Special Studies Program Procedure

Document Number000811
Date Approved23 April 2007
Date Last Amended28 August 2013

1.      Context

This procedure supports the implementation of the Special Studies Program (SSP) Policy and must be read in conjunction with that document.

2.      Important Dates

2.1.     Timetable

Applications for SSP are called for twice a year in: (i) June for the first six months of the following year, and (ii) November for the second six months of the following year.

2.2.     Lodgement

i.         Eligible staff seeking approval to undertake SSP must apply by completing the Special Studies Program Application Form.

ii.         Staff must forward their SSP Application Form to the Head of School prior to the closing date so the Head of School can complete the recommendation section of the SSP Application Form. The Head of School must return the application form to the applicant.

iii.        Staff must acknowledge the recommendation from the Head of School on the SSP Application Form (see Section 14 of the application form) and forward the completed document to their Pro Vice-Chancellor by the closing date for consideration by the Faculty SSP Committee.

2.3.     Late Applications

Late applications may be lodged only in exceptional circumstances and with the written approval of the relevant Pro Vice-Chancellor.

3.      Conditions

3.1.     Leave

i.         Staff are required to identify and apply for any leave to be taken in conjunction with SSP at the time they submit their application for SSP.

ii.         Staff must include the following minimum amount of annual leave in their period of SSP:

a)  one week annual leave in a three months SSP;

b)  two weeks annual leave in a six months SSP;

c)  four weeks annual leave in a twelve months SSP.

iii.        All leave taken in conjunction with SSP requires specific approval at the time the SSP application is approved. This includes annual leave, long service leave and leave without pay.

iv.        Requests for additional leave submitted after SSP is approved will not normally be considered.

3.2.     Conference Attendance

i.         A staff member must obtain approval if they wish to attend any conference(s) in addition to those included in the approved SSP application (see Variations to an Approved Program 6.2 below).

ii.        Staff are not entitled to claim expenses for conferences attended while on SSP that were not part of the approved plan for SSP.

3.3.     Reporting on Completion of SSP

i.         On return to duties following SSP staff are required :

a)             within one month of their return, to provide a written report to the Head of School, who should provide comments and forward the report to the Faculty SSP Committee and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic).

b)             within three months of their return, to make a presentation  to colleagues and/or students as appropriate on their scholarly teaching, research, and/or leadership work during SSP.

ii.        The report should provide:

a)             sufficient detail to enable judgement of the staff member’s success in carrying out the SSP;

b)             an evaluation of whether the SSP has led to a development, maintenance or improvement of work related skills, knowledge and competencies; and

c)             an explanation  of the reasons for changing a program where the proposed program has been altered.

iii.        Staff may be asked to resubmit if their report is considered unsatisfactory by the Pro Vice-Chancellor and/or the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic).

iv.        When satisfied with the report, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) will forward the report summary to the Marketing and Public Relations for use in University publications as appropriate.

v.        A copy of the report will also be sent to Human Resource Services for placement on the staff member’s file. Future applications for SSP will be considered in the light of previous reports as well as other information provided with the application. Staff should retain a copy of their report.

vi.        An application for SSP will not be considered if the report from a previous SSP has not been submitted or if the report from a previous SSP has been deemed by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) to be unsatisfactory.

vii.       If a report is not provided or if the outcome of a staff member’s SSP is found to be unsatisfactory by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) the University’s provisions for handling unsatisfactory performance may be followed.

viii.      If a report is not provided or if the outcome of a staff member’s SSP is found to be unsatisfactory by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) the staff member may also be required to reimburse the travel and living expenses amounts paid by the University.

3.4.     Period of Duty to be Served After Return From SSP

i.         SSP is approved on the condition that the staff member undertakes to resume normal duties at the University on completion of the SSP period for a period at least equal to the period of the SSP absence.

ii.         Staff who do not return to duty at the University following SSP, or who leave before fulfilling the equal period of return requirement, will normally be required to repay any SSP Professional Development Allowance paid by the University. In exceptional circumstances, this requirement may be varied by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic).

4.      Report from Head of School

The Head of School will comment briefly on the following points and return the application form, with the Head of School report, to the applicant so that the staff member may then submit the completed application to the Pro Vice-Chancellor:

i.         arrangements that will be made concerning the undertaking of the staff member’s teaching, the supervision of postgraduate students and other administrative duties, and the extent to which the functioning of the School will be impacted;

ii.        the academic value of the proposed SSP (consistent with Section 5.2 of this procedure) to the staff member concerned, to the School, the Faculty, and the University. In making comments under this heading the Head of School will consult with senior members of the School who are able to offer advice and will indicate the extent of this consultation. Comments should include how the proposed SSP fits with the Faculty’s Operational Plan; and

iii.        whether the proposed SSP will achieve the objective of developing, maintaining or improving employment related skills, knowledge and competencies, as defined in the staff member’s Managing for Performance process.

5.      Faculty SSP Committee

5.1.     Composition of the Faculty SSP Committee

i.         The Faculty SSP Committee will normally consist of the Pro Vice-Chancellor, the Heads of School within the Faculty, and at least one other academic staff member of the Faculty.

ii.         It will be chaired by the Pro Vice-Chancellor.

iii.        Its composition must meet the University’s policy on gender inclusive membership of University committees.

5.2.     Criteria for Approval

An application can only be approved if it would result in significant benefit to the staff member’s teaching, research, leadership, and/or other scholarly activities beyond that which would occur in the course of the staff member’s normal University activities.

The Faculty SSP Committee must be satisfied that the following eight criteria have been met:

i.         The proposed SSP activities are academically sound and essentially concerned with research, teaching, the advancement of a higher degree, leadership development, and/or other relevant scholarly activities.

ii.         The location(s) for the SSP is/are well suited to the proposed activities and the period requested is appropriate.

iii.        The proposed program will enhance the contribution of the staff member to scholarly teaching and/or research with significant benefit to the School, Faculty and the University.

iv.        The staff member has the capacity to make effective use of the opportunity, having either a proven and sustained record of productivity in research, teaching and/or scholarship or having considerable potential for such achievement.

v.        The staff member has the support of the Head of School and the SSP is consistent with the School and Faculty’s needs and plans.

vi.        The staff member has successfully completed any similar activities previously undertaken, including submission of reports.

vii.       Satisfactory arrangements have been made with regard to the staff member’s teaching, the supervision of postgraduate students (including the appointment of an alternative supervisor) and other administrative duties.

viii.      Consideration has been given to the health, safety and wellbeing of a staff member in geographical areas identified as posing potential danger or high risk. Travel to restricted areas will be governed by the University’s Policy on travel and by the travel advisories of  the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

5.3.     Exceptions

i.         Dependent upon the level of funding available in a Faculty and/or the Faculty’s ability to sustain the absence of all eligible applicants, some applications that have met the above criteria may not be able to be approved.

ii.         In cases where a Faculty SSP Committee cannot recommend for approval all applications that have met the above criteria, priority should go to applicants who are submitting their first SSP application and to applicants who have a very strong record of scholarly activity.

iii.        Applications that have met all criteria but have been unable to be approved should be given priority in a subsequent application round, assuming that they again meet all of the criteria.

6.      Approval of SSP

i.         The decision to approve or not approve the application for SSP lies with the Pro Vice-Chancellor on the basis of recommendations from the Faculty SSP Committee.

ii.         The recommendation to approve or not approve an application for SSP, together with documentation considered by the Faculty SSP Committee, including reasons for the decision and details of any previous SSP, are to be forwarded by the Pro Vice-Chancellor to:

a)             the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) for information, and

b)             to Human Resource Services for placement on the staff member’s file.

6.1.     Alternatives to SSP

In the following circumstances, arrangements other than SSP are more appropriate.

i.         Where a staff member is to participate in a conference or meeting or to undertake academic or community service (eg as an examiner, adviser or consultant).

ii.         Where a staff member is seeking time to write up work it may be possible for the Head of School to rearrange duties to allow adequate uninterrupted time. It is in such periods as well as the normal course of duties, that new coursework should be developed, and degree study, creative work or research pursued.

iii.        Where the staff member is to work for an institution or organization which they visit for a significant period of time and for which salary and/or reimbursement of costs are available, leave without pay for part or all of the period may be appropriate. Alternatively, secondment arrangements may be possible.

iv.        Where it can be arranged between individuals or Schools and all affected parties agree, staff exchanges are possible. In this case each individual remains on his or her home institution’s payroll while fulfilling a full range of duties and responsibilities for, and defined by, the host institution.

6.2.     Variation to an Approved Program

i.         Variations to an approved SSP will only be permitted if formally approved.

ii.        The relevant Head of School may approve any minor variation to the program, while major variations to SSP will require a new application (refer to 6.3 below for what constitutes a major or minor variation).

iii.        In cases where a variation to an SSP is approved, documentation confirming the details of the variation is to be forwarded by the Head of School to Human Resource Services for placement on the staff member’s file.

iv.       Staff members should note that variations to an approved SSP may result in the need to repay funds to the University.

6.3.     Examples of Major and Minor Variations to an Approved Program

i.         Examples of major variations to SSP include, but are not limited to:

a)             substitution of a different project for the approved project;

b)             move to a different country;

c)             change of institution;

d)             attendance at extra conference(s) totaling 10 working days or more;

e)             change of the semester/trimester in which the SSP will occur; and

 f)             variation of the approved SSP by 10 working days or more.

ii.        Examples of ‘minor variations’ to SSP include, but are not limited to:

a)             a variation to the dates for the SSP within the same semester/trimester which changes the duration by less than 10 working days;attendance at extra conference(s) totaling less than 10 working days;

b)             inclusion of short visits to additional institutions and countries (less than 10 working days in duration); and

c)             cancellation of a portion of the program (less than 10 working days in duration).

6.4.     Extension of Time

Staff who have accrued sufficient entitlement and wish to extend the period of SSP beyond the six months provided in the SSP Policy, must meet at least one of the following criteria and obtain written approval from the  Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic):

i.         it is the staff member’s first period of SSP at this or any other university and is for the purpose of establishing his or her academic standing; and or

ii.         the intrinsic nature of the project requires more than six months; and/or

iii.        the staff member has held a senior management or governance position (eg Head of School, Pro Vice-Chancellor, President of Academic Senate) and needs to redevelop research and scholarship.

7.      Financial Support

7.1.     Funding

i.         There are no University sources of financial support for SSP other than those outlined in this Procedure (Refer to Section 4.6 of the Special Studies Program Policy).

ii.         Funding amounts (Schedule A) will be reviewed annually by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic).

iii.        Where costs exceed approved funding, staff members will be required to bear the excess costs.

iv.        A separate fund managed by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) will be reserved for discretionary use in cases involving serious hardship, personal disability, and other equity considerations.

7.2.     Airfares and Travel Costs

i.         The University will contribute towards an economy class, advance-purchase return airfare up to the amount contained in Schedule A.

ii.         Staff should apply for airfare/travel cost contributions six weeks ahead of the proposed departure date. Travel must be arranged through the University’s preferred provider.

7.3.     Living Expenses

Staff members will be provided with assistance towards living expenses up to the amount shown in Schedule A for overseas and outsideNew South Wales.

7.4.     Support for Family

i.         The University will contribute to the economy class, advance-purchase return airfare up to the amounts contained in Schedule A for a partner and eligible dependent children (ie children under 18)  accompanying the staff member on SSP of 2 months or longer.

ii.         In exceptional circumstances, at the discretion of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic), financial assistance in the form of airfares may be available for eligible dependent children under the age of 18 accompanying the staff member on SSP for less than 2 months.

7.5.     Supplementary Funding of SSP

i.         Staff members are permitted to supplement their SSP funding through other appropriate funds within the University, such as those associated with research and consulting.

ii.         Approval to use supplementary funds from any source within the University must be obtained from the Head of School.

iii.        To obtain approval the staff member must submit to the Head of School:

a)             a budget detailing the extra costs envisaged;

b)             the account number(s) where the supplementation is to be charged; and

c)             a signed statement that the costs are additional to those detailed in Sections 7.2, 7.3 and 7.4 and relate directly to the staff member’s approved SSP.

7.6.     Taxation

i.         The amounts paid by the University towards travel costs and living expenses are paid without deduction of taxation instalments. They will be shown in the ‘travelling or other allowances’ section of the Staff Member’s Payment Summary to enable the staff member to claim travel expenses against these payments.

ii.         The amounts will be taxed where they are not offset by allowable expenditure i.e. they  need to be substantiated by giving evidence of costs incurred. Please contact the Australian Taxation Office for advice regarding SSP and taxation. Staff are advised to retain receipts of their expenditure.

7.7.     Use of University Credit Cards

Staff members would not normally use University supplied credit cards during SSP or to support activities associated with SSP. Heads of School and approving officers must ensure that spending on credit cards does not occur while a staff member is on SSP.

8.      Insurance

i.         Staff members on SSP while fulfilling their employment duties are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits in accordance with Workers Compensation legislation. Any staff member who sustains an injury while participating in SSP should contact the University’s Workers Compensation Officer immediately for advice regarding entitlements, procedures etc. Failure to do so may affect a staff member’s access to workers compensation benefits.

ii.        The University’s Corporate Travel insurance provides travel insurance for staff travel associated with the SSP and only for the agreed dates of SSP. Spouses, partners or dependents accompanying University staff on SSP are not covered.

iii.        Should the length of SSP and associated personal travel exceed 180 days, the Risk Management Unit must be contacted to ensure insurance is arranged to cover the extended period.

iv.       Information regarding the travel insurance and emergency assistance available whilst travelling, as well as details on how to contact the emergency assistance provider, can be found here: 

v.        Under the University’s insurance policy, insurance cover is not provided for any private or personal travel in conjunction with university business or SSP. Insurance cover is only provided for the duration of the agreed SSP dates.

vi.       Details of travel arranged through the University’s preferred provider are automatically forwarded to the University’s insurance area. The approval of SSP and the arrangement of travel through the University’s preferred provider are sufficient to effect insurance cover.

vii.       All travel insurance is null and void if a University traveller uses a ticket issued in someone else’s name. University travellers should not fly on any ticket other than the one issued in their correct name as it appears in their passport.

9.      Appeals

i.         Applicants will have the right to appeal against the decision in relation to their application on the grounds that the procedure outlined in the Special Studies Program Procedure was not followed.

ii.         In the case of appeals relating to determinations about SSP, a meeting will be chaired by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic), and will involve the staff member, the Head of School, and the relevant Pro Vice-Chancellor.

iii.        The Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) will then determine the outcome.

10.    Essential Supporting Documents

Special Studies Policy 000810

SSP Application Form

SSP Report Template

11.    Related Documents

Intellectual Property Policy 000831

Travel Policy 000782

Travel Procedure 000787

Information on Insurance

Paid Outside Work Policy 000835

The University of Newcastle acknowledges the assistance provided by other universities, in particular the University of Sydney, in the preparation of this policy.


SSP – Levels of Financial Support

Type of financial support Amounts per SSP
Support for airfares/travel costs for staff member travelling for SSP purposes for a continuous period of two (2) months or more i. A$1,000 for travel in Australia, the Pacific and South East Asia; or
ii A$2,800 for travel elsewhere overseas; or
iii For other forms of travel within Australia reimbursement or payment of costs may be made up to A$1,000.
Living Away From Home Allowance where the staff member is travelling for SSP purposes and is living away from home for a continuous period of two (2) months or more Up to A$800 per calendar month, for overseas and outside New South Wales to a maximum A$4,400 per SSP period
Support for airfares/travel costs for each eligible accompanying family member travelling with the staff member for a continuous period of two (2) months or more i. A$700 for travel in Australia, the Pacific and South East Asia.
ii. A$1,500 for travel elsewhere overseas.

Note: These levels of financial support will be set annually by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic).

Approval AuthorityVice-Chancellor
Date Approved23 April 2007
Date Last Amended28 August 2013
Date for Review28 August 2016
Policy SponsorDeputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic)
Policy OwnerDirector, Human Resource Services
Policy ContactHuman Resources Special Studies Program Officer
Amendment History

Amendment to Clause 3.4.ii. to reflect fringe benefit tax legislative changes - same change to SSP Policy clause 4.7ii approved DVC(A) 28 August 2013.

Minor amendments to Date Last Amended and reference to DVC (Academic) in Schedule A, Secretariat, 22 February 2013.

Amended 22 February 2013 to bring the Procedure in line with changes in travel insurance - approved DVC(A) 22/2/13.

Reviewed: Schedule A - Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic & Global Relations), March 2010

Updated: Vice-Chancellor, 28 August 2007