Response plan to coronavirus for UCL's Postgraduate Research students

Research students should follow the guidance produced by UCL (www.ucl.ac.uk/coronavirus) and the UK government (www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/coronavirus-covid-19-uk-government-response). The policies below will apply during this period.

This page will be updated regularly as the situation progresses and students and supervisors should check back regularly for the latest guidance.

Students should also follow their local departmental contingency plans, including plans for building access arrangements, e.g. for ongoing lab work. During this period, please make sure your supervisors and administrators are aware of any extraordinary circumstances such as illness or extended periods of travel so they know how best to support you.


For MRes students

Any advice on PGT dissertations will apply equally to MRes dissertations, as the assessment comes under the Taught programme regulations. The no detriment policies are also listed here and on Portico.


For Doctoral students


Registration/enrolment


The Student Enquires Centre is now closed to in-person visitors and in-person enrolment has been suspended. All new registrations should be deferred – we recommend until the autumn term, i.e. late September.  However, exceptions to this will be considered by Admissions on a case by case basis.

Admissions will work to defer students' offers/start dates to allow later enrolment – information on this forthcoming.

We are currently planning on September enrolments taking place as normal, albeit online if necessary. Further information on this forthcoming.


Extensions


  • Additional time:Any student who was registered as of 1 March 2020 will automatically be given 15 (FT) or 30 months (PT) of CRS (writing up) status at the time they take this up. For those currently on CRS, this has already been updated in Portico. If UCL stays under remote working conditions for longer, Research Degrees will update the timing accordingly. For students who register after 1 March and feel impacted by the current events, they can still apply for CRS extension in the normal way and this will be granted. If a student subsequently needs a further extension for another reason, they can apply, again in the normal way (this has been implemented as a new online task within Portico).
    Please note:
    • Students who interrupt their studies will also be given the automatic extension.
    • Students currently on a CRS extension have also been given an extension in Portico as above.
    • For funders who do not normally allow for a CRS period, e.g. Wellcome and UKRI: they have updated their submission deadlines as well as offering funding extensions.
      More info on this in Funding.
    • We have encouraged departments to relax the expectations around CRS during the current crisis so that research and supervision can continue as during normal registration if needed.
  • Additional funding: Please see the Funding section below.

Funding


  • Support available to all students: We have increased the maximum amount payable to postgraduate research students through the hardship fund to £3,000 and have created a new stream dedicated to the needs of PGR students: the Emergency Assistance Fund for postgraduate research students (EAF-PGR). (This has temporarily replaced the FAF.)
  • Support announced by funders: Funded students will be expected to utilise any funds their funders make available for covid related extensions in the first instance.
  • Support from UCL for funded students: For funded students in their final year of normal registration, UCL will underwrite stipend payments at the minimum UKRI rate on a monthly basis for up to 3 months.
    • Eligibility criteria:
      • Funded is defined as receiving your stipend via a payment from UCL. You can check if you receive emails from sfs@ucl.ac.uk which confirm your payments. International students who are paid a stipend directly by their funder are considered to be self-funding.
      • Final year is defined as 1 March 2020 – 31 March 2021.
      • Students who entered CRS before 1 March 2020 are not normally eligible. Contact the Doctoral School if you are unsure if this applies to you.
      • UCL is only underwriting funding which means UCL will only cover payments where the normal funder cannot pay themselves. Departments will need to provide evidence of this.
      • Students who are paid by a supervisor’s or departmental discretionary account are NOT eligible; students should enquire with the department in the first instance if further funding is available. Students, please contact your local Postgraduate Research administrator if you unsure if this applies to you; Departments, please contact the Doctoral School if you require clarification on a certain fund/grant- we realise this is not always straightforward delineation.
    • How to apply: Students should complete the online application form. When approved by the supervisor, the application will be sent to the Department for further details and final approval. The student will then receive confirmation of approval from the Doctoral School. Stipends will then be processed and paid as normal. Students should aim to complete this at least 2 months before their stipend funding runs out.
  • Support from UCL for self-funded students: See section on self-funded students.
  • Support for those writing up (CRS): We are not currently extending the funding options to those who entered CRS before 1 March 2020 in most cases. However, students not on Tier 4 visas can write up on a part-time basis, allowing them to be eligible to claim welfare benefits. N.B. If students move to part-time status at the point of CRS, they will only have 12 months to complete with any extensions granted as a result of the covid situation. In addition, students will not be eligible for full-time student benefits, e.g. council tax exemption. The local Postgraduate Research Administrator or the Student Union Advice Officer can help advise students.
  • Claiming welfare benefits: If students study on a part-time basis or are writing up on a part-time basis, they may be eligible to claim welfare benefits. Contact the local Postgraduate Research Administrator or the Student Union Advice Officer regarding queries about eligibility (and see above on CRS)

Further financial advice is available via the UCL Student Union.


Thesis and viva guidance


Initial thesis submission (pre-viva)

  • There are alternative arrangements in place for submitting a thesis at present. The Student Enquires Centre is closed (in person) so students need to upload an electronic version of their thesis to UCL Dropbox in place of a printed copy. The thesis must be sent to researchdegrees@ucl.ac.uk ONLY at this stage. The Research Degrees team, who are working remotely, will check the student's status, and whether the examiners have been appointed. They will then use UCL Dropbox to forward the e-thesis to the examiners. Examiners will receive an email from Research Degrees as well as a notification from Dropbox.
  • If the examiners need a printed copy, the student/supervisor should be allowed to send a copy to them themselves; however, please be aware that printers may be closed during this period. In this case, examiners would need to print themselves a copy or the viva should be delayed, accordingly.
  • The date Research Degrees receives the e-thesis will remain the date of submission.

Viva examination

As UCL has suspended all non-essential face to face meetings, the following options are possible for viva examinations. They are listed in preferential order, i.e. the first option should be considered before moving on to the next option, and so on.

N.B. Any student or examiner who is unwell or caring for someone who is unwell should not participate in an exam, either in person or remotely. The viva must be delayed in this case.

  • Option 1: Delay viva. This is preferable if the delay of exam will have no immediate negative impacts on the student, e.g. completion is required in order to take up a new post. Viva in person is seen to be the most reliable, supportive, and collaborative configuration for the student.
  • Option 2: Viva takes place with the student and examiners participating remotely.
    • Both examiners, the supervisor, and the student should agree to the arrangement by email including agreeing to recording (see below).
    • The agreed configuration should be noted on the joint examiners form.
    • The supervisor should be available for a phone/video call after the viva to give the student any support required regarding the outcome of the viva.
    • We strongly recommend the viva be recorded if possible and if all participants agree, but it is not mandatory. Skype and Teams both allow for recording of group calls. This is to help mitigate any issues arising as a result of the unusual circumstances and to safeguard the student. The recording should be kept until successful award of the PhD (it does not need to be submitted to anyone) and then must be deleted. N.B. Only the viva should be recorded; the pre-viva and post-viva discussions between examiners should not be recorded. Care should be taken to ensure the Teams meetings are scheduled such that this does not occur by accident. The default in Microsoft Streams is for all attendees to have access to the recording; however, the owner of the recording can adjust permissions within Streams, where the recording lives.
    • Should an IT issue occur, provisions should be made to continue the viva at a later time/date.

    Top Video Conferencing tips:

    • Faculty of Population Health have put together a helpful guide on managing recordings. Please note this is sharing of good practice and not required.
    • Microsoft Teams or a professional video conference system, e.g. Zoom, may ensure higher quality interaction than Skype (Teams is free and supported by UCL and is GDPR compliant).
    • Using headphones/headset may make it easier to hear conversations clearly.
    • Mute when you're not speaking to minimise background noise.
    • Sit with your back to a wall rather than a window.
    • Make sure everyone is aware if a recording is taking place.
    • The same common courtesies apply online as they would face to face- don’t forget to greet and say goodbye as normal.
    • Be patient and understanding when things go wrong.

Expenses for examiners

Instead of posting expense claim forms and receipts, examiners should email scans of these to researchdegrees@ucl.ac.uk. These will be more difficult to process remotely so please be patient and understanding and do not follow up with Research Degrees about this issue for now. You will be paid in due course.

If a department wishes to arrange to cover an examiner's expenses they may do so and raise an IDT to Research Degrees for the amount, provided it is within the published expense claim guidelines.

Thesis corrections

We expect that in most cases, students will be able to continue to complete their corrections remotely. However, we understand that where further bench work is needed, this will not be possible. If this is the case, please email Research Degrees to inform them and alternative arrangements will be made and/or an extension will be granted.

Final corrected submission (for award/completion)

  • Research Degrees will currently make an award on confirmation from the Library of e-thesis submission. Both the Library and Research Degrees office are currently closed on campus but they can confirm award remotely.
  • When these offices re-open, the student must submit a final, bound copy of the thesis as soon as possible. Notifications will be sent to the student accordingly. The award date will not be changed

Other progression delays


Upgrade and other progress check points, e.g. Thesis Committee meetings

  • As UCL has suspended all non-essential face to face meetings:
    • These meetings can be delayed if student, supervisors, and examiner(s) are in agreement. Timelines around these expected progress check points will be relaxed and re-evaluated as necessary. No student will be penalised for upgrading after the 18 month time-point.
    • If the student, supervisors, and examiners agree to go ahead with the progress meeting/upgrade, the Departmental Graduate Tutor (DGT) must be informed of how and when the online meeting will take place (see Top Video Conferencing tips above). In addition, the supervisor must ensure the student is aware that they are to contact the DGT in case of any issues or queries with the process, e.g. confusion/concerns about the outcome, confusion caused by IT issues, etc… Upgrade viva can be recorded if the student would find it helpful and if all are in agreement; however, it is not required. Upgrade vivas should have chairs present if any issues arise. N.B. If upgrade presentations are recorded, the owner must go into Streams to remove viewing permissions from all attendees except the student and anyone else the student has authorised.
    • If all 3 parties are not in agreement about the best way forward, it should be discussed with the DGT and further advice sought if necessary.

Delays to research and interruptions of study

  • Any delays to research caused by the coronavirus should be logged in the student's Research Log. This can simply be noted in the ‘Progress achieved’ section in the next log progress time-point, regardless of how far in the future that time-point may be; the report needn't be submitted until the student is ready to submit that 6 monthly report. If extensions are required at a future date as a result, this could be called upon as evidence.
  • For those who have concerns about your project being able to continue even post-lockdown, e.g. if you work with human participants, please get in touch with your supervisor, DGT, FGT, or the Doctoral School (usually in that order) about support with moving your research online or adapting your project aims. There is some support available via ISD within Schools to help with this.
  • Remote studying: In line with UCL's recommendations about remote working –
    • Option 1: The student could continue to study remotely, e.g. from home. Supervision meetings would continue to take place remotely, as detailed above. Fees and stipends would continue to be paid. All students have been given an automatic CRS extension for the period of remote working.
    • Option 2: The student could choose to formally interrupt their studies (in the normal way). If the student interrupts, the normal rules around interruption will apply, i.e. they will not pay fees; they will not receive stipend payments; the ‘timer’ will stop re their study progression and the timeline lengthened accordingly; Tier 4 visa could be revoked, although special advice on visas during the covid emergency applies (more on this below); they are not expected to do any research, they will not have support from UCL services; they will not receive supervision. They will, however, retain access to online resources, e.g. the library.
  • Remote Supervision: Throughout this period, if students remain normally registered, we expect supervision to take place on a monthly basis as per the Code of Practice. Supervision should take place remotely via Teams/phone/video, etc… If one of the student's supervisors is unwell, normal procedures should follow about other supervisors covering for them. If all of the supervisors are unwell, a temporary support, e.g. a Department Graduate Tutor, should be nominated in the department. A Departmental Graduate Tutor, Faculty Graduate Tutor, or Head of Department should be able to help identify suitable cover in this instance.
  • Remote resources: We are aware that being without study-conducive space and other physical resources can be challenging and demotivating. We remind students of the possibility to research online—many resources are increasingly becoming available online and our Library Services are still working remotely to support students. Some research, e.g. interviews, may be possible using software like Microsoft Teams. Students also have access to 100 GB file storage on their N: Drive and 1 TB on their OneDrive, respectively.
  • Supporting working from home: All staff and postgraduate researchers should complete an online workstation assessment. It doesn’t take very long to complete and is designed to reduce the risks of ill-health associated with using display screen equipment (DSE). Any issues you raise in the assessment will be forwarded to your supervisor, who will consider any actions necessary to make sure you can work as comfortably as possible. To complete your assessment please follow the instructions at the Safety Services website.
  • Reopening plans: See the roadmap for reopening campus. We expect most buildings to be reopened by 1 September, albeit at reduced (25%) capacity. We still expect most staff and students to work and study remotely where possible.
    • For the autumn term starting 28 September 2020, we encourage students to travel to London where possible as our campus will be open. If you aren’t able to join us in London immediately, we will provide alternative content so you can achieve the same learning wherever you are in the world. Our flexible approach, which will be in place for Term 1, means that even if your arrival on UCL campus is delayed by travel restrictions, you can continue to participate fully in our academic community and continue your studies with us, connecting with your supervisors and fellow students both on and off campus.
  • Students undertaking research abroad: Students should follow UCL's travel guidelines which are being updated daily. Affected students should log delays in their Research Log (see point 1 in this section).
  • Fieldwork: Fieldwork can restart from this week, as long as individuals wish to take part, and the activity:
    • Is in line with the plans for reopening buildings and travel advice;
    • Is supported by a risk assessment, which has been signed off by the relevant Dean. This should consider if individuals are travelling to a remote location that may affect medical evacuations/repatriation (especially if there are local air space and border restrictions); as well as the local impact of COVID-19 (e.g. number of cases and availability of healthcare provision).
  • Study leave: Students planning to undertake new fieldwork should delay departure until further notice. Further study leave requests will not be approved except under exceptional circumstances, e.g. where the fieldwork is taking place in the student's home country. For students currently on study leave, although decisions need to be made on a case-by-case basis, our general advice is to follow government guidance and have students return to their home country or wherever they consider home to be. If students choose to stay, they must be aware they could get stuck in their current location for a prolonged period; they should check they have access to healthcare wherever they are as well. If students encounter problems abroad and cannot get in touch with their supervisors/Tutor for whatever reason, they should contact Care First: Outside the UK: +44 (0)1452 623246 or Foreign & Commonwealth Office (fcocorrespondence@fco.gov.uk) +44&bsp;(0)20&bsp;7008&bsp;1500, General enquiries switchboard.

    N.B. Study leave should not be used by those simply studying off-site. The intention is for those undertaking research for a specific purpose somewhere, e.g. fieldwork.

Delays to submission/completion

  • Any delays to submission should be logged in the student's Research Log see point 1 in Delays to Research). Normal rules about students moving into CRS will apply (after 3 years FT and 5 years PT), at which time fees will no longer be collected; an automatic CRS extension for the period of closure will be applied (see Extensions). Further CRS extension requests caused by the Covid-19 pandemic are also possible.
  • We do not expect that many, if any, funding bodies will have an issue with delays in submission/completion due to coronavirus, see further under Funding. We would not expect this to have any negative impacts on the student or the university.

Doctoral skills courses and other training requirements

During this time, training points requirements will be relaxed. If a student has already signed up for a course, they will receive a notification stating whether the course has been cancelled or moved online.

Please ignore any automatic notification reminders for attending in person or stating that a course has been missed and that strike points will be applied. Strike points for missing a course have been suspended during this time. In addition, accrued strike points will not prevent be prevented from participating in all training activities.

The DocSkills courses are now online and can be found using a new app called Inkpath which you can use to find and book courses (and log your attendance). Indeed, this time may be an ideal opportunity to benefit from many online training courses, not only through DocSkills but also other online providers, e.g. UCL subscribes to LinkedIn Learning. See further resources in the appendix below. ICH stats courses are now online as well although they are only free for those within ICH.

For any further information on Doctoral Skills courses please contact docskills@ucl.ac.uk.


Advice for specific student groups


  • Tier 4 / international students
    • If the student chooses to return to their home country, they must inform UCL of their intention to leave the UK by completing the Coronavirus Return Home notification for in the ‘Visas and Immigration’ category of askUCL. Students must also inform their supervisors, DGT, and PGR administrator.
    • In addition, international students have the same options as detailed above regarding remaining registered or taking an interruption of studies. However, please keep in mind that formal interruptions could have visa implications, although special advice on visas during the covid emergency applies. Further advice can be found at the student Immigration advice and Covid-19 webpage.
    • UKCISA has posted helpful advice for international students during covid-19
    • Any other visa queries should be directed at askUCL

  • Clinical students
    • Further advice on salary arrangements for released staff can be found on the SLMS guidance page.
    • For funded clinical students: The current advice is that clinical research salaries will continue to be paid by UCL as normal; if undertaking NHS work, hours should be carefully logged. If part of a funded programme, fellows should contact their programme administrator in the first instance for support with this. If you have already initiated discussions to be paid by NHS bank, please get in touch with your local Departmental Manager ASAP to discuss best way forward.
    • Additional research time: Students should log the research time they lose- either in research log (in next progress report) or by emailing their supervisor/DGT. All students will be given an automatic writing up (CRS) extension of the duration of the closure time (this can be in addition to any interruption taken); for students currently in CRS, their completion dates have already been updated to 15 months (30 months PT). Students registered as CRS do not incur fees. The limiting factor will be Deaneries allowing for additional OOP time   they have advised this should be possible but will need to be assessed on a case by case basis. We recommend contacting your Training Programme Director. If you need further advice, please contact Elizabeth Halton in Doctoral School or Academic Careers Office.
    • Interruption & fee implications: We recommend that clinical students returning to NHS work interrupt their PhD studies. We are recommending interruption because we anticipate that clinicians may not only be unable to study during the UCL closure period but also possibly for a longer period, and that this may vary clinician to clinician. Please note we are not currently recommending that grants be interrupted as it pays the salary; only the student status will be paused.
    • Thesis corrections: All currently completing minor corrections will have an automatic 6-month extension. Contact Research Degrees to action this.

  • Self-funded students
    • We have given all students an automatic writing-up (CRS) extension to cover the closure period (see Extensions).
    • We particularly urge you to apply to the EAF detailed in the Funding section – self-funded students are given priority. We are also reviewing the fee deferral process with a view to potentially simplifying/extending normal deferral period. Interruptions are also possible if it is felt no research can be progressed during this time, which we understand may be the case particularly for those with caring responsibilities.
    • For self-funded students who truly cannot do any research at the moment, it may make more sense to interrupt- we understand that those with caring responsibilities may be particularly adversely affected during this time. If self-funded students are able to continue on at some level, we would suggest they didn't interrupt so they still have full access to supervision and other resources. They will have a CRS extension if they need additional time as a result.
    • The 3rd fee instalment has been delayed to 31 July 2020 (from the original date of 2 May). This has been applied automatically. If you have any questions about paying fees, please contact fees@ucl.ac.uk for advice.

  • Students with caring responsibilities
    • We understand that those students with caring responsibilities may find it particularly difficult to study during this time. Additional CRS extensions will be possible as a result. Interruptions are also possible if self-funding, although for funded students, we do not recommend an interruption if the student is reliant on the continuation of those funds.
    • We particularly urge you to apply to the EAF as detailed in the Funding section — those with children have priority.
    • UCL's PACT society is a volunteer group which supports carers at UCL. They are active at the moment and have ongoing virtual sessions.

Student Support and Wellbeing


We recognise this may be a stressful time for our research community, and that trying to study under these conditions can be challenging for numerous wide-ranging reasons. We urge you to stay in touch with your Graduate Tutors and supervisors during this time – they have been reminded to continue their support as normal, albeit virtually, and if this is not happening for any reason, you should get in touch with your PGR administrator, Departmental or Faculty Graduate Tutor for further advice.

UCL has also launched a new ‘Looking out for our students' campaign to keep in touch with you and help you feel cared for and supported during the current period – this is open to all students, including research students. You just need to fill out the form and you will get a call back.

For the latest advice and updates you can check UCL's Coronavirus website. Students can also use askUCL if they have any further questions. Student Support and Wellbeing can support students with wellbeing, mental health and disability issues. Doctoral students are also able to use the support available to staff, including EAP (Care First), who can be reached 24/7 at 0800 015 5630.

More wellbeing resources →


FAQs


Will my tuition fees be refunded?
At present UCL has encouraged students to continue to work as best they can from home and so is not planning to refund tuition fees. However, the fee payment due date has been extended to 31 July 2020.

I am in CRS- how am I meant to support myself?
We recommend you consider applying for welfare benefits or applying to the Financial Assistance Fund if you are temporarily struggling to support yourself. See above support for those on CRS under Funding.

When I move into CRS, will I still have access to labs and supervision?
We have encouraged departments to relax the expectations around CRS during the current crisis so that research and supervision can continue as during normal registration if needed.

Can I interrupt if I'm a Tier 4 visa student?
The engagement monitoring has currently been relaxed which should allow for interruptions if needed; however, we strongly recommend you contact the Student Visa office before making any changes as the Home Office may change their guidance at any point.

I want to move my research online—can UCL support me with this?
Yes- ISD teams within Schools may be able to help with this. Please contact the Doctoral School if you are struggling to find the right person to help you.

I'm a funded student but not in my final year—how will UCL support me?
For students not in their final year, we know you are anxious and we have not forgotten about you. We would like to ensure the final years are supported as their concern is immediate; we will be in touch about funding plans for the remaining students once UCL has re-opened and we have a clearer picture of the longterm impacts on projects.

I have caring responsibilities and it’s difficult for me to do undertake research at home at the moment- what should I do?
Caring responsibilities will be explicitly considered and prioritised, as will any effects of students and their families being directly affected by COVID-19. Their situation and the disruption that has been caused to their specific type of work will be considered when considering the length of any extension. To stress again, we are not recommending that any funded student interrupts (unless they are receiving income elsewhere, e.g. from the NHS) as we do not want to cause anyone’s income to be suddenly disrupted during this difficult time. Any student who is facing financial hardship can apply to the Financial Assistance Fund — self-funders and those with caring responsibilities are prioritised in this scheme.

Is there any support for research students with disabilities?
Yes, the Student Support and Wellbeing team continues to support students who may be experiencing barriers to remote learning and assessment.

To discuss support for students with disabilities, please request an appointment via askUCL. The ISD Assistive Tech Team is also available to offer remote support in relation to accessing and using assistive technologies to support remote learning as a disabled student.

Has your question not been answered here? Please contact the Doctoral School.
Email: docschool@ucl.ac.uk
Phone (our line is still being answered): +44 (0)207 679 1422

V8, 13 July 2020

 


Appendix: Ideas for home study


Scientist without a lab? A PhD researcher guide to Covid-19

Online learning

Infobase databases and video streaming collections

Username: JCS_Distance and Password: learning to access:

Geography and nature

Virtual tours