Special Circumstances

Sometimes there are serious events beyond your control that stop you from being able to continue your studies.

If find yourself dealing with major problems and you have to withdraw from your subjects—but census date has come and gone—you might be able to apply for Special Circumstances. If you’re eligible, we can refund your fees and overturn your fail grade.

Our Special Circumstances program recognises that serious events are sometimes beyond your control, and they can affect your ability to continue your studies. Some Special Circumstances reasons might include:

  • Medical reasons—you might become aware of a medical condition or an existing condition might change or worsen.
  • Employment conditions—there could be an increase in your employment hours or responsibilities which are beyond your control.
  • Family or personal reasons—this might include a death in the family, severe medical problems or unforeseen financial difficulties.
  • Other extenuating circumstances.

Special Circumstances can help

So long as you make your application for Special Circumstances within 12 months of withdrawing from your subject, or 12 months from the last day of the study term that you were enrolled (whichever date is earliest), approved applications can result in:

  • A refund of subject fees—when you paid for your subjects up front, then you had to stop studying after the census date.
  • A re-credit of your FEE-HELP debt—when you used FEE-HELP to cover the cost of your subjects, then you had to stop studying after the census date.
  • A grading of ‘Withdrawn without academic penalty’ (W Grade)—when you had to withdraw from your subject after the final date allowed by your university. The approval is made by your uni.

One extra thing to note—Special Circumstances doesn’t help with student loan repayment difficulties. Check our Special Circumstances FAQs for more information.


To be eligible to apply for Special Circumstances:

You must be able to provide independent evidence that you would have been unable to successfully complete your studies, and

  • The study term for your subjects has ended, and you received a ‘Failed’ grade (grade N), or
  • You’ve already withdrawn from the subjects that you’re applying for Special Circumstances, and you received a ‘Withdrawn without academic penalty’ grade (grade W).

If you can’t withdraw from your subjects by the last date to withdraw—see key dates to find out the census date of your study term—you’ll have to wait for your final grade before getting started on your Special Circumstances application. Your final grade will be listed in your enrolment history by Week 7 of the following study term.

To withdraw from your subjects, follow the steps at Withdraw from subjects.

Apply for Special Circumstances

If you’re studying a single subject, apply online in your Student Hub. If you’re studying a degree, you’ll need to apply with your university.

When you apply is important:

  • If you successfully withdraw from your subjects before the census date, you won’t need to apply for Special Circumstances because you won’t have built up any debts through FEE-HELP. See Key dates for the census date of your study term.
  • If you withdraw from subjects after the census date, but before the last day to withdraw, you can then complete your Special Circumstances application.
  • If you can’t withdraw from your subjects by the last date to withdraw, then wait until you get your final grade—usually Week 7 of the following study term. After you have your final grades for your subjects, you’ll be able to apply for Special Circumstances.

Before you apply, take a look through our frequently asked questions.

Submit your application

Single subjects

If you’re studying single subjects using FEE-HELP or paying up front, you can apply online in your Student Hub. If you need a PDF version of the Special Circumstances application form, send an email to specialcircumstances@open.edu.au.


If you’re studying a degree using HECS-HELP, you’ll need to apply directly with your uni:

Supporting documentation

You might need to include some supporting documentation from a healthcare professional, like a doctor or counsellor. If so, you’ll need to download the OUA Professional Authority form (PDF, 35 KB).

Special Circumstances application assessments

Your Special Circumstances application will be looked over by OUA or your uni—or both—depending on the nature of your request. That’s unless you’re studying your degree in a Commonwealth supported place, in which case your uni will deal with your application directly.

We’ll assess your request for a subject fee refund or a FEE-HELP re-credit. In terms of a timeline, it generally won’t take longer than 40 working days for most applications to be processed. That said, please be aware that some cases may take a longer.

If you want approval to withdraw from a subject without receiving an academic penalty, your uni will decide the case. Once they have, they’ll let you and us know what the outcome is, using their policies as a guide.

In the instance that you're not happy our assessment, you’re allowed to appeal in writing—with supporting documentation—within 28 days of getting our written advice. One of our senior officers will go over the case afresh and offer advice within 14 days.

Any further disputes relating to a re-credit of FEE-HELP can be taken to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, while those relating to refund of subject fees can be reviewed on request by an external review officer who is chosen by—but independent of—OUA. 

We're here to help

Our student advisors can assist you with your enrolment, help you plan your studies and answer any questions about how studying through OUA works.