My daughter needs to extend maximum period of study, by reason of physical and mental MultiComorbidities. Her program manager emailed her the procedure like Nottingham University's.

Students do not submit extension requests themselves. The student shall submit their written request and all evidence to ALL these 3 staff members — Director of Undergraduate or Postgraduate Studies (depending on the student's degree), Department Head, Deputy Head. Departments are NOT required to submit extension requests by students. If a Department decides to further the student's request, then the Department shall send the student's request internally to the university's Education Vice Chancellor, who shall be the final decision maker.

My daughter emailed the Education Vice Chancellor, who confirmed that daughter must commence the request with her department — not directly with the V.C.

We don't want 3 departmental staff members to know about her medical conditions, for 4 reasons.

  1. Why the heck does this simple request need 3 departmental staff? Why not just 1? The best outcome is that we liaise merely with the V.C. The second best outcome is merely 1 departmental staff and the V.C. — for a total of 2 university staff.

  2. Whilst the procedure purports confidentiality, the reality is that people gossip. Law and reality differ. We cannot stop staff members from breaching confidentiality information accidentally, behind our backs or closed doors. The fewer staff involved, the better for us.

  3. Breach of confidence can be impossible and burdensome to prove. The university can argue — we have not sufficiently proved that their staff breached confidentiality. Perhaps I accidentally breached my own privacy, whilst chatting with friends who spread the information.

  4. Disclosing medical conditions to a staff member MAY discourage that staff from providing a reference. Obviously, instructors may not want to reference students who are out of the ordinary, and who has a chance of scoring poorly — whatever the reason, whether medical or not. Whilst discrimination is illegal, indirect discrimination is burdensome to prove. After all, instructors are NOT required to state reasons for refusing a reference. And IF they do state a reason, most instructors are clever enough not to inculpate themselves of discrimination. Rather than disclosing the real reason related to the student's medicine or disability, they can trump up anodyne reasons — e.g. they don't know the student well enough, or the student did not participate enough in class.

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    Since they have time-consuming administrative roles, the chances that they'd teach your daughter are greatly reduced. And, most faculty would "bend over backwards" to be fair and unbiased. I obviously cannot promise this in any particular situation, but, in general, I'd anticipate that students who have documented-and-not-publicized issues (especially if part of the story includes documentation of dealing with it and/or treating/moderating it), will not be treated prejudicially. But/and, yes, not only documenting the issue, but documenting the treatment of it... (rather than ignoring it...) Apr 16, 2022 at 3:01
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    I would consider also that department chairs and vice-chairs are extremely busy. Even if they weren't legally required to protect this information, it's highly unlikely they would be inclined to gossip about a student (possible exception if they spend a lot of their time dealing with this student's antics, and this medical condition explains why the student acts as they do). In fact, if they don't know your daughter well, they will probably forget this information quickly. On the other hand, a big argument about this policy will likely involve more people and be more memorable.
    – cag51
    Apr 16, 2022 at 3:55
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    The Director of Undergraduate Studies and Department Head both have a perfectly legitimate need to know what's going on with their students. (This of course does not mean that they need to be provided all the nitty gritty details of your daughter's medical history!) The Deputy Head then has a legitimate reason to have access to the same information as the Head. You seem to be angry about the number of people involved (3 in reality vs. 1 in your ideal imagined situation) without giving much thought to whether these people have a legitimate need to know relevant information about their students. Apr 16, 2022 at 16:31
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    I just wanted to point out, complementary to @AdamPřenosil's comment (with which I agree), that there are good reasons for the pro-VC for education (or analogous role, depending on institution) NOT to directly handle requests such as the one described in your question. Namely, the sheer volume of such requests, and the need to deal with cases in programme-specific ways (e.g. the comorbidities might affect practical work, study sessions, group work, work placements, ... ). It is far more reasonable to delegate to departments rather than for the pro-VC to micromanage.
    – Yemon Choi
    Apr 16, 2022 at 21:32
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    You seem to discard the idea that any potential referees already know that your daughter has health problems. If you know a student well enough to write a reference for them you often know when there is a problem even if you are never provided with any details. Apr 17, 2022 at 23:53

3 Answers 3


If the policy is what you have quoted, then what you are asking for is for someone to grant you an exception. Realize at the outset that this puts you in a weak negotiating position.

Also, as your daughter is legally an adult, she should be the one handling this request. I mean this not as a critique of your parenting style, but as a matter of strategy: If the staff have to refuse your daughter's request "to her face" (rather than leaving you to break the bad news), they may be more likely to accommodate her.

I see a few moves available to you in this situation.

1. Just ask

You indicated that your daughter emailed the Education Vice Chancellor and was told that the policy admits no exceptions. You also mentioned that she is OK with one of the departmental staff knowing about it. I assume she knows who this person is, so start there: Have your daughter email them and see if they offer her an exemption. She could write,

Dear __,

I would like to request to extend my maximum period of study to tend to my personal health needs. How do I file this request?

Then if this departmental staff member reiterates the policy, she can respond,

My health issues are of a sensitive nature and I would prefer to minimize the number of departmental staff involved. Is it possible to route this request through your desk only?

She should avoid giving specifics about her health conditions unless absolutely necessary.

There is no guarantee that this will work, but you will not know unless you ask. In the (not unlikely) event that her request is denied, you are left with one of the following two options.

2. Comply with the policy

This is obviously not your ideal outcome, and your concerns about gossip and social stigma are not completely farfetched. However, as Paul Garrett commented, unless you have prior evidence that this departmental office is prone to gossiping about sensitive student information, you might consider giving them the benefit of the doubt:

Since they have time-consuming administrative roles, the chances that they'd teach your daughter are greatly reduced. And, most faculty would "bend over backwards" to be fair and unbiased. I obviously cannot promise this in any particular situation, but, in general, I'd anticipate that students who have documented-and-not-publicized issues (especially if part of the story includes documentation of dealing with it and/or treating/moderating it), will not be treated prejudicially. But/and, yes, not only documenting the issue, but documenting the treatment of it... (rather than ignoring it...)

If you would like some additional reassurance, your daughter could email the trusted administrator from option 1 and ask for more specifics about what measures they take to protect student confidentiality. But be polite and avoid sounding like you are accusing them of mishandling student information before the fact.

3. Seek legal counsel

For the majority of people, this is probably a prohibitively expensive move with little risk of success.

Nonetheless, if you and your daughter are of the deep conviction that this policy is unfair, and you can afford it, a lawyer (which I am not) may be able to show that this policy imposes an unfair burden on your daughter, or find past precedent for students in similar situations receiving an exemption.

(Note that "seek legal counsel" does not mean "sue the school" or "threaten to sue them." It means simply "consult with a legal professional about what to do next." A good lawyer would explore many options before filing a lawsuit.)

  • As an American, I use the term "lawyer" in a generic sense, but I seem to recall that in the UK, "lawyer," "barrister," and "attorney" have a more specific meaning. I would welcome an edit that uses the regionally appropriate terminology.
    – Max
    Apr 16, 2022 at 4:11
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    As a UK person, "lawyer" reads fine to me. Since you ask, though, the lawyer you approach for advice is a "solicitor". A "barrister" is a kind of lawyer who pleads cases in court. You do not normally approach a barrister directly, rather your solicitor retains and briefs one if/when needed. Solicitors can make some court appearances, but not all. "Attorney" is not a job title here (except in rare specific title such as the Attorney General), rather an attorney is anyone (lawyer or otherwise) who has standing to act on behalf of another. Usually ancountered in the phrase "power of attorney". Apr 16, 2022 at 12:23
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    I would say, though, that in British English "seek legal counsel" feels very slightly off, since "counsel" is kind of formal. I think it usually refers either to your representative in a court case (which we're a long way away from here), or else to a lawyer retained by a company or a person with a lot of legal stuff going on, to represent them on an ongoing basis in their various doings. For what could easily just be a single conversation rather than a long retainer, personally I'd say "seek legal advice". If that advice is to retain counsel, then you'd seek counsel :-) Apr 16, 2022 at 12:30
  • So, maybe technically any lawyer you pay to have so much as a single legal conversation is "your counsel", but even if so I think in everyday language that's not what people usually call it here. Hopefully "legal advice" is understood to mean, "the advice of a laywer acting in their professional capacity", as opposed to, "some bit of advice that some random person on the internet gave you that happens to concern the law in some way". Apr 16, 2022 at 12:34

I am not sure that detailing medical conditions is needed. Potentially it is ok for the university to get a written statement from a doctor about her not being able to participate or execute other obligations as a student in the same intensity as planned or expected.

And BTW, i don't find your general attitude helpful for the whole matter. In personal experience Universities/Faculties/Professors are typically very understanding and helpful in making accommodations for students. I would think it would be better if you did not get involved personally in a communication with the university - that is not going to end well from that starting point of yours.


I am in the UK. I am a postgrad student, but I have experience teaching and seeing 'behind the scenes' of Uni organisation.

You have no idea how many hundreds of forms these three people will be seeing. Almost every student has one filled in at some time in their degree. The new UK student is a demanding consumer who expects all extenuating circumstances to be taken into account, and rightly so with the current cost of fees. But this means these staff members will be entirely used to reading extenuating circumstances on forms and pretty uninterested in remembering what is in the form!!

As a postgraduate student I had to fill in something I did not wish my supervisor to know about on a suspension form. The university policy for 'confidential circumstances' was to go in person and speak to the Faculty's Postgraduate Director. Read her University policies/ regulations and find what it says about how to deal with confidential reasons.

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