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Covid-19: Research FAQ

Message from Professor Martin Steggall, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research

Professor Martin SteggallWhilst we want to welcome everyone onto our campuses as soon as possible, your health and wellbeing remains our top priority. With social distancing requirements expected to continue for some time, we continue to review how we manage access to laboratories and other experiment environments. We acknowledge that some research activity cannot be done at home, but our over-riding priority is well-being for all. Being unable to complete research activity at home does not automatically justify return to work.

We continue to regularly liaise with funders to receive the most up to date guidance available on a wide range of topics including eligible costs and to scope out potential extensions to projects where there is less activity for the foreseeable future. This way minimising risk to USW and partners and enabling all of us to work collaboratively to fulfil our contractual obligations. We continue to review what activity can take place on campus in line with Welsh Government/Public Health Wales advice on physical/social distancing.

We wish to advise you that work continues, and we are very grateful for your ongoing support through this difficult time. If we can help with any other queries or concerns you may have in relation to projects, partnerships and funding then we would encourage you to contact your project manager(s)/team(s), even if this is to have an informal conversation on current progress.

Please keep an eye on the Graduate Schoot website, our Twitter channel and your email for any further updates.  If you have any questions, please contact us on [email protected]

Keep well, stay positive and we look forward to seeing you again soon.

Frequently asked questions    updated March 29, 2021

Postgraduate Research Students

The University has developed an application process for resuming on-campus research activity, for both staff and postgraduate research students.

The University continues to maintain a Health and Safety stance in relation to students and staff returning to campus for the purposes of carrying out research. The University is still required to comply with all legislation put forward by the Welsh Government as well as adhere to all advice offered by Public Health Wales.

From the 21st September 2020 the process for considering if students and staff can return to research will be devolved to each faculty. Applications to return will be considered at a local level, still in accordance with the legislation and official guidance.  

The University is keen to support the resuming of research activity where possible but continues to maintain its position that close quarter, face to face data collection, broadly speaking, is not permitted and alternative methods should be sought.

Other forms of research will need to be considered and permitted on a case-by-case basis by each faculty for its staff and students through the 'return to campus for research' processes.  

Please note

  • This return to campus/research process only applies to staff and research students who feel that they need to return to campus to continue their research or attend off site locations to conduct permitted data collection. 

  • The health and wellbeing of all staff and students remains our primary concern. Thus, the University is not expecting large numbers of staff and postgraduate research students to be returning to their research activity either on campus or externally. 

  • The University contends that face to face data collection should not be routinely undertaken and the University will continue to review this position as the Covid-19 guidance, rules and laws are reviewed and updated by the Welsh Government. 

Please note: There are some exceptions where: 

  • informed consent and data collection are intended for a controlled clinical environment within NHS premises where full PPE is required and will be utilised. Note that these projects are still subject to USW approval described below, local lockdown restrictions, and NHS restrictions.

  • informed consent and data collection will take place outdoors.

  • the research requires the researcher to attend a location, but data collection is not face to face, such as but not limited to observational research in public settings. 

Regardless of these exceptions, research activity must not take place without explicit permission from your faculty. 

Seeking permission

To seek permission for research activity to resume, researchers will need to submit an application to their faculty. This application does not replace any other required routine approvals such as ethical approval, and can only allow permitted activities to resume, for example in person close quarter data collection is not currently permitted. 

Researchers who wish to seek permission to return to research activity should contact their Faculty Head of Administration to establish the faculty process for considering their return. 

If you are in doubt, please feel free to contact your Head of Administration, the Research Governance Manager or Pro Vice Chancellor for Research for advice. 

The University reserves the right to monitor and review the restrictions it has put in place around research based on the prevailing principles of protect participants, researchers, and the University in accordance with the laws and guidance set out by the Welsh Government. 

You will need to discuss an alternative plan of work with your Director of Studies. You may need to revise your existing proposal and seek approval by your Faculty Research Degrees Committee if the changes required are significant.

If your approved plan involved in-person data collection your data collection methods will need to be revisited to ensure compliance with current University guidelines.

As long as an alternative plan of work can be agreed with your team, you should not need to interrupt your studies for academic reasons.

It may become necessary, depending on your individual circumstances, to interrupt your studies for other reasons, for example family, health or financial reasons, and the University will be sympathetic to such requests. You should discuss options with your supervisors in the first instance.

Interruption to Study requests are submitted as ‘Change Requests’ via PhD Manager. If your request is approved, the clock will stop on your registration period and you can resume studies at the end of the interruption period. 

If you are in receipt of a studentship, your bursary payments will stop for the period of your interruption and will resume when you resume your studies. If you are self-funding you will not pay any fees whilst your study is interrupted. An interruption to studies can be considered for a period of up to one year depending on the circumstances. 

Please contact the Graduate School if you would like further advice [email protected]

If you are an International student and you interrupt your studies, you will usually need to return home for the period of the interruption, however you can discuss options with the Graduate School and Immigration and International Student Advice (IISA) Teams.

If there are exceptional circumstances and you need a short break from studies of less than 20 working days, you can apply for a temporary leave of absence which will not affect your visa (if you are an International student), payment of fees or bursary payments. You will require appropriate evidence and approval from your supervisor. Please contact the Graduate School for advice [email protected]

Yes, absolutely - your supervisors are here to guide and support you. You must meet virtually due to current social distancing measures. It is very important that you stay engaged with your supervisors and 'meet' at least once a month, although you may meet more frequently than this. 

The University recommends using Microsoft Teams or Skype for Business for your supervision meetings. Please record all your supervision meetings in PhD Manager. 

You have a supervisory team; if your main supervisor is not available get in touch with the other members of the team. If you are worried, please contact the Graduate School for advice [email protected]

You must submit your progress review through PhD Manager when it is due and carefully note any impact of the current situation on your progress. This will be taken into consideration by the Progress Board when they meet. As long as you have been completing work that you have been able to conduct, in accordance with your plan of work, aspects of your research that could not be completed due to impacts of COVID-19 will not be detrimental to your progression. However, going forward, it is important that an achievable plan is put in place to enable you to complete.

You should still submit your thesis or transfer report through PhD Manager. Your supervisors should read your final version and provide feedback prior to you formally submitting anything for assessment. 

Requests for extensions to submission deadlines will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Please discuss with your Supervisor and the Graduate School.

When you submit your transfer report you may wish to note anything you would have done or included but were unable to complete due to the impact of Covid-19 on your studies. This will be considered sympathetically by your reviewer and by the Faculty Research Degrees Committee.

There should not be any delay in your examination as all viva voce examinations are proceeding remotely by electronic means, either using Microsoft Teams or Skype for Business.

You will be meeting remotely with your supervisors at least once per month and you must ensure that these meetings are promptly logged in PhD Manager.

If you fail to do this you will receive a reminder from the Graduate School. Failure to adhere could put your immigration status at risk.

Yes, providing it is safe to travel and you continue to engage full-time in your research and with your supervisors. Your visa will not be curtailed, and you will be able to return to the UK when campuses re-open (providing your visa is still in date when you return).

If you decide to return home, you must inform [email protected] as well as your supervisors and the Graduate School. This is very important. 

We will continue to monitor your engagement through PhD Manager as above. 

Remember: keep studying, keep checking USW for updates and tell us before you go. If you have any enquiries about your visa please contact Immigration and International Student Advice [email protected]

Providing your Annual Progress Review is satisfactory, you will receive an email with instructions to enrol online as usual. If you are an International student, we will need to complete some pre-enrolment checks and we will provide you with details of these prior to re-enrolment. Please contact the Graduate School for advice [email protected]

Please be assured that everything will be in place so that you can begin your study with us in 2020-21.  

The vast majority of research is being undertaken remotely at present. Should you require access to specific facilities to conduct your research you should discuss with your supervisory team and Graduate School, prior to enrolment.

This advice has been produced by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) in response to concerns expressed by PhD students about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their ability to carry out research and complete their studies on time.

Research Ethics Approval

The University recognises that the advice from UK and Welsh Governments are not wholly in alignment and this can lead to confusion about what is, and is not, permitted during the current Covid-19 lockdown. The position adopted by the University is one that includes the best interests of participants and researchers and follows Welsh Government and Public Health Wales advice and guidance.

Permitted Data Collection

Currently (March 2021), the University contends that ‘close quarter’ face to face data collection (such as interviews, focus groups, administering of questionnaires directly, laboratory work with participants, intervention-based research with participants, as examples) will not be routinely undertaken and the University will continue to review this position as the Covid-19 guidance, rules and laws are reviewed and updated by the Welsh Government.

There are some data collection exceptions where: 

1. informed consent and data collection are intended for a controlled clinical environment within NHS premises where full PPE is required and will be utilised. Note that these projects are still subject to USW approval described below, local lockdown restrictions, and NHS restrictions. 

2. informed consent and data collection will take place outdoors

3. the research requires the researcher to attend a location but data collection is not face to face, such as but not limited to observational research.

Regardless of these exceptions, research activity (involving in person data collection) must not take place without explicit permission from USW.

As of Tuesday 13 March 2020, USW has suspended all research that is carrying out primary data collection via face to face interactions, such as interviews, intervention studies, focus groups or similar. This applies to all data collection locations, both on campus and off campus. Online or telephone-based data collection, provided they have ethical approval for this form of data collection, can still take place. Research studies should be revised to reflect this position immediately. Studies that need to move to on-line data collection will need to seek approval from the relevant Ethics Committee. This suspension will last at least thre months and will be revised as the situation evolves.

All research that intends to use in person data collection should either be paused or have its protocol amended to avoid in person human to human data collection and use alternative means if possible, such as online interviews, surveys or similar. We acknowledge that not all research can be modified satisfactorily, and if not then it should be put on hold. As UK Government issues calls for Covid19 research activity, responses should be discussed with the PVC Research in all instances. If in doubt, contact Research and Innovation Services on RISe and the PVC Research

Yes, ethics committees will facilitate virtual reviews as much as possible. Studies that involve in person, face to face, data collection may be reviewed during this time but are still not permitted to run. Please contact your Faculty Research Ethics Chair to discuss review:

FLSE: [email protected]

FCI: [email protected]

FCES: [email protected]

A risk assessment should be included with all permitted ethics applications, to acknowledge the precautions that are being taken to minimise risk posed to participants and the research team in relation to Corona Virus. 

For further information and relevant forms, please contact your academic supervisor.

Researchers who hold USW ethical approval and anticipate problems (a delay, pause or deferral of their research study due to recruitment issues, or prevented access to participants, as examples) must notify their Faculty Research Ethics Chair.

Researchers who are in receipt of external ethical approval (and expect problems) must also notify the relevant external ethics committee of the delays and/or pause to their study. The NHS is currently pausing all studies that are not related to Corona Virus research. In most cases the NHS have written to researchers to inform them of this.  

Please notify all external hosts and organisations if you are required to suspend data collection as part of USW instruction.

No, in line with USW guidance around interaction with human participants, research that requires human interaction should be paused or modified to avoid in person human interaction. This includes collaborators, where possible, online or remote working collaboration tools should be used.

Those in receipt of research funding should contact a member of the Pre or Post Award Funding Team if their study is going to be adversely affected as a result of USW suspending in person, face to face data collection. Initial information suggests most funders are adopting a flexible approach to the delay of activity however, projects are being considered on a case-by-case basis..

The NHS is focusing its support on research that is Covid-19 based, all current research that is not Covid-19 oriented is being halted.  

All prospective educational (student) research is being rejected until normal services are resumed. Further information for student work is here

KESS Students

Please refer to the Research Ethics Approval section above.

Please advise [email protected] ASAP. 

KESS Partner cash contributions form crucial match funding for all KESS projects. If the KESS Partner suggests remote research engagement will cease for any reason, this is also to be flagged immediately, so that the KESS team can advise accordingly.  

UK government guidance changes regularly. In the first instance, please contact [email protected] and your relevant Grad School Faculty contact so that we can log this information, and provide up-to-date guidance on sickness absence, leave of absence, timesheeting, etc.  

It is crucial that any orders still comply with all USW purchasing procedures and meet the normal ESF eligibility criteria. Please speak first with your Faculty Finance/ Admin team, to ascertain their processes at this moment in time. 

We would encourage all KESS students to continue to spend their project budget (where practical to do so). 

  • We are aware of some delays to ordering and mapping new laptops, for new KESS students. Please bear this in mind, when liaising with Faculty.  
  • Many training workshops and academic conferences have moved online, and such fees remain eligible.  

All KESS teams have been providing  forward plans on a regular basis, to ensure their research projects do not rely on face-to-face or in-person data collection. 

As long as: 

  1. each regular forward plan is agreed between the KESS supervision team, the KESS student and the KESS Partner
  2. the student does not suspend their studies 
  3. the student continues to submit timesheets on a monthly basis  (now electronically via Onedrive - recommended option), or emailed to [email protected], copying in supervision team), then there is no reason for the KESS stipend to stop. 

If the project is halted, and/or the student suspends their studies, then the stipend is stopped. It can then recommence, as long as the student is still within the USW maximum registration period and the ESF funding timeframe. 

For reference, the final date for eligible ESF costs is 30 June 2023. At this stage, there is no guarantee of costs after 30 June 2023 being covered by ESF. Any changes to this date will be notified to all concerned. 

Research Impact

Any queries regarding research impact support should be directed to Lucas Brown [email protected] or Donna Szarun [email protected] 

Staff and students should disclose IP that could be used commercially. Please contact [email protected] or [email protected]  for a Confidential Intellectual Property Disclosure Form. 

Researchers should be aware that publishing results prior to filing a patent application may mean the results cannot be protected or commercialised.

Contact us

[email protected] or [email protected]

Applicants for postgraduate research opportunities should use the above contacts.

Urgent enquiries

Graduate School Manager: Dr Elaine Huntley, (01443) 482881

Head of Postgraduate Research Studies: Professor Paul Roach

Faculty of Creative Industries - Ruth Ryder

Faculty of Life Sciences and Education - Mal Scofield

Faculty of Computing, Engineering and Science - Dr Bruce Hurrell