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 March 2021), our Open Letter to students (published in May 2020) and our email regarding the new UKRI policy (sent in June 2021).
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Should you have any additional questions not answered below, or if you believe information provided is now out-of-date (given the rapidly changing situation), please contact us via email on email@example.com.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. 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. Please refer to the ESRC guidelines relating to sick leave for further information.
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.
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. 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.
Furthermore, SGSSS has introduced a Taking Space Policy which can be used by students in particular circumstances. For the details, please see page 24 of the SGSSS Student Handbook.
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.
SGSSS follows the same policy as our host institution, the University of Edinburgh. The current advice is that travel may restart subject to risk assessment.
ESRC has advised DTPs that 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 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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org, should you like to enquire.
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 email@example.com, 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 so that you are still able to receive your stipend.
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 after October 2020; instead it will be necessary to develop risk assessment and mitigation strategies where required (as per the "COVID Risk Assessment" letters sent to all students who have started their PhD since the academic year, 2020/21).
Please Note: As per the above, all students who have started their PhD since 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.
This section is only relevant for ESRC-funded students.
There have been three phases to the COVID-19 extension process. We are currently in Phase 3.
In April 2020, UKRI published guidance for Doctoral students; this was updated in November 2020 and again in March 2021.
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 and processed during a specific window in autumn 2020.
UKRI's guidance permitted that 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 had not yet applied for anything further, were still eligible.
The timeline and criteria for this process varied between HEIs – please contact your HEI Admin Lead for further information and whether the scheme is still open to you.
In March 2021, UKRI announced further action to support Doctoral students, meaning that SGSSS can support further extension requests for those with ongoing challenges such as caring responsibilities during the January 2021 lockdown (if they were not covered by any HEI granted extensions). All students who started after 1 March 2020 are now eligible. Applications for a Phase 3 extension can only be made during the last 6 months of funding. Please see the Extension Request Form for further details.
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 Q3.2 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 Q4.1 above, under Phase 3.
Please see Q1.4 and Q4.1 above.