I have recently made the difficult decision to temporarily suspend my studies on medical grounds. I will be resuming university again in January to repeat a semester that I was barely able to participate in at all due to poor health this year. For people who are considering deferral or suspension of studies, here is a list of things that you need to seriously think about before making your final decision:
1. Finance – If you rely on Student Finance loans and grants, know that everybody gets a gift year of finance, so if you are redoing up to one year of study you are still entitled to get a grant and loan for that time from them. If your suspension/repeat comes under Compelling Personal Reasons (which has to be applied for directly to them), there is an unlimited amount of time that they can give you in gift years as well as having the discretion to decide whether to loan you money when you are actually on suspension and not a student at all. So basically dont assume that just because youre on a suspension or if you have to repeat a year you will automatically not be entitled to student funding as that is not the case. However anything extra you borrow you are ultimately going to have to pay back later so dont lose sight of that. Consider alternative streams of finance such as work and whether that would be feasible whilst on suspension and/or whilst studying or not. Also if you are self-funded partly or entirely, or you rely heavily on your family or partner to fund your living, make sure you have honest discussions prior to making a decision about whether that is sustainable for what could be an extra year or however long your suspension is going to add to your studies. If you are disabled and are suspending on health grounds there may be disability benefits you may be entitled to such as Personal Independence Payment and Employment Support Allowance. However you are not allowed to sign on as a job-seeker whilst on a temporary suspension as you still retain your full-time student status during that time (and likewise do not have to pay council tax).
Health – If the suspension is driven by health concerns, consider whether suspending would help your health or whether there is the potential for your health to deteriorate further or not progress either way. Obviously this can be difficult with a lot of health conditions as they are often unpredictable but its important to be realistic about your health and discuss with any healthcare professionals involved in your care what their opinions are with regards to your prognosis and managing your disability/health condition and also what they think about you suspending. They can give you valuable guidance.
General advice – Speak to as many people as possible to get advice and different viewpoints to help you make your mind. For example your partner, your parents/siblings/any other close relatives, close friends, anyone you know who has temporarily suspended (or even permanently withdrawn) from studies on medical grounds, the Welfare advisors at your uni, the disability advisors at uni, the mental wellbeing team at your uni, your personal tutor, any tutor you have a good relationship with, the student support office in your department, Student Finance, health and social care professionals engaged in your care, etc…
Year abroad – If you are supposed to be doing a year abroad as part of your degree this comes with extra thought. You will need to consider whether you still want to aim towards that or whether you would like to alter your degree title and withdraw from the year abroad if you feel it would be in your best interests not to take the risks associated with it. Again speak to people who work in the erasmus/year abroad office and people in your department who can advise you further on this.
Future employment/study – Think about what you are likely to say to explain your brief absence from study and whether you would feel comfortable admitting it was for disability or health related reasons. Employers have a legal duty not to discriminate on grounds of disability but some people are wary of whether they sometimes still do in practice so it is something to think about at least.
Accommodation – Where will you live whilst on suspension? Will you go back home and live with your parents again in the city you are originally from, or will you stay in your uni city? Will your university allow you to live in their halls of residence if you dont have registered student status? What can you afford on suspension because your income might drop?
Time – What are you going to do on your suspension? If on medical grounds, think about what steps you can take to speed up your recovery/engage with your care properly. However regardless of the reason, nobody wants to spend their suspension literally sitting about doing nothing but worrying about their health or going back to uni. Make sure you can think of things you can feasibly occupy your time with e.g. paid or voluntary work, family commitments, hobbies, learning a new skill, whatever.
Returning to uni – Is there a chance you may no longer want to return to uni at all? Do you really want to suspend temporarily or deep down do you want to withdraw from your course entirely at least due to current circumstances? That can be a difficult thing to answer but worth thinking about. Also think about what you would do if your health has not improved (or even worse, has deteriorated further) when you are supposed to be going back to uni – what would your next plan of action be? Most universities will only allow up to 2 years for a temporary suspension with no more than 1 year approved at a time. Do you feel you need to keep up some level of independent study on your suspension so you dont end up too disconnected from it and unprepared for returning? If so, is there anyone who can help you with that so you dont have to do it all alone?
University services – Find out what the uni will still let you access on suspension. For example, are you still able to join SU groups? Can you use the library? Are you allowed to receive ongoing support from disability advisors, do you retain your uni e-mail, things like that.
If this helps one person understand suspension more then it will have been worth typing it all out!