6.4 Interruptions and changes to study

Visa-holding students should seek advice on interruptions and changes to study from Student Visa Services.

6.4.1    Suspension of study

A suspension of study may be granted to research students who need to interrupt their studies. This is often because of circumstances largely beyond their control, for example ill-health, family or financial problems, but may also be agreed if the student wishes to take advantage of a specific career opportunity or for maternity, adoption, paternity and shared parental leave. Periods of suspension must be as short as is necessary to address, or to take advantage of, the situation. Suspensions will not be backdated for more than one month.

The Policy for Maternity, Adoption, Paternity and Shared Parental Leave for Research Students is in Annex 14. The Medical Absence Policy for Funded Research Students (in Annex 15) may also be relevant for students who receive a maintenance stipend funded by the University of Bristol and/or by a UK Research Council.

Where a student has suspended on health grounds that are related to an existing disability or a new health condition, which is likely to last 12 months or more, the student should be signposted to Disability Services to discuss appropriate support. More broadly, students who have suspended should be encouraged to check the availability of support with individual services as there may be limited access to some areas of Student Services for suspended students.

Students approaching the end of a period of suspension that has been granted for health reasons may be required to produce a letter from a medical practitioner confirming that the student is fit to return to studies. If towards the end of a period of suspension the student is not fit to return to studies, they must apply for a further suspension of study before the first one ends. 

When a suspension is approved, the research student’s final submission date is modified (maximum period of study plus any previous suspensions or extensions plus the new period of suspension) and the student pauses their study during the suspension (see Section 4.3.1 for information on the maximum period of study). The deadline is changed but the amount of time for study is not increased.

The University’s Support to Study Policy is a point of reference in this area. Support to study relates to an individual’s capacity to participate fully and satisfactorily as a student, in relation to academic studies and life generally at the University.

6.4.2 Extension of study

Permission to extend the period of study may be granted in exceptional circumstances, with compelling reasons and support from the research student’s supervisor and school, provided application is made well before the final submission date – except where there are unforeseen circumstances near the submission point and an emergency extension is required (see below). Supervisors are required to review a student’s progress no later than four months before the agreed intended submission date (see Section 5.1.2). The student should make a request for an extension, if required, shortly after this review.

The final submission date is the end of the maximum period of study plus any periods of approved suspension and/or extension. The intended submission date is the planned date for submission agreed by the supervisors and the student (see Section 9.2.2 on the timing of submission).

If there are unforeseen circumstances near the final submission date, a request may be made to the Faculty PGR Director for an emergency extension (see Section 6.4.4).

When an extension is approved, the research student’s final submission date is modified (maximum period of study plus any previous suspensions or extensions plus the new period of extension) and the student continues to study during the extension (see Section 4.3.1 for information on the maximum period of study). An extension increases the period permitted for study.

An additional fee may be payable during the period of extension of studies.

6.4.3 Suspensions, extensions, and the maximum completion period

Periods of suspension and extension do not alter the maximum completion period (see Section 4.3.2). It is recommended that suspensions and extensions in total should leave at least 24 months for the examination process to be completed (including time for any required corrections) and for the award to be approved by the Research Degrees Examination Board. The recommendation of 24 months covers both full- and part-time students, as the mode of attendance is not a factor during the examination process.

The Faculty PGR Director will consider requests for suspensions and extensions where there are legitimate reasons but the implications for the maximum completion period will be taken into account in the decision. A request that takes the total period of suspensions and extensions into the final 24 months of the maximum completion period may risk undermining the time left for the examination process. The Faculty PGR Director may therefore decide not to approve a request on these grounds.

6.4.4 Approval of suspensions and extensions

Research students may request a suspension when they need to interrupt their studies. A suspension, which pauses study, must be for as short a period as necessary to meet the individual circumstances. The guidance in Section 6.4.1 provides more information.

Research students may request an extension in exceptional circumstances, which includes the option of an emergency extension near the final submission date. An extension, which increases the time taken to complete the degree, must be for the shortest period necessary. The guidance in Section 6.4.2 provides more information.

The Faculty PGR Director of the faculty in which the research student is registered may approve periods of suspension or extension of study.

The Faculty PGR Director must consider the implications for the research student’s maximum completion period when approving requests for suspensions and extensions (see Section 6.4.3).

Requests for a suspension or extension, made on the appropriate form, must be accompanied by supporting evidence. Such evidence should include medical reports as appropriate, relevant correspondence and a work plan, including details of supervisory arrangements, covering the extra time requested. Medical evidence will be treated in confidence.

The request for a suspension or extension must be sent to the Faculty PGR Director. For complex cases, including those related to the Support to Study policy, the Faculty PGR Director may decide to refer the request to the Associate Pro-Vice Chancellor (PGR) for a decision.

In addition, the Associate Pro-Vice Chancellor (PGR) has oversight of suspensions and extensions that exceed 12 months in total and will receive regular reports listing all new instances from each Faculty Office.

Emergency extensions

The Faculty PGR Director may approve an emergency extension if there are unforeseen circumstances near the final submission date. Emergency extensions will not usually exceed ten working days (which do not include University closure days) but may exceptionally be for longer if there are acute circumstances that warrant a longer period. Retrospective emergency extensions are permissible.

Any funding body rules on extensions and suspensions will be additional to those of the University. The student must ensure that, where relevant, the approval of any relevant funding body has been obtained before a suspension or extension is granted by the University.

6.4.5 Changes in mode of attendance

Research students may request to change their mode of attendance from full-time to part-time, or vice versa. Possible reasons for such a request could include changes in a student’s personal or employment circumstances. Health reasons however should not be considered unless medical evidence indicates that the change would be of assistance to the student. A suspension, as described in Section 6.4.1, would generally be more appropriate for ill health. 

A student undertaking a research degree programme may change their mode of attendance a maximum of twice during the programme. The Faculty PGR Director will consider requests beyond this maximum if there are exceptional circumstances.

A UK Research Council or other funding body would need to be informed of, and may need to give approval for, changes in the mode of attendance for a sponsored student. The University’s regulation on changes to the mode of attendance is necessarily subordinated to the sponsor’s conditions in those cases.

It is not possible for international students who are studying in the UK on a student visa (formally known as Tier 4) to study part-time and they must therefore be registered on a full-time degree.