Mitigating circumstances in relation to assessment
The University Policy on Mitigating Circumstances in relation to assessment applies to all Heriot-Watt students and all forms of assessment and covers all modes and locations of study.
There are circumstances which, through no fault of your own, may have affected your performance in an assessment (exams or other assessment), meaning that the assessment has not accurately measured your ability. These circumstances are described as ‘mitigating circumstances’ (previously ‘special circumstances’). You can submit an application to have mitigating circumstances taken into account.
How to submit an application for consideration of mitigating circumstances
1. Check in the policy that the circumstances are acceptable grounds for an application;
2. Complete an application form and provide supporting documentary evidence (e.g. medical certificate/letter from counselling staff/police report);
3. Submit the application and evidence to the School office as soon as possible (normally within 5 working days) after the events under consideration occur and at least within 5 days of the end of the exam diet. Late applications may not be considered.
Policy and Application Form
For further information
Contact your Personal Tutor in the first instance. Further support can be obtained from:
Scottish Borders, Orkney, Dubai and Malaysia campuses
Contact the student advisors listed.
This is an example of an application which would be successful:
A student is ill and unable to attend examinations. The student submits a completed application form for consideration of mitigating circumstances together with a medical certificate.
This is considered and evaluated by the Mitigating Circumstances Committee in the School. A recommendation is made to the Exam Board that, in light of the student’s assessment profile and on the basis of the evidence provided, the circumstances presented are sufficient to support a change in decision regarding progression. The student is able to sit the missed exams at the next exam diet as the first attempt.
This is an example of an application which would not be successful:
Two weeks after an assessment deadline, a student who has not submitted the assessment, applies for consideration of mitigating circumstances. No documentary evidence is provided and the student lists numerous reasons, e.g. computer/printer problems, illness. On further discussions with the academic mentor and other staff members it becomes clear that the assessment has not been attempted and there is no evidence to support the student’s claims.
The application is considered by the Mitigating Circumstances Committee in the School. A recommendation is made to the Exam Board that no evidence has been presented in support of the case. No marks are awarded for the assessment.
What constitutes a ‘Mitigating Circumstance’?
There are circumstances which, through no fault of your own, mean that the assessment (whether examinations or other types of assessment) has not accurately measured your ability or else could not be completed in a timely manner. Such circumstances are unfair to the student/s and are not an accurate representation of the expected level of performance. Examples may include (this is not exhaustive):
- You having a ‘significant illness’ on the day of an exam
- A flood in a city preventing an exam taking place
- Or political upheaval disrupting the study and learning of a group of students
- Significant illness or accident affecting the student
- Bereavement – death of a close relative or significant other
- Significant adverse personal or family circumstances
- Other significant exceptional factors that are outside the your control (e.g. Jury Service, although student assessments would normally be a reason for a student to be permitted to stand down), or for which there is evidence of stress caused
- Circumstances affecting the University’s ability to schedule, set or deliver courses and/or assessments, including marking of assessments, e.g. staff participation in industrial action, or problems affecting infrastructure or IT systems
Such circumstances are described as ‘mitigating circumstances’.
Where can I get advice on the Mitigating Circumstances process?
Your Personal Tutor is a member of staff assigned to you in order to provide the first point of contact for advice or assistance on academic and non-academic matters. Student Support and Accommodation will be able to provide advice on the process. The Student Union Advice Hub will also give you support and make you aware of your rights during this process.
It is important to note that making your Personal Tutor aware of a mitigating circumstance does not constitute the beginning of the formal process. This begins when you submit a Mitigating Circumstances Policy to your Head of School.
What information must I include in any Mitigating Circumstances application?
In all cases independent documentary evidence, such as medical certificates, must be provided to verify mitigating circumstances. Academic Mentors may also provide information about circumstances based on meetings and conversations with you, but do not necessarily attend the Mitigating Circumstances Committee. Student Support and Accommodation may, in addition, provide further supporting evidence.
It is your responsibility to ensure that this information accompanies any application.
The confidential nature of information provided in support of your application for consideration of mitigating circumstances will be respected by Heriot-Watt University in compliance with data protection law. Confidential information will only be shared with the relevant individuals within the University on a ‘need to know’ basis, all of whom are required to keep applications securely to avoid unauthorised access or other breaches of information security. The application and any supporting evidence must be submitted in a sealed envelope marked ‘Mitigating Circumstances, Private and Confidential’.
Where can I find the full Mitigating Circumstances policy?
The information in these FAQs is taken from this policy and it will be used by the Mitigating Circumstances Committee when considering your case.
How long do I have after an event to submit a Mitigating Circumstance application?
The form and supporting evidence must be submitted as soon as possible (normally within five working days for on-campus students, unless the Head of School or nominee accepts a later submission) after the events under consideration occur and, if relating to examinations, within five working days of the end of the examination diet.
Is notifying my personal tutor or course leader of a mitigating circumstance enough to constitute an official mitigating circumstances process?
No. It is an important first step in notifying the School of an issue which will likely affect your ability to perform to your academic best. Students must submit a mitigating circumstances form, with supporting evidence, to your Head of School within five working days of the event occurring.
What if I don’t have evidence to substantiate my case?
It is important that you provide the Mitigating Circumstances Committee with supporting evidence. You should note that the School cannot normally respond to your circumstances if they remain unaware of relevant information. It is also important to submit all supporting evidence with your initial application. This is because information which is withheld from the Mitigating Circumstances Committee or Exam Board will not normally be admissible during any subsequent appeal against the Committee or Board’s original decision.
On very rare occasions, the Mitigating Circumstances Committee may accept your case without supporting evidence. Student Support and Accommodation and the Student Union Advice Hub will be able to assist you fully if you think this may apply to you.
How is my case considered?
A Mitigating Circumstances Committee is set up within the School to consider your claim and supporting evidence. The Committee will take into account the following factors when considering an application:
- Seriousness of circumstances
- Evidence presented
- Amount of work affected by the circumstances
- Any results achieved under the circumstances which are inconsistent with unaffected periods of study
Upon submission of your mitigating circumstances you will receive an email from your School outlining the process.
What can I do if I am not satisfied with the outcome?
If you are dissatisfied with the decision of the Examiners, you are entitled to appeal under the terms of Regulation 36: Student Appeals. It is important to note that appeals shall not normally be considered if mitigating circumstances, e.g. significant illness, could have been brought to the attention of the Mitigating Circumstances Committee/Exam Board prior to a disputed decision being taken. The University’s Guidelines on Student Academic Appeal Procedures provide further guidance.