Accessibility statement

Coronavirus (COVID-19) - Limitation of Operations

Contingency Advice for Staff regarding matters of research and research-related activity

LATEST UPDATE - Friday 5 June

The University has limited campus-based research operations in order to support the efforts to delay transmission of the Coronavirus (COVID 19), to protect the health and wellbeing of its staff and students. The situation around COVID 19 continues to change, and it is important that the University and its staff, students and visitors engaged in research abide by the most up to date advertised guidance put out by Public Health England and the Foreign Office advice on travel. The University regularly updates its main Coronavirus web pages with information about the local situation.

We understand that the situation has wide ranging consequences on your research and on the research and research-related staff you manage, and research students you supervise. This guidance will help you to navigate those changes. The information here is updated regularly.

There are significant questions and concerns affecting the entire sector for which we do not have definitive answers yet. Please be assured that we are liaising within the University, across the sector, with our funders and the Government to provide further advice as soon as we are able. We ask that you are patient at this difficult time for us all.

Given the size of our operation, you will understand that we are trying to limit the number of queries going directly to multiple individual email addresses. Your line manager, Departmental research administrator, Departmental Research Chair and Head of Department may be able to offer updates on Department-specific research activities. Alongside the PVC (Research), PVC (Partnerships and Engagement), the Deans and Associate Deans for Research, we are all working together to understand the most frequent issues and find solutions as soon as we are able.

The Research Contingency Group (RCG: chaired jointly by the PVC-R Professor Matthias Ruth and Special Advisor to the VC (Research) Professor Deborah Smith) meets regularly to consider all aspects of the response.  Communications on the Group’s discussions are circulated to all departments and an archive can be found on the Coronavirus Update messages - research webpages.

Should you wish to contact Research and Enterprise with a question relating to covid-19 contingency planning in relation to research specifically, please email UoY Research Contingency, noting that we will respond as soon as we are able and have the relevant information and decisions required.

1. Research support business continuity

All of Research and Enterprise’s teams are now working from home. Operations are running smoothly in the circumstances and access to our systems (e.g. Worktribe, Pure and Agresso) is working well. This means that the majority of our usual business processes and points of contact remain exactly the same as usual. Further information and reminders of contact details were sent to departmental research administrators on 20 March by Dr David McBeth, Director of Research and Enterprise.

2. Planning for a return to some campus-based working

The current restrictions on campus remain in place and for the foreseeable future, we should continue to work from home wherever possible. The Government has now produced additional guidance with regard to easing of lockdown and while this guidance does specifically mention scientific research in laboratories, the resumption of lab-based research will need to be planned carefully, in line with guidance issued by Government, and with full account of the health and safety of all staff involved in operating University buildings.

Work is taking place right now - in coordination with Estates and Campus Services, and following publication of additional Government guidance - to prioritise the opening of lab space and ease restrictions in a way that ensures a safe working environment for everyone and meets the Health and Safety Executive expectations.

This includes:

  • completing substantial work on a backlog of building maintenance checks, so that buildings are safe for reoccupation;
  • incorporating new measures to ensure physical spaces can be adapted for social distancing;
  • consulting with relevant sectors - including our peers in higher education - industry bodies, trades unions, and the Health and Safety Executive, to understand any new health and safety guidelines.

This is a process which may take some time. We appreciate any frustration, or concerns, that this phased return may cause, but the health and wellbeing of our students and staff remains the University’s priority. Please contact your Departmental Manager or Technical Support lead for more information on re-opening plans for research in your Department.

3. Exceptional activities requiring urgent access to campus facilities

Requests for access to campus facilities ahead of any planned re-start of research activities will be considered on an exceptional basis only. The new process for exceptional requests for access is outlined below. The following criteria will be considered in deciding whether it is appropriate for exceptional access to be [recommended] :

  • The proposed research will have potential for immediate impact on COVID-19 treatment, mitigation etc.; OR
  • There is another truly exceptional reason, other than COVID-19 related, which means that the risks of allowing access are outweighed by the timely execution of the work; AND
  • Feasibility i.e. all of the required equipment, expertise and licences are in place to enable the work to happen.

The  explains when requests should be made and how they will be handled.

Where new applications for funding are being made, or permission to repurpose existing funding is being sought, the exceptional access request process must be completed prior to any institutional letter of support being provided. Failure to complete this process will result in your application not being submitted. (Note, if you are making a COVID-19 related application that does not require campus access, you are still required to complete a short additional oversight form - please see below for more information).

Recommendations to Dr David McBeth for final approval of exceptional projects based on the above criteria will be made by the relevant Faculty Dean after full consultation with your Head of Department, Estates and Health and Safety, as well as identification of relevant technical support in your department if required.

It is important to note that while we hope to make quick decisions in principle about access requests, entering campus facilities must only be done once Estates and Health and Safety have completed their checks and actions and given the go ahead.

4. COVID-19 External Research Funding Opportunities and Additional Oversight

COVID-19-specific funding opportunities are being announced rapidly and we recognise many staff are keen to get involved. A list of current opportunities is being kept up to date. For the health and safety of our University community, it is also important that we know as soon as possible about plans in development. The  explains what you need to do next.

If you will require access to campus for your new project should your application be successful or permission be granted to re-purpose existing funding, please make an exceptional access request.

Even if you don’t need to access campus to complete your proposed project, we still need to be made aware of your COVID-19 application and a very light touch additional step has been created to help you do this by completing the Covid-19 Research Funding applications form. Completing this form will also give the necessary oversight to enable the relevant Associate Dean for Research to sign your Institutional Letter of Support where required.

5. COVID-19 Research expertise - Activities and opportunities to contribute

We know that many of you are already contributing your research expertise towards the COVID-19 response and we are keen to know what is happening and to support you in whatever way we can. Just some of the activities underway already were described in the recent Vice Chancellor’s message, and information on our support for the region can be found in new dedicated Civic Mission web pages. Opportunities to pledge your expertise to the global effort are included on this page, along with a very short survey aimed at finding out who is signed up and/or already active.

6. Speaking to the media

Informing the public about the vital work that is being done within universities is crucially important, and many academics have already described their research and its role in the pandemic response.  However, we are also aware that news organisations are making unsolicited approaches to staff for comment on topics outside of their own research expertise.  If you have ideas for COVID-19 related stories, wish to speak to the media about your research, or if you are approached by the media for comment, please contact Alistair Keely (Head of Media) for advice before doing any interviews or written articles.

7. HR guidance

Human Resources has put together guidance for staff and line managers on the various options available for staff who are directly or indirectly affected. HR questions should be directed through these pages in the first instance.  

Further to an announcement by the Vice Chancellor on 23 April, and the creation of the business critical recruitment process, new guidance on recruitment is now available and is applicable to staff to be funded through external grant income.  Please consult this guidance and your HoD and HR contacts in the first instance.

In relation to staff whose contracts depend on research grants, we appreciate that there are two main areas of concern. Firstly, we would like to reassure such staff that, to date, no funders have indicated an intention to terminate or curtail any such grants. You can find information provided by all of the official guidance and/or replies that we have obtained from research funders to date on the Covid19 - Funder Information webpages. All staff on research grants will continue to receive their salary in line with their current contract of employment.

Secondly, we appreciate that for some staff whose contracts depend on research grants, the requirement to work remotely has the potential to delay the completion of work e.g. laboratory-based research, research by public performance, etc., within a fixed overall window of funding. We continue to liaise with funders of research to clarify their intentions in respect of grants and staff affected in this way, and are using the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (furlough) for a small group of research-related staff.

8. PGR students and supervisors

Recognising that there may be travel restrictions and intermittent lockdown conditions in parts of the world the YGRS have created an option called Temporary Remote Research (TRR) which can be used when the nature of a particular project allows for a student to begin their research away from York. If a period of TRR (from one month up to initial maximum of four months, ie latest date for arrival in York would be the last day of January 2021) is approved, a PGR will start their programme on time but in their current location, moving to York as soon as it is practical and safe to do so. Whilst on a TRR period, when students do not have access to York’s physical campus, supervision meetings will take place via video-conferencing. Training, networking and other support, both academic and pastoral, will also take place via video-conferencing or other online means. Further details about TRR will be made available online shortly.

To further support existing students support students the University will ‘underwrite funded extensions of up to 6 months for our PhD students in their final year of funding, whose academic progress has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, who either receive funding from UK research funders or who are directly funded by the University, and whose funding is due to end between 1 April 2020 and 31 March 2021’. Decisions about PGRs not in the final year of funding will be made in due course. The YGRS is working with colleagues across the University to ensure that students are given a meaningful and safe research experience.

PGR Community
The YGRS Community Blog is being used to provide updates on professional development, wellbeing, community and combatting isolation. Advice is also available from the Student Hub and the Graduate Student Association (GSA).

The PGR Contingency Group is developing processes and looking to develop communication for prospective students. To ensure that the PGR voice is heard a Question Time/Town Hall style event was run on Thursday 7th May. The panel was headed by Tom Stoneham and included representation from PGR serving professional services; the Graduate Student Association (GSA). 60+ students attended and the feedback on the accessibility and honesty of the panel was welcomed by students. The questions and a video link to the event will be available on the YGRS webpages shortly. A follow up event is planned for June.

To support wellbeing and community engagement a new peer to peer buddying scheme has been launched for all new PGRs and a mentoring scheme for PGRs in the final stages. The PGR Contingency Group is developing processes and looking to develop communication for prospective students.

To ensure that the PGR voice is heard a Question Time/Town Hall style event was run on Thursday 7th May. The panel was headed by Tom Stoneham and included representation from PGR serving professional services; the Graduate Student Association (GSA). 60+ students attended and the feedback on the accessibility and honesty of the panel was welcomed by students. The questions and a video link to the event will be available on the York Gradate Research School webpages shortly. A second event is scheduled for 19th June.

All updates and information for PGR students and supervisors are signposted from the York Gradate Research School webpages. This includes links to policy and assessment changes detailed on the University's Coronavirus Information for Postgraduate Researchers webpage. PGR students are asked to contact their supervisor and Department about questions related to their research.

9. External grants and contracts

We have compiled a list of the latest information received to date from our main funders. Our main funders, such as UKRI, have asked that, for now, universities and their staff do not contact them individually about specific grants/applications. Please be assured that we are in constant contact with the main funders and will update information here as soon as definitive information is available.

A data collection exercise to ascertain the level of disruption arising from the Covid-19 related access restrictions has now been completed. This relates to externally-funded research projects that are due to end on or before 31 December 2021. The information is being used to inform Finance, HR, RGO and Department plans.

The Research Grants Operations Team in Research & Enterprise will continue to provide the necessary support for research grants, offering the existing levels of service but working remotely. Where there has been clear advice from the funder about its approach to contingency (e.g. no-cost extensions are allowed and will enable your project to complete), change requests should be processed as usual though your relevant RGO contact person and we ask that you contact them directly.  R&E is also working with HR and others in relation to the small number of funders and sponsors who have enquired about the University’s policy in relation to the UK Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

We recognise that many deadlines for new research applications remain in place at this time, and in the absence of guidance to the contrary from the funders we would encourage staff to continue towards submission. Again, as soon as there is any guidance from funders either about specific calls or about deadlines in general we will share it with you.

Please contact your relevant Grant Coordinator via email with non-covid-19 related queries and remember that all normal approval processes apply.

10. Internal priming funds

Proposals on the management of internal priming funds in light of COVID-19 disruption have been approved by URC and endorsed by UEB.  This included approval to continue spending on current projects, and the streamlining of competitions for available funding in the next University financial year.  A summary was sent to Departments in May.  Principal Investigators have been informed of the effect of these decisions on their individual projects.  It should be noted that the availability of funding for the new University financial year (from August 2020) from some internal and external sources is not yet known, meaning it is not possible to complete all mitigation activity and answer all of the questions colleagues will have.  

11. Disrupted activities

We recognise that many of our usual research activities will be severely disrupted, but public health is our first concern and all current advice should be followed. Your first contact point with questions and concerns should be within your Department.

  • a) Work with the public/patients/vulnerable groups

Discussions are taking place about when and how research activity that includes face-to-face contact with the public might resume.  Further information will be made available as soon as it is available. If your research includes patient and public involvement (PPI), please do not forget to keep in touch with your lay reps, patient advisory groups, patient panels, service-users and carers groups. Please also carefully consider whether remote working tools are accessible, available, and/or appropriate to maintain your patient and public involvement activity in the short term.

Staff from the NIHR Yorkshire and Humber Research Design Service based at the University are available to provide further PPI specific guidance for NIHR funded research and other national peer reviewed funding competitions. Involvement@York is also continuing to support patient and public involvement activities with researchers and patients, carers and members of the public where possible.

  • b) Access to sensitive data and data security

While recognising that access to some data and systems may not be possible from home, data security is important whatever your area of research. IT Services have created "IT security - a condensed guide" to help you.

  • c) Working at home as a researcher

While researchers are unable to conduct face to face meetings with participants, some data collation may be conducted online. The Research Strategy and Policy Office has created a guidance document with some points to consider before making the move to data collation using online interviews.

  • d) Access to fieldwork sites

Consideration has been given to how research staff and PhD students can resume access to their fieldwork sites while observing all necessary health and safety requirements. This work is being overseen by the Research Contingency Group, chaired by the PVC-R.  Please contact your Departmental Manager or Technical Support lead for more information on the resumption of fieldwork within your department.

12. Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021

The national REF 2021 submission date has been postponed and sector wide consultations are underway  with regard to a revised submission date. An announcement is expected from Research England by the end of June 2020. In the meantime work is progressing, where possible. For further details please view the Update on REF 2021 webpages. 

13. KEF Delayed

The previously advised deadline for submission of KEF narrative statements (Friday 29 May 2020) no longer applies and the new deadline will be 17:00 on Friday 16 October 2020.

Previously Research England had asked institutions to focus their narratives on activities that occurred during the preceding three years. However, the extended deadline will also allow providers to include the most recent activities, including responses to the coronavirus pandemic, where relevant to their narrative.

R&E's Enterprise Services teams will continue to work on this activity and if you have any questions or suggestions as to content for our KEF submission please contact amanda.selvaratnam@york.ac.uk.

14. Enterprise Services

The five R&E enterprise services teams Economic Development, Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, Commercialisation, Apprenticeships, and Continuing Professional Development are all working from home and continuing to support Departments across the University.

The CPD Unit is helping departments to identify where existing training courses can be delivered online or where new content can be developed to directly address business challenges that are arising due to the COVID-19 outbreak. This support takes the form of advice and guidance, market research, signposting to technical support, marketing, costing, and management and administration of courses and funding. Please contact cpd@york.ac.uk for assistance.

The other teams are also working on existing and new enterprise related projects including patent management, partnership development and new project development.

Feel free to contact any of them on their generic emails
Economic Development EDT-group@york.ac.uk 
Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, ktp@york.ac.uk 
Commercialisation commercialisation@york.ac.uk 
Apprenticeships apprenticeships@york.ac.uk
Continuing Professional Development cpd@york.ac.uk

15. Further information to be added

It is our intention to update this information regularly and include new sections in light of the questions and queries that we receive in the coming days. You will be notified via the VC’s email or Departmental channels each time this webpage is updated.

16. How to submit further questions

Should you wish to contact Research and Enterprise with a question relating to coronavirus contingency planning in relation to research specifically, please email Research Contingency (admn769@york.ac.uk), noting that we will respond as soon as we are able and have the relevant information and decisions required.