Coronavirus (Covid-19) 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 on 24th April) and our Open Letter to students (published on 22nd May).
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Should you have any additional questions not answered below, or if you believe information provided is now out-of-date (given the rapidly changing situation), please contact us via email on email@example.com.
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. 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 13 weeks. Please note the above is applicable to any illness, not just Covid-19.
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, you can apply for an extension to your stipend under the Health and Wellbeing category. Please see the Extensions section below for more details on the extension process.
You must inform your HEI admin 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/social distancing, 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, you can apply for an extension to your funding under the ‘Health and Wellbeing’ category. Please see the Extensions section below for more details on the extension process.
Please also advise your supervisor and/or HEI admin of your situation. This way, if you do need support later on, 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 and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advises against visiting.
Furthermore, as of 16 March, 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.
Please consult and act upon the official travel advice provide by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO), the country you are visiting and your home institution.
Please ensure you are keeping both your home institution and SGSSS up to date with your situation and any specific challenges you are facing.
No. 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 fieldwork, visits, training and conferences. We will advise when non-essential travel will again be permitted.
Given that travel restrictions may continue for some time, we strongly advise you to develop a contingency plan.
If you have returned early from your visit as a result of Covid-19, depending on the outcome of your initial visit and the achievements made, we will assess each case individually to ascertain if a future return visit would be permitted.
If your visit was cancelled as a result of Covid-19, please resubmit an application when we announce the next OIV call (likely in 2020/21). 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 ensure you are keeping both your home institution and SGSSS up to date with your situation and any specific challenges you are facing.
If you have returned from your fieldwork earlier than originally planned as a result of Covid-19, we would expect you to undertake a review of the data you have collected with your supervisor, to ascertain if a second visit is required or if you can amend the parameters of your research to suit the data available to you.
If your fieldwork has been cancelled due to Covid-19 we would ask you to undertake a review of your workplan with your supervisor to establish how your workplan may be altered to complete your PhD without overseas fieldwork, given that travel is likely to be disrupted for an unknown length of time. Please see Q6.1 for more information on extension requests.
Please Note: If you had planned on undertaking DLT in the field, you will need to advise your home institution that this will no longer be going ahead.
Please follow the medical advice of the country/local authority where you are based, informing both your home institution and SGSSS.
Please see the response for Q2.9 below
Please see the response for Q6.1
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 18th March, 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.
As per the guidance detailed in the answers above, all overseas travel, including for fieldwork, is currently not permitted as per the official travel advice provide by the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office. Please speak to your home institution about timelines and feasibility for UK based travel, starting in semester one of the 2020/21 academic year. 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.
Applications for OIV, OFW and DLT are currently suspended for the reminder of the 2019/20 academic year, however non-travel related applications for RTSG or UK based travel (taking place during semester one of 2020/21 or later – see Q2.9 for details) can still be submitted. As per existing guidance, if you do not use your notional RTSG amount this academic year, this will be carried forward.
Please Note: ESRC updated their guidance on 24 April (see Additional Costs) and now have a detailed description as to the types of home working equipment that can be purchased using RTSG.
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, a funded extension will be considered. Please see the Extensions section below for more details on the extension process.
No. However, if your personal circumstances meant you were not in a position to (temporarily) continue with your postdoc, a ‘no-cost’ extension will be allowed. Furthermore, on 27th June 2020, UKRI announced a fund to provide UK organisations with resources to sustain UKRI grant-funded research and fellowships affected by Covid-19. You should approach your host institution for further information.
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 for further information.
Yes, you can use RTSG (see Q2.9). ESRC updated their guidance on 24 April (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.
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 have 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. We do not anticipate that we will be making Covid-19 extensions available for fieldwork for incoming students or fellows; instead it will be necessary for both to develop risk assessment and mitigation strategies where required.
Regarding start dates, we are in the process of confirming with HEIs that all programmes will commence on time in autumn. You should assume this is the case unless you hear differently from us.
Please Note: All students starting their PhD in 2020/21 should have received a letter confirming if their project has been 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.
If your Masters has been disrupted, training may continue, albeit via a different mechanism (i.e. online), however if that is not possible please contact your home institution and SGSSS and we will discuss whether you have sufficient training in order to embark on your Award. It may be decided that you will be required to complete additional training during your PhD as part of you Award; this additional component may be eligible for an extension to your Award.
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 first 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.
For others, there will have been disruption to the conduct and assessment of core modules. Where you pass a module but are concerned that you have not been able to cover all the material that you would ordinarily have covered then we would want you and you supervisor to discuss this as part of your training needs assessment in the autumn.
This section is only relevant for ESRC-funded students.
Eligible final year students were given until 22 May to submit an extension request, all of which have now been processed. If you have not been informed of the outcome of your extension request, please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org. Should you need to submit an additional extension request (for Caring Responsibilities or Health and Wellbeing related issues only), please download and submit the Covid-19 Related Studentship Extension Request Form for final year students, found here. Please see this form for the submission details.
First and second year students and their supervisors have been contacted with details on how to submit a request. Extensions may be granted on a case-by-case basis for students whose work has 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. Requests will be considered by members of the SGSSS Directorate and your HEI Deans’ Group representative, where required. Applications will only be reviewed during specific windows. The first of these is 31 August to 30 September 2020 and the second is 29 January to 26 February 2021 (we will introduce further windows depending on how the situation with Covid-19 evolves). The Covid-19 Related Studentship Extension Request Form for first and second year students can be found here.
For part-time students, all the guidance published is valid and applies on a pro-rated basis with the process depending on the funding end date. If the student’s funding end date is from 1 March 2020 to 31 March 2021, they fall within the UKRIs definition of an Eligible final year student. If it is after 31 March 2021, please refer to the guidance above for first and second years.
On 12 May SGSSS ran an online Q&A with Prof Jamie Pearce (SGSSS Director) and Dr Jo Ferrie (SGSSS Deputy Director - Training), which allowed students the opportunity to think through how to move forward with their research and raise any questions around extensions. Framed around the idea of 'moving to plan B', the hour-long session included tips, pragmatic solutions and invited students to contribute their ideas and air their concerns. Please contact us for the link to this recorded session, should you wish to view this.
An online Q&A session will be held on 18th August (20th August for Collaborative students) to discuss all aspects of the extensions process in advance of the first window opening. If you have not received the specific details of this event, please contact us.
Please Note: Students no longer in their funded period should apply directly to their HEI for a no-cost extension. You can also request a no-cost extension as per UKRI guidance, to attend postponed conferences/training etc.
No-cost extensions are processed through Je-S (please see the UKRI guidance). Please seek guidance from your research office for help with this, keeping SGSSS up to date with any changes.
Furthermore, on 27th June 2020, UKRI announced a fund to provide UK organisations with resources to sustain UKRI grant-funded research and fellowships affected by Covid-19. You should approach your host institution for further information.
Please see the response for Q5.5