness to study
  • Repeated patterns of unacceptable behaviour
  • Significant lack of self awareness
  • If your academic performance, attendance and/or behaviour considered is not satisfactory/acceptable and thought to be a result of a physical condition or mental health difficulty

If concerns are raised, they often come from a genuine place, even if you feel strongly that the concerns are misplaced.

Until the conclusion of the process, the university is looking into a concern and they should ensure they take on board the points you raise in response before reaching a conclusion. Wherever a concern has been raised, it is right that it is looked into appropriately and this can lead to instances where the university feels there is no issue or no action to take.

If you are concerned that a malicious allegation has been raised against you and/or if feel you are dealing with harassment, then you should speak with an advisor.

When a concern is first raised the university will often try to look into, and resolve any matters by having a conversation with you. The member who staff who speaks with you should do so in an understanding manner.

There may be behaviours you are exhibiting that you do not realise is causing concern so it is worth reflecting if there is anything you need to work on that might resolve the concerns.

If the concerns continue or the issue can’t be resolved informally then the staff member may pass on the concerns to the wellbeing team (in either Sunderland or London) to follow up.

Involving the wellbeing team is to ensure you are offered appropriate support and is not a punishment of sanction.

Engage with the process
You will need to engage with the Wellbeing team to resolve any concerns, if you do not further action could be taken in the form of Stage 3 fitness to study procedures.

The wellbeing team is there to ensure you are offered appropriate support and is not a punishment of sanction.

Meeting Wellbeing
You will be invited to a meeting, and informed of the purpose and any documentation you may need. You can also attend the meeting with someone such as an advisor from Sunderland Students Union, a close friend or a family member. If you are disabled you can also be accompanied by a support worker such as a mental health worker or a sign language interpreter.

Tackling the concern
The wellbeing team member will consider the initial concern raised and any evidence or information you provide to explore if the concern is still ongoing or resolved.

If the concern is not resolved then together you should reach a mutually agreed action plan to put in place support and agree any expectations the university have from you as well as any review dates. This can include academic adjustments if required and approved by a Wellbeing or Disability Adviser.

Unable to make it work?
Stage 3 fitness to study procedures or suspensions could occur if;

  • You and staff can’t agree on an action plan
  • the concern continues
  • further issues arise
  • you fail to engage with the action plan after agreeing
  • if the concern is so significant that an action plan is not appropriate
  • Others might see an issue with your actions/behaviour that you do not recognise as an issue

Defining concerns
Serious or persistent concerns is any action or behaviour you display which puts your health, safety, wellbeing or academic process of yourself at significant risk or that of other members of the University community.

It also includes any action or behaviour you display which puts the effective operation of the University at significant risk.

Attending a case conference
You will be invited to a case conference and may attend with someone such as an advisor from Sunderland Students Union, a close friend or a family member. If you are disabled you can also be accompanied by a support worker such as a mental health worker or a sign language interpreter.

Conducting a case conference
The case conference, whilst a serious matter, is there to be a supportive process. It will draw upon expert professional judgement and attendees may include academic or professional services staff where needed.

Membership of the group would involve members of the University Incident Group on a need to know basis. University professional services staff in attendance will act in an advisory capacity but they will not advocate for you, only an advisor from Sunderland Students Union can do so.

Appropriate medical evidence may include a letter from your GP or a report from a Clinical Psychologist or Psychiatrist. The University reserves the right to make decisions based on the full information available in each case and is not obliged to act upon the specific opinions or recommendations of any professional.

Outcomes of a case conference
Possible outcomes to the case conference includes;
• Additional support strategies.
• A change in the mode of study
• Interruption of your studies with a leave of absence
• Referring you to Stage 4 with the recommendation to suspend or withdraw you from the university

Why suspend/withdraw
The decision to suspend or withdraw a student does not come lightly to the university and only used where they feel it apparent that;

  • It is in the interests of your own health and welfare
  • It is in the interests of other students and staff health and welfare
  • It is not appropriate for you to continue in your studies

Suspensions will last as long as the University believes that the risk or issue is not likely to recur throughout the rest of your study should you return; if this is long enough that you are unable to return in a reasonable timeframe withdrawal may be necessary.

Who Decides
When a recommendation is made it will be considered by a member of the University Executive Team to decide if you should be withdrawn or suspended.

If you are suspended the Deputy Vice-Chancellor will consider the advice and inform you in writing of their decision with reference to the conditions of the suspension, what support will be available to you, any arrangements for your return and your right of appeal.

Implementation of suspensions
The University will not suspend you for more than one academic year, if it is felt the risk or issues is likely to recur after this maximum period of time then withdrawal is the more likely outcome.

Initially your suspension will be reviewed after the first 4 weeks.

If you If you remain dissatisfied with the handling of fitness to study concerns you may wish to raise a formal complaint within 3 months; although we recommend acting sooner.

If you have been suspended or withdrawn and you wish to challenge this you may be able to appeal the fitness to study outcome.

Page last reviewed: 01/03/2019
Next review due: 31/08/2020