Important update in light of the COVID-19 pandemic relating to research

Updated 4th August 2020

The current situation is still evolving and the safety of our staff is paramount, we appreciate your patience and your support for each other in difficult times.

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 new 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.

Updated guidance for postgraduate students.

Research Calls and Opportunities

For research calls and opportunities please click on the link.

REF2021

The REF2021 submission deadline of 27 November 2020 has been postponed until 31 March 2021. Further information about changes to the REF submission as a result of COVID-19 is available online.

Funders

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.

Other UK funders are beginning to provide guidance and statements for example, the Wellcome Trust and the Leverhulme Trust.

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/

Active Research

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 - rso_postaward@lancaster.ac.uk.

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.

Ethical Approval

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

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