COVID-19 (coronavirus): questions and answers for research

Last updated: 31 August 2021

COVID-19 restrictions

Following an update to the guidance, non-essential as well as essential research work may now be undertaken in laboratories and other research facilities, including research libraries and archives, as outlined by Scottish Government.

Researchers and postgraduate research students should continue to follow the protocols and guidance, for both laboratory and fieldwork, provided by faculties. This includes working with line managers to ensure risk assessments are kept up-to-date – this is critical to enabling research to continue but most importantly, it will help to keep you, colleagues and your research students safe. We await further guidance from the Scottish Government in respect of international travel and fieldwork.

Research FAQs for staff

When will I be able to restart my research?

At beyond Level 0, non-essential as well as essential research work can be undertaken in laboratories and other research facilities, including research libraries and archives. The advice note from Scottish Government states: 

“Given the established evidence about the importance of airborne (including aerosol) transmission of the virus, ventilation remains a key mitigation and face coverings are advised where there are larger numbers and the scope for distancing is limited. It is recognised that 2m distancing is not always possible in these environments: in the ‘beyond level 0’ scenario, a move to 1m+ is advised. Regular cleaning and support for hand hygiene practices should remain in place.”

I supervise a PGR student, what advice and guidance can I give them regarding the COVID-19 situation and any impact on their studies?

Information and guidance for students and postgraduate researchers is available on our Changes at Stirling webpages and via Canvas modules, created by the Institute for Advanced Studies.

Can I continue to work on campus?

At beyond Level 0, it is now possible to work on campus. Everyone should continue to act carefully and remain cautious. Before you return to campus, you must complete the 'Coronavirus - Workplace Induction' module on WorkRite (accessed through the Portal) and it is recommended you read the Stirling Campus Commitment, which provides an overview of the measures that the University has put in place to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of our community.

The University’s guidance on risk assessments is available via the link and staff are also reminded that the Scottish Government has a number of useful resources, including: guidance on individual occupational risk assessments and the COVID-19 age calculator.

A new agile working framework has been introduced and information on this can be found on SharePoint.

I need access to a building, what do I do?

The default position remains that those who can work from home should continue to do so – staff required to be on campus to deliver their job should gain the permission of their Dean or Executive Director. This is also the case for research activity where updated Scottish Government guidelines now allow for non-essential research, as well as essential research, to be undertaken, as outlined by Scottish Government. Researchers and postgraduate research students should continue to follow the protocols and guidance, for both laboratory and fieldwork, provided by faculties. This includes working with line managers to ensure risk assessments are kept up-to-date – this is critical to enabling research to continue but most importantly, it will help to keep you, colleagues and your research students safe.

More information can be found on the Heath and Safety pages.

What are the implications of COVID-19 on my research project funding?

Major funders have responded to the impact of the COVID-19 by offering a variety of options including no-cost extensions*, flexible reporting and spending deadlines. Keep up to date by checking your funder’s website and social media feeds for the latest information.

Here are links to COVID-19 updates from a number of major funders:

*No-cost extensions: where funders allow the project end date to be changed to a later date, to completion of the research, however it does not provide additional grant funding to cover that extended period.

I am a researcher concerned that I may not be able to fulfil the expectations of funders, due to COVID-19. What should I do?

Research funders are open to discussion with PIs and Co-Is about the feasibility of their research projects due to the impact of COVID-19.  Familiarise yourself with the current position of the funder by checking their website and social media accounts. Consider requesting an extension of the project and / or a revision to the scope or scale of the project. Where it is possible, a request for an extension should be costed.

If applying to UKRI for an extension please use the JeS system to make the request.

 

 

I'm a researcher working on an externally-funded research project. The project has paused or scaled back. So I'm unable to carry out my contracted activities. What does this mean for me?

We are aware that, for a variety of reasons, many research projects are being scaled back. This may be due to reduced capacity of those involved; limited or no access to laboratories; and changes to other ways of working. Many funders are considering the impact, and are offering no-cost extensions, however, many projects will incur costs during this period, including staff salary costs.

The University is exploring all options open to us through various government initiatives, to support organisations during the crisis, that would support a healthy and sustainable research culture and environment when research projects are able to recommence. We are actively participating in sector-wide discussions and will provide further updates on this issue as they become available.

I am a researcher and I am due to conduct research/impact work with people. What should I do?

The University advises that any activity that might expose people to unnecessary risk – such as interviews, group sessions, or activities that require participants to travel – should be in line with current government advice. As activities recommence this should only be done with ethics approval and a faculty risk assessment in place.

Can I access funding opportunities remotely?

The University subscribes to Research Professional, which you should be able to access remotely, through the Portal. If you are having any problems, please see here for support.

Research Professional has set up a page which brings together information on funding, policy, opinion and more. Visit its COVID-19 webpage for the latest information. Research Connect also has a publicly available webpage with a summary of worldwide funding news.

Message archive 2021

21 January: Research community message

Dear All,

I am writing to offer my ongoing support as we navigate this incredibly challenging start to the year. I would also like to credit your research and innovation achievements within the last year.

Latest guidance and support

Let me firstly echo the Principal’s message of support to all of our research community. It is vital that you continue to look after yourself and those around you. Do not hesitate to seek support from your Faculty or the University’s Employee Assistance Programme, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

As the University Secretary shared in her message, it remains the case that only essential research work may be undertaken in laboratories and other research facilities, as outlined by Scottish Government. Please continue to follow the protocols and guidance, for any laboratory and fieldwork, provided by faculties during the previous Level 4 restriction period. This includes working with line managers to ensure risk assessments are kept under review, remain dynamic and are up-to-date – this is critical to enabling essential research to continue but most importantly, it will help to keep you, colleagues and your research students safe.   

Interdisciplinary research progress

2020 was a year like no other. However, we came together and played, and continue to play, a significant role in understanding the impact of COVID-19 on society and the real-life problems affecting our communities. To date we have secured more than 25 funded projects related to COVID-19 research. The most recent is a UKRI funded project: ‘The impact of COVID-19 Fear: evidence to inform social, health and economic recovery - a Healthy Ageing In Scotland (HAGIS) study’ with researchers across three of our Faculties coming together to address this challenge.

Our research success, in response to the pandemic, is also reflected in our overall research progress. In any year, an increase in our research awards would have been considered a significant achievement, therefore to achieve over £14M in research awards from August 2020 to December 2020 is exceptional.

To put this into context, for the academic year 2018/2019 we were awarded £14.8M in research grants; this increased to £15.9M in 2019/2020 and in the first 5 months of 2020/2021 we have already achieved £14.2M!

Funding has been received for a fantastic range of research projects, too many to list here – but I would like to thank you all for your contribution. One example, is our successful bid to host the Scottish Hydro Nation Chair, a £3.5M investment in research and innovation from Scottish Water. The work of the Hydro Nation Chair will be closely aligned to Scotland’s International Environment Centre, a £23M investment from the Stirling and Clackmannanshire city region deal. Once again, an excellent example of the type of research funding that the city region deal investment has unlocked.

The recent announcements of the UK’s continued access to the next EU Horizon framework and the UK Government’s significant uplift in research funding is warmly welcomed.  The forthcoming Scottish Government budget will also be critical in ensuring that research, innovation and learning are maximised and placed at the centre of Scotland’s economic recovery.

Postgraduate research

We have also recognised the impact that COVID-19 has had on our postgraduate research student community and continue to provide support and information through the Institute for Advanced Studies. We have offered extensions to students who have been impacted as a result of COVID-19, and have offered financial support for those extensions to final year students in receipt of University of Stirling funding. I’m also pleased to let you know that we will be expanding this support to those at other stages of their PGR study. Details of this will be circulated very soon to students and PGR coordinators.

REF

The finishing line for the REF exercise is in sight, and an enormous amount of work has gone into the preparation of our submission. A huge effort has also gone in to showcasing our work on the website- and I know many of you have worked hard with colleagues in CMR to overhaul your web pages ahead of the REF submission.  These updates are almost concluded and will publish in the next number of weeks – if you haven’t yet finished your sections I would urge you to complete that work as soon as possible. The latest information on REF continues to publish on the REF 2021 webpages. The REF result determines our future for many years to come - reputationally, financially and personally - for each of us within our subject area team - and if we can deliver on what each UoA has promised, we will have a strong REF submission.

Our research community

Over the last ten months, we have faced a number of challenges and issues across the research landscape. Throughout the periods of lockdown and of remote working, the Associate Deans for Research, Deans of IoAS and Research Engagement, RIS and myself, continue to meet weekly to discuss these issues, provide information and guidance, and where possible seek solutions. I am particularly pleased to see work advancing on our Researcher Development Concordat.

I am grateful for all your efforts as we navigate the challenges presented by COVID-19 for research and researchers. As the COVID-19 vaccination programme picks up speed there is now grounds for hope. Let me assure you that whatever meets us over the coming months, we will continue to work together to support and advance the University’s researchers and research activity.

Best Wishes

Judith

Professor Judith Phillips

Message archive 2020

27 March: COVID-19: Research update

Dear Colleague

I am grateful to our research community for all your efforts over the last few difficult weeks as we try to navigate our way through these uncertain times.

It is critical that we continue to share information and support each other and I am continuing to meet online with Associate Deans for Research and colleagues across the University and wider sector.

You will have read that Research England has extended the deadline for REF 2021 (27 November 2020) in response to the current situation. This decision has been made in recognition of the need for institutions to divert staff time to priority areas, including those working in clinical or health-related fields.

At present, Research England has not set a new submission deadline. However, it should also be noted that the census dates for staff, impact, environment (31 July 2020) and outputs (31 December) has not altered. The deadline for panel membership (3 April 2020) has been lifted with nominations continuing until further notice.  

Research England will adapt the details of the framework to ensure the impact of COVID-19 can be taken into account. They will make decisions on this when they have greater clarity about the period of serious disruption to universities and have consulted widely. The University is logging current and potential disruptions to our REF preparations and will communicate these to REF as needed.

The new submission deadline will be notified to HEIs no later than eight months prior to the deadline.

Until we have further detail from REF, the University’s approach is to continue to work on outputs and the environment statements as much as possible, whilst recognising the extraordinary burdens currently on staff. In relation to impact case studies where testimonials are still required, we would stress that those responsible should only ask for such testimonials where it is absolutely appropriate to do so and does not involve organisations or individuals who are engaged in providing services to fighting COVID-19.

The University’s REF team is in communication with key REF-preparation personnel across the University and will keep them informed of any changes to University-level deadlines. We have made great strides in putting together a strong REF submission thanks to collective efforts and we hope to maintain this momentum, while acknowledging the difficult circumstances under which colleagues are working.

The full statement from Research England can be found here: https://www.ref.ac.uk/publications/further-update-on-coronavirus-covid-19-and-ref-timetable/

I would also like to highlight the link to our FAQs on COVID-19 guidance for researchers where you will find information on conducting your research and information relating to ethics and integrity can also be found here.

As you may also be aware, the Scottish Government, via the Chief Scientist Office, is making funding available for research aimed at tackling the challenges posed by the current COVID-19 pandemic in Scotland. Please find further information at the following link. They have requested a co-ordinated response from Universities of all applications, Susan Alexander is co-ordinating our response and can be contacted by email at susan.alexander@stir.ac.uk.  The closing date is 5pm, Wednesday 8 April 2020.

Most importantly, I would like to reiterate my thanks and support to you all at this very difficult time. Please do not hesitate to get in touch with my office, or the RIS team, to seek support on research matters.

Professor Judith Phillips
Deputy Principal (Research)

3 April: COVID-19: Research update

In recent weeks, our University community has transitioned to new ways of working in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic – and I understand that this has presented significant challenges to our research community.

Some colleagues have been able to move research online but others are having to scale back their planned activities. Meanwhile, those of you with teaching commitments have faced additional pressures as you introduce new approaches to learning and assessment. I am extremely grateful to you all for your ongoing efforts during these unprecedented times.

Funders

The situation has raised a number of questions and concerns around the implications on research funding and for those working on research projects.

Many funders have already taken a pragmatic approach by offering no-cost extensions, and flexible reporting and spending deadlines. Some are issuing rapid response calls for COVID-19 research and it was fantastic to see so many of our researchers respond to the Chief Scientist Office call issued last week. UKRI are also offering the opportunity for existing research funding to be repurposed into projects investigating COVID-19 and we will continue to share these opportunities as they arise.

I encourage you to ensure that you are familiar with the latest position of those funding your projects by visiting funders’ websites and social media channels. Links to COVID-19 updates from a number of major funders are available on the FAQs  below.

I know colleagues who are funded directly by research grants have particular concerns in relation to the current situation. Please be reassured that the University is actively participating in discussions with partners across the sector on this issue and we will provide an update at the earliest possible opportunity.

REF 2021

Following the extension of the REF 2021 deadline, a series of FAQs around REF 2021 contingency planning has been issued – providing further useful information while we await a new submission deadline.

I reiterate my thanks to our research community for all of your efforts in recent weeks – and encourage you to keep checking our dedicated COVID-19 research webpages for the latest guidance, information and updates.

Finally, I would like to remind you that nominations for the research culture awards, celebrating people and groups who contribute towards a positive research environment in the University, can be made here until Friday 17 April.

Professor Judith Phillips
Deputy Principal (Research)

27 April: COVID-19 Research Update

Dear Colleague

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your efforts as we continue to navigate through these uncertain times.

Already, we have more than 30 research projects being developed or submitted to funders in response to the COVID-19 crisis. We also anticipate hearing, in the coming weeks, about a portfolio of projects related to COVID-19 recently submitted to the Chief Scientist Office.

Additionally, our research success continues across the board and I would like to congratulate Dr Isabel Jones, Lecturer in Biological and Environmental Sciences, who will be leading a new £1.2 million project, funded through a UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Future Leaders Fellowship.

REF consultation

As you will be aware, the REF consultation survey is now open for completion. The survey consists of two questions. If you have any comments, these can be shared with Anne Donaldson, REF Manager, by close of business on Wednesday 29 April; this will allow time to collate and finalise the University’s response by the survey deadline of Tuesday 5 May.

Research grants and projects

We are continuing to update our advice and guidance for grant holders in line with information issued by funders. This advice can be found here and will continue to be updated as our understanding of the impact of the virus on our capacity to deliver research projects develops.

We are asking all PIs and Co-Is on projects to consider carefully whether requesting an extension from the funder would be beneficial to both the wellbeing of all of those involved in the project, and the outputs of the research itself.

We understand that many of you will have been seeking ways to adapt your research to the current situation. Some projects will be able to carry on with limited impact and it is important to maintain our research activity in those cases.

Some funders, such as UKRI, are offering no-cost extensions and where the funder hasn’t explicitly stated (or are perhaps an industry partner) then please initiate dialogue in order to discuss the impact on individual projects and agree next steps.

The University is exploring all options open to us through various government initiatives, to support organisations through the crisis, that will enable a healthy and sustainable research culture and environment when research projects are able to recommence.

A template letter, created by RIS, is available for use in requesting an extension, and for UKRI grants please use JeS to request an extension. The template letter is available in the FAQs below.

As you will be aware, we have created a new virtual programme for the Festival of Research (19-21 May) which can be viewed here. I look forward to engaging with you all virtually and would encourage you to register for sessions. In advance, I hope many of you will be in touch with Professor Rachel Norman, to contribute to a new series of short (10 minutes), accessible, pre-recorded lectures in relation to COVID-19. Rachel’s lecture can be viewed from the Public Policy blog.

Please do not hesitate to contact me, or the RIS team, to support you or colleagues at this time.

With best wishes,

Judith

Professor Judith Phillips
Deputy Principal (Research)

25 June: COVID-19 Research Update

Dear Colleague

I hope this finds you safe and well.

Following the Principal’s message to all staff, I wanted to provide a further update on research matters. One of the positive messages emerging from government and across the sector is the importance of research. The recent report from the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery, ‘Towards a Robust, Resilient Wellbeing Economy for Scotland’, has put education, skills, and research development and commercialisation firmly at the centre of economic recovery.  This is also reflected in the significant increase in funding allocation to BEIS of £10.36billion in financial year 2020 to 2021, which includes £8.34billion to UKRI. The Scottish Government, recognising the additional support needed to sustain our research base during this challenging financial period provided additional funding of £75m – from this we will receive £2.5m to help support the excellent research activity we do here at the University of Stirling.

We have had an excellent year in terms of winning research grants, with many significant awards in the last couple of months. I have already highlighted the amazing response there has been from across the research community to address issues related to COVID-19 and am pleased to see further recent success including: ESRC funding awarded to Stirling Management School’s Professor Abigail Marks, as well as a major study jointly led by Professor Kate Hunt and Dr Nathan Critchlow, from our Institute for Social Marketing and Health (ISMH).

We are keen to promote our research activity, including our response to COVID-19 and have undertaken a refresh of  so that this is front and centre. The web pages feature our COVID-19 research bites series, alongside news and articles published in The Conversation.

As you will have read in relation to REF, the University received a letter on 19 June confirming the revised submission deadline of 12noon, 31 March 2021, for all elements of submissions. Updated guidance on any revisions to the exercise will be published by 31 July 2020, following a further period of engagement with the HE sector and other partners. As previously advised, the staff census date of 31 July 2020 remains unchanged.

The letter also confirms an extension to the period in which examples of impact may occur, in order to be eligible for submission. The extended assessment period for impact will therefore run from 1 August 2013 to 31 December 2020. This is an extension from the previous end date of 31 July 2020. The extension has been put in place to enable case studies affected by, or focusing on the current response to, COVID-19 to be assessed in REF 2021; this is welcome and colleagues in RIS will be in touch to offer continued support with our REF plans.

I am proud of the way our research community continues to support each other and I will update further as we continue to advance plans for the Autumn semester.

Professor Judith Phillips
Deputy Principal (Research)

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