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1. Introduction 

By the act of enrolment, students agree to abide by the current General Regulations for Students and Programmes of Study and other regulations, rules and codes of St. George's, University of London.

Students are expected to attend all classes as required by the regulations of the course.

For post graduate courses, not all classes and scheduled activities are compulsory.

We hope this document will help students develop into professional practitioners while also being able to practise their religious beliefs. This document particularly discusses permission to go to compulsory religious holidays.

Please be aware that this policy does NOT relate to examinations or course assessment submission deadlines. With regards to exams, students who wish to apply for permission to observe religious festivals or other religious practices need to do so under the procedure outlined in the Religious Observation and Examinations Policy.

2. Number of students

Approximately 4,600 students attend SGUL. The university trains students to become healthcare professionals: nurses, physiotherapists, radiographers, doctors, paramedics and physician associates. SGUL also offers other degree courses - such as biomedical sciences - as well as postgraduate degree courses and foundation degree courses.

3. The academic timetable

The academic timetable is made up of different types of classes such as: lectures, seminars, problem based learning as well as practical sessions:-e.g. clinical skills, laboratory practicals, dissection and student selected components.

4. Setting the academic timetable

It takes the institution approximately 9 months to co ordinate the academic schedule for one year. SGUL is committed to inter-professional learning. We are keen that our students derive the benefits which come from working with students from other disciplines. This means we consider many different demands when drawing up the timetable including:

  • each programme’s individual learning objectives
  • the academic timetable slots available for 16 undergraduate and 3 postgraduate courses
  • the coordination of the individual diaries of lecturers and other health professionals
  • the availability of real patients, or actors available to act as patients
  • suitable classroom space to accommodate each class.

SGUL is aware that the academic calendar is built around the Christian calendar and that students from other religions who wish to celebrate religious festivals may experience indirect discrimination. Therefore when setting the academic timetable SGUL tries to avoid academic timetabling clash with forthcoming major religious festivals. However if a student notices that a festival is not recognised, they are encouraged to highlight this to a member of staff so that this may be included in the future. 

5. Compulsory Religious Festivals

Nevertheless given the constraints outlined above, SGUL recognises that it may not be possible for the institution to be aware of the date of every religious festival, or indeed of the dates for each of the academic timetables. Therefore it may not be possible for SGUL to avoid all known date clashes.

The compulsory festival days for the forthcoming academic year for some of the major religions are published on the Equality and Diversity page of SGUL’s website - under the ‘Religion & Belief’ section. All staff and students can access this information.

While SGUL is aware that many religions have numerous religious festivals or practices it would be impractical for the institution to attempt to accommodate all of these and therefore not ‘reasonable’. Therefore SGUL only undertakes to attempt to accommodate compulsory festivals or practices where possible.

SGUL takes advice from faith leaders as to which festivals or practices are deemed compulsory.

6. Checking religious observance dates against the dates of the academic timetable

If any student wishes to observe a compulsory religious festival or practice it is their responsibility to check their religious observance dates against the dates of their academic timetable.

In the main, most first year undergraduate students begin the academic year in September or October of that year. Registry sends all new students provisional term dates in January and confirmed dates in June. This enables students to check these dates against their own religious calendar.

All existing students receive provisional term dates in the January before the start of each academic year and these dates are confirmed shortly afterwards. These dates can be found on the Registry homepage on the portal.

For postgraduate taught courses, the schedule for the whole course is given out in advance.

7. How to make a formal application to observe a religious festival or other religious practice on admission

Given the time it takes the institution to co ordinate the timetabling schedule – as outlined in point 3-, on admission to St Georges all new students are asked to formally inform their Prorgramme Administrator, by completing the application form in the PDF download of this policy, of:

  • the dates of any religious festivals they would like to request they be permitted time off to observe
  • any other religious practices they would also like to request they be permitted time off to observe

if such observance will prevent attendance at an educational session.

Students who wish to notify Registry of their wish to observe a religious festival -if the festival falls within term dates- or other religious practice need to make a formal application.

An application from can be downloaded from the student centre page on the portal or picked up directly from the student centre.

When making a formal application all students must adhere to the following procedure.

Please complete the application form.

  • made in written or electronic form
  • addressed to the relevant programme administrator in Registry/Joint Faculty for the programme of study the student is on.

It must include the:

  • student’s name
  • student’s religion
  • compulsory festival date(s) they would like to observe
  • specific times of the day when the student will need to observe the compulsory religious festival
  • Any other compulsory religious practices which the student wishes to request SGUL accommodate.

All written requests will be kept with the student’s personal file held in Registry/Joint Faculty.

8. Deadline for making an application

All applications for the academic year must be made as close as possible to the start of that academic year - and no later than 12 November (or the nearest Friday before this date in November) to include festival date(s) for that academic year up to, and including, 11 November of the next academic year.

SGUL will do its best to offer a reasonable adjustment if the institution is made aware -within the specified time frame- of any potential date clash - taking into account the constraints listed in point 3 and point 15 -

9. Late applications: unauthorised absence

Students need to be aware that given the constraints mentioned above all applications submitted late i.e. after the deadline stated above, WILL NOT BE CONSIDERED.

Therefore if a student:

  • Fails to apply to observe a religious festival or other religious practice
  • Applies, but fails to apply by the set deadline
  • Applies, but their request is refused by the university

and the student then fails to attend class or another university activity scheduled for that day(s), SGUL will treat this like any other unauthorised absence.

For instance, this absence may be recorded in the relevant Attendance record for their programme (e.g. Longitudinal Professional Assessment for MBBS and radiography) and may trigger concerns about professionalism and relevant committees (e.g. Professional Behaviour Process/ Student Progress Monitoring Process).

10. Keeping a record of each student’s original request

Registry will keep a record of all student requests for religious accommodations to be made.

The relevant programme administer will then re-submit these existing applications as a reminder to the Course Director each year – along with new applications by the annual 12 November deadline, thus saving students from making a fresh application each year.

11. Initial assessment of application by Course Director

Under the law each such request has to be examined individually to see whether it would be ‘reasonable’ for SGUL to make an accommodation. 

Therefore immediately after the application deadline, all applications will be sent to the relevant Course Director by the appropriate administrator for that programme in Registry/Joint Faculty.

The Course Director may then consult with his or her colleagues to discuss the practicalities of making a reasonable accommodation.

12. Final assessment of application by panel

A panel will meet within 10 days of the receipt of application deadline to review the recommendations of the Course Directors. This panel will be made up of:

  • the Academic Registrar
  • the Students Union Vice President :Education & Welfare
  • the Associate Dean for Widening Participation
  • the Equality and Diversity Adviser
  • the relevant Course Director for the programme of each student who has made an application
  • Chair of the Interfaith Forum
  • a staff member from Registry: to keep minutes of the meeting.

13. Documentation of any decision made

A staff member from Registry will be nominated by the Secretary & Academic Registrar to document:

  • all decisions made
  • requests agreed: the Course Director’s suggestions as to how the university could make a reasonable accommodation
  • requests refused: how the Course Director considered all available options.

It is very important that all the decisions and the reasons for making them are captured in writing as they form SGUL’s ‘objective justification’ evidence for accommodating/not accommodating any student’s request.

14. Notification of initial decision to support or refuse an application

Each student who makes an application will receive written notification of the Course Director’s decision to support or refuse their request within three working days of the Panel meeting. Notification of the panel’s decision will be sent by email to the student by the relevant programme administrator.

If a request has been refused, the student will also be given reasons why this is the case.

A copy of this document will be places on the student’s personal file in Registry/Joint Faculty file by the relevant programme administrator.

15. Notification of how an accommodation will be made

If the decision has been made to support the student’s request, then within 10 working days of the Panel meeting, the Course Director will agree how a reasonable accommodation will be made. Notification of the Course Director’s decision will be sent by email to the student by the relevant programme administrator.

16. Deciding whether an accommodation may be offered

If an accommodation is to be considered, the university may need to take into account a range of issues, such as:

  • Is the requested festival or practice to be observed, compulsory?
  • Is the amount of time off requested compatible with the individual’s training to become a future health professional? Will the individual student’s learning objectives be compromised?
  • Will any accommodation have a detrimental effect on other students’ learning?
  • Is it practically possible for SGUL to make alternative arrangements? Are there any constraints such as limited financial resources, access to physical space, finding and briefing a tutor?
  • Will the inter-professional mix of the group be unduly affected? (e.g. that a group of 8 students in a CBL include a mix of biomedical science, medicine, physiotherapy and diagnostic radiography students – if a student from one of these disciplines wishes to withdraw and this would impact on their contribution to the discussion/case and therefore to other student learning)

SGUL can only accommodate such requests if it is reasonable for the Institution to do so.

17. Examples of accommodations which may be offered

SGUL is committed to equality and diversity and wishes to support all its students by offering reasonable accommodation wherever possible. We recognise that there are different student groups such as Seven Day Adventists and Jewish students who need to leave teaching sessions early on a Friday or Muslim Students who may have Friday prayers or want to break their fast during Ramadan. We would encourage both staff and students to negotiate this effectively. We cannot rearrange sessions or provide additional teaching opportunities, but students may negotiate arriving late/ leaving earlier for a class provided that to do so will cause minimal disruption. Students wishing to observe Friday prayers are asked to let their tutor know in advance as a courtesy, and enter or leave the classroom with minimal noise or disruption.

During Ramadan and in the winter months, staff might ask if anyone will need to break their fast at sundown. This behaviour will model best practice to students and inform other students who may not be off the same faith.

If a student is on a placement and would like to observe Friday Prayers, this will need to be discussed with the relevant clinician.

Other reasonable accommodation could include:

  • The choice of an earlier or later slot for a particular class
  • A podcast of the lecture so students can access it via the internet
  • Relevant handouts and main points covered in the session displayed on the relevant VLE (e.g. Moodle, Study space)
  • A list of resources available in the library which cover the content of the class displayed on Moodle/Study Space
  • An opportunity to sit in on another clinic at another time.

Nevertheless SGUL has to balance all such requests with the needs of both the university and its other students and therefore the solutions outlined above may not be appropriate in all cases.

18. Examples of reasons why a request may be turned down 

Reasons why a request may be turned down include:

Request to attend a non-compulsory pilgrimage

Students may request to make a non-compulsory pilgrimage. While the institution is aware that some students may wish to undertake a pilgrimage, many pilgrimages are not compulsory or else may be carried out at time which does not affect a student’s studies. Such requests do not meet the criteria under the policy.

Request to attend a non-compulsory religious festival

Students may request to attend religious festivals which are not compulsory. Religions may have many festivals but students may only apply to be absent for religious festivals which are compulsory for them to observe. SGUL may seek advice and guidance from its network of faith leaders regarding the particular significance of religious festivals.

Request to attend an historic event

Students may request to attend an historic event such as a visit to the UK by a religious leader, or perhaps a religious celebration or rally. While SGUL recognises that such an event might be highly significant, if it is not a compulsory religious festival SGUL is not obliged to authorise any such absence.

Request to attend Muslim Friday prayers

In order to accommodate prayers for Muslims, some students may feel that it would be appropriate to suggest that no lessons are taught on Fridays. However to accommodate the wide variety of programmes within the limited teaching facilities at St Georges, it is necessary to arrange teaching on Fridays and therefore such a request would not be considered ‘reasonable’. Due to the frequency of prayer times in the day and the variability of the times in the day at which they occur throughout the year, it is also not possible to make amendments to the timetable to accommodate Friday prayers for Muslims. However in many cases, the institution and course teams have made some reasonable adjustments. For instance, to minimise the potential disruption to learners, small group teaching is avoided on Friday afternoons as much as possible. Nevertheless, St George’s respects the individual’s desire to observe Friday prayers, and guidance on how to negotiate this is provided in point 17 above.

Request to miss a clinical placement/ attachment

Students on clinical placements/attachments need to be aware that they may be required to work outside ordinary hours including occasional evenings or weekends. Therefore it may not always be feasible to re-arrange clinics or teaching sessions.

The activity is a key requirement for completion of the course

There may be a need for a particular experience to be gained as part of the course at a set time. If a particular class or activity is a key requirement for completion of the course and qualification for an award, SGUL may consider that it is unable to make an accommodation if the student is to complete their course and obtain an award. For instance, for MBBS students certain placement activity may only occur once during the academic year. If a student misses these placements this may mean they are not eligible to enter Finals.

Effect on other students

The accommodation will have an unduly detrimental effect on other students’ learning.

Practical constraints

After due consideration, it may not be practically possible for SGUL to make alternative arrangements due to financial, physical or other constraints. For instance it may not be possible to re-run a practical class in a laboratory.

19. Annual consideration of a student’s original request: the ‘rolling over’ process for agreed applications

Once the panel has approved a student’s original application to observe a compulsory religious festival or practice, there is no need for the student to re-apply for the same accommodation to be made for the following years.

Instead the programme administrator for each programme will ensure that the student’s request is provisionally ‘rolled over’ for each successive year the student studies at SGUL. Providing there is no difficulty (please see point 18 above) the Course Director will continue to give permission for a reasonable accommodation made to the student’s timetable to enable them to observe their religion or belief. Again notification of any decision and how the accommodation will be made will be sent by email to the student by the relevant programme administrator as previously described.

Nevertheless all students should be aware that the:

  • timings of certain religious festivals may fluctuate each year.
  • University’s timetable may be subject to alterations each academic year.
  • courses for each academic year make different demands on students as they progress through their programme

Therefore because of these shifting constraints, students should understand that because a request was granted and a reasonable accommodation made in a previous academic year, this does not necessarily mean SGUL will be in a position to accommodate the same request in subsequent academic years.

Similarly, because all requests are made on an individual basis, students must not assume that because SGUL is able to accommodate one student it will automatically be able to accommodate another, even if this concerns the same religious practice.

Should there be any difficulty in meeting a student’s request one particular year, the Course Director will refer the matter to the Panel meeting for further discussion. Again notification of any decision, how the accommodation will be made, or reasons for refusing an application will be sent by email to the student by the relevant programme administrator.

20. Additional requests

Should an existing student wish to make a new request, then they should make a fresh application in accordance with the procedure outlined at point 7.

21. Monitoring

Each programme administrator will keep accurate records of:

  • requests received
  • details of any accommodations made
  • reasons for any decision to refuse to make a reasonable accommodation.

This data (anonymised) will be compiled into a report by the Equality and Diversity Manager and submitted annually to the Equality and Diversity Committee for monitoring purposes.

22. Appeal process

Should students wish to appeal the decision made by the panel they may use the procedures set out in the Student Appeals Committee Procedure. An appeal must be lodged within ten working days from the date of notice of the decision of the panel.

In the case of an appeal against a decision of a Panel established under the Religious Observance and Academic Timetabling Policy the Appeals Committee shall have the following powers:

  1. Uphold the decision of the Panel in full;
  2. Allow the appeal and permit the student his/her request.

 

 

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