COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Frequently Asked Questions
Due to the ongoing Novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, SGSSS, with the help of the ESRC (UKRI), our HEI partners and collaborative partners, have put together the below frequently asked questions and answers, in order to provide guidance on how your ESRC-funded studentship or fellowship may be affected. If you have queries regarding how COVID-19 will affect your studies or fellowship in general, we ask that you consult your home institution in the first instance. ESRC funded students should also refer to the latest UKRI announcements (last updated November 2020), our Open Letter to students (published on 22 May 2020) and our email regarding the new UKRI policy (sent on 16 November 2020).
If you are looking for more general information on COVID-19, a free NHS helpline has been set up on 0800 028 2816.
Should you have any additional questions not answered below, or if you believe information provided is now out-of-date (given the rapidly changing situation), please contact us via email on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sickness and Self-Isolation
As per the ESRC Postgraduate Funding Guide, you will continue to receive your stipend for up to 13 weeks of illness within a 12-month period. Furthermore, the sick leave policy has been extended to 28 weeks in a 12 month period if the sickness has been caused by the pandemic. Typically, a medical certificate is expected when a student is off sick, however, we will be pragmatic about what is realistic given current advice not to attend your GP (doctor) Surgery if you have, or suspect you have, COVID-19. The UK government states you can receive an ‘isolation note’ by visiting NHS 111 online, rather than visiting a doctor.
To make this manageable, it is essential that you report your illness immediately as we will not be able to verify your situation after the fact. Studentships will be extended to cover the period of absence, up to 28 weeks. For illness not related to COVID-19 the above is also applicable for up to 13 weeks in a 12-month period.
You must inform your HEI Admin Lead at your host institution immediately when you are off with any sickness so that it can be recorded, and the appropriate support provided. This applies to any illness, not just COVID-19.
Please Note: If you are completing an internship, please also inform your host organisation and the SGSSS immediately so that we can identify the best way to support you.
If you are required to self-isolate or social distance as per instruction from the NHS, UK/Scottish Government or similar, we would expect that where possible you will continue with your PhD research to the best of your ability from home (or where you are self-isolating/social distancing from). To maintain your supervision, we would expect communication with your supervisor via means other than face-to-face meetings, e.g. email/phone call/video call.
Please note, time spent self-isolating/social distancing will not count towards your 13 weeks of sick pay as we would expect you to continue with your research. If your personal circumstances meant you were not in a position to continue with your research during your self-isolation, a funded extension may be considered. Please see the Extensions section below for more details on the extension process.
Please see the response for Q1.1. If you are unable to seek medical certification for your illness due to official advice not to attend your GP (doctor) Surgery, it is essential that you report your illness immediately to your home institution as we will not be able to verify your situation after the fact.
The UK Government states you can receive an ‘isolation note’ by visiting NHS 111 online, rather than visiting a doctor.
If you are struggling with new or exacerbated conditions/health issues linked to the pandemic and the government response to it, which means you are not signed off sick but are suffering from reduced productivity, please advise your supervisor and/or HEI Admin Lead immediately of your situation.
This way, if you do need support later on as part of an extension request, or, are eligible for sick leave, we will have a record of things, which will make the process easier. We would also encourage you to refer to the advice from your HEI for COVID-19, for suggested wellbeing resources. Furthermore, many Researcher Development departments are signposting or creating resources. Please see the examples provided by the University of Edinburgh, as well as the advice provided by The Wellbeing Thesis.
If your supervisor is working from home (self-isolating or your home institution’s campus is closed), then where feasible you should continue working with your supervisor via other means, e.g. email/phone call/video call.
If your supervisor is off sick, please seek supervision from your second supervisor. If for any reason, this is not possible, please contact your home institution and SGSSS accordingly.
Travel and Training Funds
Please Note: As per ESRC guidelines, SGSSS is not permitted to fund any travel (or associated costs) to countries the Foreign, Commonwealth
& Development Office (FCDO) advises against visiting.
Furthermore, as of 16 March 2020, the UK Government is currently advising against all non-essential travel.
If you are required to return funds as a result of cancelled travel etc., please contact your home institution for the correct procedure on how to do so.
SGSSS follows the same policy as our host institution, the University of Edinburgh. The current advice is that there is to be no non-essential travel. This includes OIVs, training and conferences. We will advise when non-essential travel will again be permitted.
We are aware that some institutions are classifying fieldwork as essential travel, however, as per advice provided by the ESRC to DTPs, the below must be adhered to before travel can take place:
- As per ESRC guidelines, SGSSS is not permitted to fund any travel (or associated costs) to countries the FCDO advises against visiting.
- The host Research Organisation (RO i.e. your home institution) is permitting overseas travel for staff and students.
- The travel is essential for the student’s research.
- The host RO should have a robust process in place to consider travel requests for students which should follow guidance from the relevant national and regional government.
- The host RO has a duty of care to its students and essential travel should only be considered as an exception rather than the norm.
- The host RO have completed a risk assessment of each individual’s travel and that the risk to both the student and those in the country to which they intend to visit is mitigated against.
- The host RO must ensure that travel insurance is in place that includes coverage with respect to COVID-19.
- The student must follow COVID-19 guidance for the place/area they are living prior to travel and should follow the guidance up to and including the day of departure.
- The student is aware of the rules within the country they are travelling to and will act in accordance with those, and any subsequent changes, as appropriate.
- The student must not travel if they have any symptoms of coronavirus or if they are leaving a local lockdown area.
- Supervisors keep in close contact with students whilst they are away to provide any support and guidance required.
Furthermore, as part of the SGSSS extensions process, students were asked to consider a Plan B (mitigation plan) where it looked like OFW would not be possible. With this in mind, we are not expecting applications for OFW where an extension has been granted on the basis of a revision to the proposed research. Our position maintains that adaptation of research should be prioritised.
As such, all requests for OFW will be considered on a case by case basis. Please contact us on email@example.com, should you like to enquire.
If your visit was cancelled as a result of COVID-19, please resubmit an application when we announce the next OIV call (likely in mid to late 2021). When assessing your new application we will take into consideration that you had received a positive outcome previously and were unable to undertake your visit due to COVID-19.
Please see the responses for Q2.1 and Q2.2 above
Please speak to your home institution about timelines and feasibility for UK based travel. For example, the University of Edinburgh is currently assessing such requests on a case-by-case basis.
Please Note: You must secure approval from your institution to undertake travel for UK based fieldwork etc., before submitting an RTSG claim for funding.
As per the SGSSS COVID-19 extension application process in May and September 2020, extensions were not granted on the premise that travel would resume. Rather, students were asked to develop a Plan B (mitigation plan) as travel will likely be disrupted for an unknown length of time.
For students who started their PhD in autumn 2020, SGSSS assessed all projects and advised students, where appropriate, to develop a Plan B (mitigation plan), as extensions will not be granted for fieldwork disruption related to COVID-19.
You should advise your home institution and SGSSS of the situation and seek a refund for related costs from the event organisers and your travel insurance provider. Please ensure you are keeping both your home institution and SGSSS up to date with your situation and any specific challenges you are facing.
In some cases, a planned activity (such as a conference or training course) will be postponed until after your award end date. As of 18 March 2020, UKRI have stated they will allow a no-cost extension (non-funded) to permit attendance. Furthermore, as an exception the cost of attending this activity can be claimed in the usual way from RTSG.
DLT offers an extension to your stipend in order to support language learning essential for your research. If the language training takes place in the UK it can be paid for using RTSG.
All requests for DLT will be considered on a case by case basis. Please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org, should you like to enquire.
Closures and Remote Working
In the case that collaborative partners close their offices, there is an expectation that you would continue with your PhD research, whilst following any relevant advice from the collaborative partner.
Please ensure you keep your home institution, collaborative sponsor and SGSSS up to date with your situation and any specific challenges you may face.
Please contact SGSSS and we will assess the impact of the cancellation or suspension of your internship on a case by case basis.
No. However, if your personal circumstances meant you were not in a position (temporarily) to continue with your research and you have not already received a COVID-19 related extension, a funded extension may be considered. Please see the Extensions section below for more details on the extension process.
Now that HEI campuses have closed, there is an expectation that University staff will continue working from home. As such it is expected that you would also continue with your PhD research while your home institution’s campus remains closed. Please make sure you check with your home institution regarding their remote working guidance. If your personal circumstances meant you were not in a position to (temporarily) continue with your research, a funded extension will be considered. Please see the Extensions section for more information.
ESRC funded students can apply for Disabled Students Allowance (DSA), which is intended to help with additional expenditure for the costs of study-related requirements that may be incurred as a result of disability, mental health problems or specific learning difficulties. The allowance can cover the cost of non-medical personal assistance, items of specialist equipment and general expenses. Please speak to your HEI Admin Lead for further information.
Yes, you can use RTSG. ESRC updated their guidance on 24 April 2020 (see Additional Costs) and now have a detailed description as to the types of home working equipment that can be purchased using RTSG.
Please Note: Any RTSG claims made for equipment will be counted as part of your overall RTSG claims, and once your notional allowance is spent there will be no additional funding available.
ESRC guidance states:
Students must be resident close to the RO (‘Research Organisation’, meaning institution) at which they are registered and we would expect there to be direct contact between the student and supervisor. This applies to full-time and part-time students.
That being said however, if you are unable to travel due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, you may speak to your institution about undertaking your study remotely until the earliest possible opportunity to safely travel to a residence local to your institution. Any arrangement must not invalidate any terms of your student visa and would need to be approved by SGSSS.
Please click here to view a message on our training plan from Dr Joanna Ferrie, SGSSS Deputy Director (Training).
Please Note: If you are required to return funds as a result of cancelled travel etc., please contact your home institution for the correct procedure on how to do so.
All face-to-face training events due to take place up until the end of December 2020 have been cancelled, postponed or moved online. Those affected have been contacted and advised of the next steps. Details will be published in the Friday Digest, our website and on twitter.
Students are also encouraged to sign up to our community platform Social, where you can join groups and start discussions on relevant training and research related topics. Future online events will also be administered and supported through Social.
Please seek a refund from the travel company or accommodation provider in the first instance. If a refund is not possible, please then contact SGSSS for reimbursement. You will need to provide us with proof that you registered for the event and proof of any applicable costs (travel/accommodation/childcare etc.).
Implications for your Studentship/Fellowship
A suspension is typically only recommended for illness lasting longer than 13 weeks. Our recommendation is to take sick leave or apply for an extension (see the Extensions section below for details) so that you are still able to receive your stipend and an extension for any time lost.
As per the existing ESRC Postgraduate Funding Guide (please see for details) you would need to discuss and agree a suspension to your PhD with your home institution in the first instance.
Depending on your circumstance, you may be eligible for an extension. Please see the Extensions section below for further details.
SGSSS made awards based on the quality and feasibility of the submissions at the time of writing. This means that there may be some proposals which pose challenges in terms of fieldwork and/or data access. SGSSS will not be making COVID-19 extensions available for fieldwork for students or fellows starting from September/October 2020; instead it will be necessary for both to develop risk assessment and mitigation strategies where required.
Please Note: All students who started their PhD in 2020/21 should have received a letter confirming if their project was rated low risk, medium risk or high risk, in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. If you did not receive such a letter and you believe you should have, please contact us.
For those undertaking Masters programmes associated with your award or who are undertaking individual courses as part of your funding, there are a number of factors to consider.
For most Masters students, the credits remaining to be completed will focus on your dissertation work. Some universities have already indicated that expectations of dissertations will be adjusted to take account of COVID-19 – where this is the case, we would expect that students would not require an extension unless they had significant extenuating circumstances – these extensions would need to be agreed by your institution. Where other universities do offer routine extensions to dissertation deadlines then we will ensure that Masters students with a 1+3 are not disadvantaged.
This section is only relevant for ESRC-funded students.
Following the UKRI’s announcement on 11 November 2020 regarding their position on COVID-19 related extensions, this section of our FAQs is currently under review while SGSSS works to understand the implications for our students and how this change to policy will be implemented.
Eligible final year students (end date before April 2021) were given until 22 May 2020 to submit an extension request, all of which have now been processed. Additional requests were also accepted in the September window (see details below for first and second year students).
First and second year students and their supervisors were contacted with details on how to submit a request. Extensions were granted on a case-by-case basis for students whose work had been affected by the pandemic, for example, they are unable to work, or their progress is impeded by closure of their research organisations/COVID-19 restrictions and/or caring responsibilities. It was considered by members of the SGSSS Directorate and HEI Deans’ Group representative, where required. Applications were accepted during a specific window from 31 August to 30 September 2020. A second window was proposed in February 2021, however, this was superseded by UKRIs new policy announcement in November 2020.
From January 2021, any student who started before 1 March 2020 who had not already received an extension through the SGSSS administered process, was eligible to apply to their HEI for a COVID-related extension. Students who received a one month reorientation extension in April 2020 but have not yet applied for anything further were still eligible.
In March 2021, UKRI announced further action to support Doctoral students, meaning that SGSSS will again be able to support further extension requests for those with ongoing challenges such as caring responsibilities during the most recent lockdown (which may not have been covered by any HEI granted extensions). Students who started after 1st March 2020 are also now eligible. We are currently reviewing our documentation and timelines for this further extension process and will email all funded students when this has been agreed.
For part-time students, all the guidance published is valid and applies on a pro-rated basis with the process depending on your funding end date.
Please see the response for Q5.3 above
Extensions for new PhD students may be considered on the basis of ongoing caring responsibilities or health issues as a result of the pandemic. Please see the response for Q6.1
In the early stages of the pandemic, UKRI instructed Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTPs – SGSSS is a DTP) to administer the extensions process for final year students and to assess all other extensions on a case by case basis. SGSSS did this and 55% of all our funded students received an extension through this process.
UKRI committed to reviewing their initial policy and as part of this, it was determined that providing funding on a grant by grant basis would make it harder to provide consistency and equity of the offer available to students across the breadth of UKRI. As such, from January 2021, all future extensions were to be administered by individual Research Organisations (ROs e.g. your home institution).
The addition lockdown from December 2020 prompted this policy to be reviewed again with the decision to revert the administration process back to the DTPs after the RO managed processes have concluded.
Please see Q1.5 and Q6.1 above