Monday 19 April 2021
Covid-19 update: new Gov guidance
Dear postgraduate researchers,
I would like to share some new updates with you, focusing on the easing of lockdown restrictions, new Government guidance on in-person teaching, support funding, and my thoughts on recent research funding decisions.
Roadmap resilience, with a focus on testing
Whilst it is good to see some of the lockdown restrictions easing and I hope you have been enjoying the activities we can restart now we’re on the next step out of lockdown. It is clear, nevertheless, that we must continue to be careful if we are to progress to Step 3 on the Government roadmap on 17 May, and move beyond it to the general removal of restrictions anticipated on 21 June.
The Department for Education has made it very clear that regular rapid results covid testing is an important part of this for universities. I know many postgraduate researchers have been working on campus throughout the last lockdown, but a reminder that all students and staff making use of University facilities can and should get tested twice a week, 3 days apart. This is becoming easier and easier with home testing kits now available in York, which students and staff can collect from both City pharmacies and test centres on campus and elsewhere in the city.
We are encouraging everyone to build testing into their routine, if not done so already. For me, I’ve been using the test centre in the sports hall twice a week till now, but this week I picked up a stock of home test kits and now plan a twice-weekly swabbing session at the kitchen table with the rest of my family!
New Government guidance
For our Graduate Teaching Assistants, the long-anticipated Government guidance came last week, confirming in-person teaching will not be available for classroom-based programmes until 17 May at the earliest. We have planned for this, but I have expressed my disappointment with both the decision and the length of time it has taken for the Government to provide this guidance.
The latest guidance does not mention any changes to social distancing measures so this still restricts our ability to open research facilities further. However, the Library is now open from 8am until 12 midnight, seven days a week, and will open 24 hours a day between 3 May and 5 June. With the possible return of more students from 17 May, campus may become busier so it is important to ensure you have access to study spaces. There are currently several hundred socially-distanced single study spaces available across the Library buildings - and more across campus generally - and you can book a study space up to three days in advance. Archives are also open and bookable for appointments.
As part of its latest announcement, the Government has also shared an additional £15m in hardship funding. While this is welcome - every little helps - it is to be spread across all universities in England and will make little practical difference. We will continue to provide hardship and emergency support funding, targeted at those most in need, at much higher levels than the Government has provided. Remember that round 3 of the Covid-19 Phd Scholarship Fund is open for applications until Friday 23 April (note the changes in eligibility for self-funded international PhD researchers) and the Postgraduate Research Writing-up+ Support Fund is open until Monday 31 May.
Finally, I also want to share my thoughts on some recent funding decisions, so you are aware of the latest and because I know some PGRs are closely associated with either supervisors or the impacted projects.
I have written to MPs about the Government’s decision to cut funding to the Official Development Assistance (ODA) programme, with all its damaging implications for research.
Research funded through the ODA route (largely the Global Challenges Research Fund) - York has approximately 68 current projects worth more than £21.8 million - is designed to support the UK Aid Strategy and the Sustainable Development Goals, contributing directly to social welfare and economic development in some of the poorest countries in the world. The cuts will bring real damage to work tackling inequalities, global public health challenges and climate change, to research collaborations in partner countries we have painstakingly built up, and to the UK’s ambition to be a ‘Global Britain’.
Along with many colleagues across the University, I have also shared our extreme disappointment with many of our international partners, writing to them to outline the implications of the Government’s decision and to emphasise that our commitment to partnership remains steadfast. I am deeply saddened by the actions we have been asked to make following the Government decision, and have reiterated that we will do all that we can to maintain our strong relationships and shared endeavours. The opportunities GCRF funding brings are central to our mission as a University for public good and to our commitment to international collaboration on shared challenges.
Some of you may have also seen my comment piece in WonkHE, following recent decisions by the Department for Education about weighting allocations towards STEM-based subjects in higher education teaching funding. While we all recognise the importance of STEM, these decisions show a worrying lack of understanding of the value of arts and humanities subjects. You can read more about my case for the arts and humanities.
I hope this update and summary has been useful. I will continue to keep you updated throughout the next weeks and months as we work hard to keep the roadmap on track.
Please do continue to take care of yourselves and one another.