Important update in light of the COVID-19 pandemic relating to research
Reviewed January 2021
This webpage was last updated 8 January 2021 following the new national lockdown in England.
Under the new restrictions, you may leave home to go to work if you cannot reasonably do your job from home. These legal restrictions will apply to all University staff whether involved in teaching, research or professional services. For research, the guidance provided below is still relevant – research should be adapted to be conducted from home wherever possible. However, for research that requires access to specialist facilities such as research laboratories, researchers and research students can still access those facilities on campus under the new Government guidance. We already have established associated safety procedures and Risk Assessments are in place for our research labs and research facilities.
Government advice states that only essential travel is allowed and therefore university travel insurance is not valid unless it is pre-approved by our insurers and meets the following criteria:
- In the national interest
- COVID 19 related research
- Research that cannot be performed any other time or place
- Travel to partner institutions
Where any travel is required in these exceptional circumstances, staff may submit requests for consideration to email@example.com”
Please continue to follow the guidance below. The current situation is changing and evolving and the safety of our staff is paramount, we appreciate your patience and your support for each other in difficult times.
The Government’s advice on Research is:
Researchers and research students will be able to continue in-person research activities if the research work cannot reasonably be conducted from home.
However, where it is possible, research should be carried out at home, or without gathering with others, and where it can reasonably be done, in-person research activity requiring gathering with others should be paused for the period of national restrictions. If the research participants are not being paid, and the participant’s involvement is not crucial within this period, we recommend that work with research participants is rescheduled until after the period of national restrictions.
Remote and reduced operating model
Our remote and reduced operating model reflects working in line with the Government’s instructions to control the spread of the coronavirus. Our staff are advised to work from home; all internal meetings should be organised by electronic means and there are updated instructions for restarting face-to-face activities with external parties. Only a small number of staff essential to on-campus services have been allowed on campus with prior arrangements from their line-managers. Repopulation of the campus and the majority of its activities must only be commenced following thorough risk assessment and instruction from senior management.
Under this new model, the university’s research support and development teams remain available remotely to support our researchers and we encourage our staff to continue to develop research proposals, taking note that some funders may decide to extend deadline for calls but that shouldn’t be taken for granted. We advise researchers to check with their Research Services contacts for further information.
UKRI is one of our major funders and acknowledges the serious challenges facing the research and innovation community due to the restrictions in place because of the pandemic. During this period, UKRI has two priorities: the safety and wellbeing of their staff and as far as possible the continuation of their business as a national funder of research and innovation.
The nature of these impacts will evolve and increase over the coming weeks and months and UKRI will be working with Government, research communities, institutions and other funding organisations to understand the impacts and to develop support to mitigate them. Our Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise, Professor Louise Heathwaite, and our Associate Director of Research (cross-faculty), Professor Malcolm Joyce are acting as points of contact for UKRI via Research England to contribute to this work.
The latest UKRI update can be found here, including information of grant holders and applicants. Where travel is impacted, if researchers or students cannot travel due to government/official advice, or it poses a risk to the individual (due to an underlying medical condition etc.), this can be charged to the grant in line with any other cost. If that cost cannot be absorbed by any overall underspend on the grant, then UKRI will cover that small addition. In the same circumstances, no cost extension requests to grants would be granted. Further guidance for UKRI funded studentships is provided below.
The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) has released guidance and FAQs on funded research and on pausing studies to release staff for frontline care and/or to protect public health.
University Statement: Impact of Covid-19 on Postgraduate Research Students (PGR)
We recognise that the exceptional nature of the situation arising from the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic has the potential to impact all our staff and students in a number of ways. For final-year postgraduate research (PGR) students this impact has the potential to be particularly disruptive. We are committed to supporting our postgraduate research students in completing their doctoral research in a fair, supportive and inclusive way and set out the following principles to ensure that our PGR students are able to complete their research projects to doctoral level.
We have received confirmation that UKRI-funded, final-year doctoral students that have had their studies disrupted by Covid-19 will be eligible for a funded extension of up to six months. As an institution we are committed to this principle for other PGR students in their final year, through liaison with the studentship funders to agree a funded extension.
The following principles will apply:
- Up to six months extension for doctoral students in their final year (with a funding end date between 1/3/20 and 31/3/21) that have been disrupted by Covid-19 related issues
- The Covid-19-related impact must have occurred within the student’s funded period
- All extension requests must be evidence-based on the impact of Covid-19 and will require a short description of the nature of the disruption (half a page)
- Extensions are exclusively to complete the doctoral work
- Students whose funding finished prior to 1st March 2020 are not eligible for the extension
- Non-final year students who may have been affected by the pandemic and who require an extension will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Please refer to the PGR FAQs where there will be further guidance as it becomes available
UKRI have issued implementation guidance and an open letter to students. Lancaster will follow this guidance closely when considering non-UKRI-funded students.
Any extension requests for UKRI-funded students in their final funded year of study must be completed by the 29th May 2020. For non-UKRI-funded students, this deadline does not apply. Further guidelines, including information on criteria considered appropriate, and details of the process for applying, will be available on the PGR FAQ pages: https://www.lancaster.ac.uk/research/doctoral-academy/coronavirus-information-for-phds/
The University is preparing to return to onsite working and has begun to re-open laboratories and research facilities with the appropriate risk assessments. However, this will take some time and for current research projects, it is still preferable to continue research on-line where this may be possible. The safety of our staff remains of paramount importance and Departments will be required to consider activities that are specific to their operations and review their current risk assessments to take account of the additional hazard - Covid-19 and to follow the 5 key steps the Government has set out.
Researchers should check with their departments and faculties on the latest position and further information about risk assessment can be found on the Health and Safety website.
Clearly, there will be impacts due to continuing restrictions and research staff paid directly from funded research projects should discuss research activities with their principal investigator.
Principal Investigators should ensure that any requests sent directly to funders regarding grant extensions or requests for other mitigating actions should be copied to Research Services - firstname.lastname@example.org.
Researchers that require HRA sponsorship approval to work with the NHS should continue to seek this through an IRAS application. It is likely response times will be impacted by the current situation so we would advise it is better to start the process now so that it is in the system.
Despite the easing of lock-down it is still preferable to conduct research online where possible. Researchers should consider if you can adapt your research to conduct participant interactions remotely and how this affects ethical approval. When considering adjustments give thought to whether a change to the research protocol might alter the level of risk to the participant. For example, if you will ask questions on a sensitive topic, to conduct research remotely might remove the safeguard of the researcher being able to detect distress and the mitigation of referring to an appropriately trained person.
If this is not to conduct research online,your research could be paused for a number of months and in these cases research ethics committees will not require notification. You must inform your participants that the research has been paused. It will be key that in whatever communication you send to participants that you describe how any actively enrolled participants will be managed, particularly concerning any safety monitoring/follow-up etc where applicable.
If you wish to begin or restart research face-to-face please see university guidance on how to gain appropriate health and safety approval. Please note, health and safety approval must be gained via your department before applying for ethical approval.
Where planned activities have been modified (which includes moving activities to online from face-to-face, or vice versa) an amendment must be submitted to your faculty research ethics committee for approval, these will be processed as quickly as possible. Any modified activities (those not as described in the original application) should not take place until the amendment is approved. Continuing a project where the activities deviate from the approved protocol could constitute research misconduct.
There is no need to inform the ethics committee when switching between approved protocols within the project. Therefore, if you resume face-to-face activities or if additional lockdown measures are reintroduced so you resume online research there is no need to inform the committee, as long as you are following an approved protocol.
Guidance for those who will make changes to conduct their research remotely:
If you have not yet begun data collection but have ethics committee approval you will need to submit an amendment to the appropriate FREC. You should submit an amended application form and likely need to include evidence of consideration of confidentiality, amended participant information sheets and consent forms and if additional personal information needs to be collected, information about data storage plans. You will be able to proceed once your request is re-approved.
If you have already begun data collection and will now change to remote participant interaction then you will need to plan for a short pause whilst you submit an amendment as outlined above. Any already active participants must be informed of the switch to remote interaction and be provided with the updated participant information sheet. It is important that you make clear to participants that if they no longer wish to participate owing to this change, or for any other reason, that they are free to withdraw at any point.
Post-graduate Students: If you are unsure if it will be possible to conduct your research remotely you should discuss this with your supervisor as soon as possible. Once the appropriate way forward has been agreed, please follow the guidance below to adapt your research.
Knowledge Exchange Projects
Most of what is described above is relevant to Knowledge Exchange (KE) projects across the University. Faculty and RES based KE teams are available to support activity remotely whether it be general partnership development, guidance on specific schemes such as Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs) or advice relating to intellectual property and commercialisation. We continue to liaise with relevant funders including the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government that support our portfolio of European Structural and Investment Fund (ESIF) projects. Project delivery should continue as fully as is able.
Frequently asked questions
I am preparing a grant application. Will I still be able to submit this?
Research Services remains operational however please allow extra time ahead of the funder submission deadline, and ensure your Head of Department is available to approve on ACP. If your Department approvers are not available, please contact your Research Development Officer as soon as possible.
I’m applying to a COVID-19 rapid call. Do I have to do anything in addition?
Please contact your Research Development Officer in Research Services as soon as possible so that we can fast track your application through university processes.
Will Funders be extending the submission deadlines for Funding Calls?
Most funders are taking a pragmatic approach to dealing with the evolving situation, and we are aware that some deadlines have been extended. However, Wellcome Trust and Leverhulme Trust have indicated that no deadlines will be extended so please check the Funder website for further information.
- I have a research contract that needs an authorised signature. Will it still be signed?
I have just been awarded a new project I need to accept by a fixed deadline. What should I do?
Research Services remains operational. Please liaise with your usual Research Services contact. See Research Services website for further details. If your acceptance requires a “wet” signature we will work with you and the Funder to ensure this is complete.
Do I need to delay the start of my new research project?
Where allowable within the funder’s terms and conditions it may be worth considering delaying the start of your project to ensure there is minimal impact on your research. If it is still possible to undertake the research and you need to recruit researchers this should be done through the University vacancy control process. Please seek advice from your Research Services contact.
Can I recruit staff on externally funded research projects?
Yes, staff and students can be recruited to externally funded research projects but will still be subject to the vacancy control process. The details of the externally funded project should be provided as well as confirmation that the research can still be undertaken. Please seek advice from your Research Services contact.
I need to return back to clinical duties however this will impact on my research project?
We are receiving confirmation from some funders that they fully support this direction and will provide extensions to projects where staff have returned to clinical duties to support the Covid-19 effort. There may be an expectation from charities that the NHS will ultimately reimburse the project for associated salary costs incurred.
I have a subcontractor who requires urgent payment?
Presuming this is in line with the contract (e.g. the work has been completed, or that advance payments were agreed), please ensure your subcontractor sends the invoice electronically to the email address in the agreement with all the relevant backing documentation and this will be paid as per our normal processes. If you receive the invoice directly please forward to RSO Post-award.
I have fieldwork (including interviews and observations) currently underway or about to start. What should I do?
It is likely that any fieldwork will not be possible for a specific period of time, as yet unknown, and should be rescheduled for later in the year, if possible. If your fieldwork is dependent on the time of year, then you may need to consider alternative arrangements and discuss this directly with your Funder. Please ensure you keep Research Services updated when you liaise directly with funders.
I need access to university facilities for my research project. What happens if the campus closes and I can’t do my research remotely? Can I get an extension?
Access to campus buildings is currently restricted due to the latest government measures. It is highly likely therefore that your research will be impacted. Funders are releasing guidance and will are likely to be pragmatic when considering requests to extend projects, it is however likely that many Funders will consider such requests on a case-by-case basis – please check with your Funder how best to progress this or check Research Services website for advice.
If I get an extension my project will incur additional costs. Who will cover these costs?
This will vary dependent on the funder and the nature of cost. The university is actively engaging with funders to seek clarity on this.
My confirmed activities or travel plans have had to be cancelled and my project has lost money. Will the project be reimbursed?
We anticipate that funders will adopt a pragmatic approach on this, however it is likely to be variable, as such please refer to the individual funder’s guidance. Where travel plans have been cancelled upon government advice, the costs should be recovered from the travel supplier where possible, or university insurance. Check with the university Travel Team for advice.
I have research staff employed through my grant. Are they eligible for the furlough scheme?
More information about the University’s approach to the Government’s furloughing scheme can be found on the staff intranet