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UPDATED March 27: Impact of Coronavirus on UKRI-supported research

27/03/2020

UPDATED March 26: Impact of Coronavirus on UKRI-supported research

The ongoing situation regarding coronavirus has significantly impacted the research and innovation community. The nature of these impacts will evolve and increase over the coming weeks and months.

UKRI Chief Executive Professor Sir Mark Walport said: “During the coronavirus pandemic, UKRI has two priorities: the safety and wellbeing of our workforce and, as far as possible, the continuation of our business as a national funder of research and innovation.

“We will work with our communities, institutions and other funding organisations to understand and respond to the impacts of coronavirus, helping to develop the necessary support to mitigate these.

“This work has already begun and will continue in the coming weeks and months, and we will provide regular, updated information. Thank you in advance for working with us to support the research and innovation systems we are proud of and that have a key role to play in responding to the global pandemic.”

Chief Executive of UK Research and Innovation, Professor Sir Mark Walport, has written (26 March) to Dr Jo Grady of the University and College Union in response to their letter to UKRI. Read a copy a copy of the letter here (PDF, 26KB).

He also wrote (19 March) to Tim Bradshaw, Chief Executive of the Russell Group, in response to the organisation’s letter to UKRI (18 March). Read a copy of the letter (PDF, 32KB)

Science Minister Amanda Solloway has written (Monday 23 March) to all Higher Education Institutions and other research institutions to express the Government’s gratitude for the vital work currently being carried out across the research sector to address the impacts of COVID-19. Read a copy of the letter (PDF, 128KB).

Information for institutions/grant holders/applicants

There will clearly be major impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on all existing awards from UKRI. We will work with the many institutions affected to understand the full extent of the issues and we will discuss these with the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy and other government departments.

We are planning that UKRI funding programmes will continue, but we will work to identify any impacts on specific calls or research disciplines.  Our funding systems - Je-S, IFS and _connect - are operating as normal.  We will review our call deadlines and, if required, extend or reopen calls in light of the impact of coronavirus. This will be considered on a case-by-case basis by the appropriate Council or fund. We will continue to receive and decide quickly on grants relevant to the management and follow-up of the coronavirus pandemic.

'No-cost' extension requests to grants impacted by coronavirus will be allowed.   

Research Excellence Framework (REF)

The REF team has today (March 24) written to heads of institutions to outline the UK higher education funding bodies’ updated position in relation to contingency planning for coronavirus for the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021.

UKRI Open Access Review Consultation

UKRI is currently consulting on its proposed Open Access Policy via an online survey consultation. The consultation was launched on 13 February 2020.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic we understand colleagues have had to prioritise other activities and responsibilities, and are adjusting to new ways of working. We recognise this change may require some additional time to prepare materials and respond to external deadlines, such as the UKRI Open Access Review Consultation.

We are therefore extending the deadline for submissions by six weeks to noon on Friday 29 May 2020. The consultation webpage will be updated in the coming days to reflect this change.

During the coronavirus pandemic, UKRI is prioritising safety and wellbeing, and as far as possible, the continuation of our business as a national funder of research and innovation. UKRI recognises there are on-going changing circumstances and this new deadline takes this into account. We will however work closely with our community and keep the position under review as the situation evolves. We will proactively notify stakeholders of any further changes to the timetable.

If you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact the Open Research Team.

Innovate UK – Covid-19 Business Support

See the latest information for businesses from Innovate UK.

Training Grants/Students

We recognise that students may find themselves unable to complete essential tasks and/or experiments in order to be ready to submit their thesis, for example due to illness, caring responsibilities or departmental or institution closures. To avoid unnecessary pressure on students, students should continue to receive their stipends and extensions to submission dates should be awarded when needed.

We recognise that extensions to submission dates due to COVID-19 will be reflected in Research Organisations’ future submission data. Student health and wellbeing should be the priority during this unprecedented and uncertain time and no penalties will be applied to Research Organisations as a result of COVID-19 extensions.

UKRI Training Grants Specific Guidance.

UKRI International

We recognise that many of our ODA projects and programmes involve international collaboration with partners in countries with fragile health systems and ICT infrastructures. So, to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of participants and partners, UKRI  urges  UK and in-country teams  to act in accordance with guidance issued by national and regional governments and adjust to virtual and remote working if possible.

UKRI Training Grants Specific New Guidance – 26 March 2020

UKRI is taking a pragmatic approach to supporting students during this time and below we cover what we expect will be the most common impacts on students.

Students unable to work or their progress is impeded by closure of their Research Organisation/COVID-19 restrictions and or caring responsibilities
In these circumstances, extensions can be approved. Students should contact the programme director of their DTP/CDT or equivalent training programme to discuss the specific nature of this extension.

Evidence required to provide extensions
UKRI has a strong working relationship with its training partnerships and expect ROs to manage any requested extension. ROs should ensure they have sufficient information/evidence to justify any extension. DTP/CDTs should keep clear records of the length and reasons for the extension and keep JES records up to date giving COVID 19 as the reason. This is important in understanding the scale of the extensions granted and cost implications.

How extensions will be covered
At the moment we have indicated that costs in the first instance should be met by grant underspend. UKRI will work closely with DTP/CDTs – who will have an excellent understanding of the magnitude of extensions – to understand the impact of these extensions, including the costs associated with the extensions (in terms of stipends and research costs). Further guidance will be provided to DTP/CDT directors in due course.

Medical personnel
We are aware that due to the coronavirus outbreak that there is an increase in demand on the clinical service and that students may be asked to undertake additional clinical sessions. Although we expect Clinical PhD fellows to fully concentrate on their research, we understand that this is an exceptional situation and we are fully supportive of any decision to reduce the time spent on research during the outbreak.

If students do decide to reduce the time spent on research, then we will agree an extension to the studentship. We will also consider supporting some modest consumable/running costs, e.g. maintaining animal colonies during the absence period. As the situation is currently uncertain please do not extend a studentship or request a grant extension (if needed) until the student returns to research full-time. However, students may wish to consider whether a suspension would be appropriate. If there will be any on-going expenditure for the student (e.g. animal maintenance, staff costs other than yourself etc.) then an extension would be required.

As a reminder, in the specific case of research with human participants the Research Organisation must ensure the requirements of the UK Policy Framework for Health and Social Care Research are met e.g. the participants’ safety and well-being and the ongoing suitability of the approved proposal or protocol in light of adverse events or other developments.

Offers for October 2020 starts
UKRI acknowledges the need for flexibility for students due to start their doctoral studies in October 2020. This situation will be informed by information nearer the time, but would encourage ROs to indicate the potential for late starts in offer letters.

International Placements
UKRI recognises that some of our funded students will currently be overseas as part of their studies (e.g. at facilities, in collaborating institutions or undertaking fieldwork). DTP/CDTs and equivalent should be in regular contact with their students on such placements. Students and their supervisors should check their insurance cover for any repatriation to the UK in cases of pandemic. Any additional costs associated with returning to the UK should be met by the training grant.

The below guidance was issued 18 March 2020.

Self-isolation

  • Where a student is ill, you should follow the standard T&Cs. For the purposes of the T&Cs, UKRI will accept any revised Government guidance regarding medical certification
     
  • Where students are not ill, but self-isolating, you should not suspend their studentship.
     
    • In many cases students will be able to work from home even if the activities undertaken change. For short periods of self-isolation, even if they cannot work, many students will have sufficient time left that they can make this up over the remainder of their doctorate. In these cases, extensions to funded periods should not be applied.
       
    • Where self-isolating undermines a student’s ability to finish their doctorate within the funded period, an extension should be considered. In keeping with UKRI T&Cs, we would expect these to be costed extensions, funded in the first instance from any underspend on the grant. Where there is no underspend, UKRI will reconcile this at the FES stage and increase grant cash limits appropriately. Examples (not exhaustive) of when an extension may need to be applied include:
       
      • A significant period of self-isolation (we do not define significant as this is likely to be proportional to the time left in the funded period)
         
      • Postponement of critical activities where alternatives are not available. Examples could include: experiments due to take place at a national/international facility which will delay the research for a significant amount of time; access to critical archives being unavailable for a significant period
         

Events/activities

  • In some cases, an activity (such as a conference or training course) due to be attended before the training grant end date will be postponed until after the grant end date. Providing the student can/wants to attend the new date please request a grant extension in the usual way. We will apply a no-cost extension to the grant to allow them to attend. To confirm (recognising it is most likely to be outside the student’s funded period as well), as an exception we will allow the cost of attending this activity to be drawn from the grant even though it is beyond the student’s funded period.
     
  • In some cases, the individual student’s funded period will be breached by a postponement, but not the training grant end date. In these cases, UKRI will not apply a grant extension as this is unnecessary. However, we will allow the cost of attending this activity to be drawn from the grant even though it is beyond the student’s funded period. We will not cover any other costs outside the funding period as per our usual T&Cs.
     

We realise that the situation is fast moving and that this guidance may need to be updated as the situation develops. UKRI will be working closely with our training partners and will provide more information in due course.

Travel

Where travel is impacted, if researchers or students cannot travel due to government/official advice, or it poses a risk to the individual (due to an underlying medical condition etc.), this can be charged to the grant in line with any other cost. If that cost cannot be absorbed by any overall underspend on the grant then UKRI will cover that small addition.

UKRI offices

Following updated government advice, UKRI’s office based staff are working from home. If you need to contact one of our teams please do so via email and/or mobile phones in the usual way. If you are due to visit one of our office locations, institutes/research establishments or Catapult for a pre-arranged meeting, please contact the relevant team. We have contingency plans in place to prioritise our core operations but there will inevitably be some disruption in the short-term as we adapt to the new working circumstances so, please bear with us.

General

UKRI is working to understand the nature of any impacts on our funded projects as the situation evolves.  This work is ongoing. Thank you to all those who have helped us identify potential issues so far.

Further information will still be provided through your established relationships, such as programme or grants teams, and we will provide further updates via our website.


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