Thursday 5 November 2020

All PGR students email

COVID update for PGRs

Dear Postgraduate Researcher,

Recognising the volume of communication about COVID-19 and following feedback from some of you, I am taking this opportunity to pull out some key messages about how the recent lockdown announcement will affect you.

As Dean of the York Graduate Research School I will work to ensure that you receive differentiated communication that reflects the issues facing you. However, given the pace of change of national and local decisions, sometimes messages need to be disseminated quickly and cannot always be tailored to different groups within our University community. The University will continue to include you also in COVID-19 communications sent to staff and other student groups, so that those of you who are working as GTAs, for example, receive relevant information.

The UK Department for Education have recently detailed additional guidance and this will be considered by the University’s Research Contingency Group led by the PVC Research, Matthias Ruth with the aim of continuing research as far as possible under the current arrangements and mitigations we already have in place. The implications for PGRs will be examined by our PGR Contingency Group led by myself, with the aim of ensuring that policies and support are in place to ensure that you can complete your degree successfully.

Lockdown restrictions and arrangements

England will be placed in a lockdown from today, Thursday 5 November until Wednesday 2 December.

The UK Government guidance issued makes clear that universities (and schools and colleges) in England, are exempt from business shutdowns. This means we are in a different situation than the lockdown in Spring 2020 when all teaching and assessment and most of our research had to move online.

For PGRs at the University of York:

  • We will still operate under Tier 2 which means labs will remain open and research can take place under those restrictions.

  • Labs will operate under current COVID-19 measures and will not, as it stands, be impacted by the 2m rules as they already have enhanced health and safety measures in place.

  • The library will remain open as will offices and bookable study spaces that are currently open.

  • Social and recreational elements of student life will be impacted on campus and in the City with the closure of bars, cafes and restrictions on sporting activities.

  • GSA and YUSU as well as colleges and York Sports are all working to put in additional online activities to be able to keep communities in contact and engaged with each other to encourage peer-to-peer support.

  • Skills training continues online - there are more than 50 professional development courses on offer before the end of autumn term.

  • Buddying is available to all first year PGRs that want a Buddy and Mentoring is available to all those in the final 18 months of their registration. The peer to peer led ‘How to Thrive and Survive’ series is open to ALL postgraduate researchers and provides you with an opportunity to meet (online) with existing researchers and postdocs.

This lockdown is different from last time - and specifically exempts universities and other educational settings from general ‘work at home if you can’ rules. That means that you are allowed to travel to the campus to carry out your roles.

The introduction of new restrictions is something we all need to digest and may cause further concern for many of our community. The frequency of Government shifts in policy with regard to COVID-19 management means that we have to collectively respond, at pace, to rapidly changing circumstances often determined by external factors outside our control.

Funding

YGRS is pleased to announce that thanks to generous funding from the Wolfson Foundation and a private donor, from Monday 9 November we will be opening a new PGR Writing-up+ Support Fund for students in their writing-up year and are experiencing financial hardship. This fund is modelled on the existing Student Support Fund, using a similar application process and evidence requirements, and enables this group of PGRs to access full awards of up to £3,000 where they can demonstrate financial need. The fund will be in place until 31 March 2021 and details and links will be circulated next week.

Wellbeing Support

The mental health of our PGRs and staff are part of our assessment of the impacts of COVID-19. See our support pages for help with wellbeing specifically for PGRs. Your supervisor can also help signpost you to sources of help.

For PGRs who are also staff, please look at the advice and support, talk to your line manager or a colleague, or seek confidential employee assistance advice via Health Assured, if you find yourself in distress.

You can read in more detail the different aspects, including international students, socialising, catered halls, wellbeing, libraries and study spaces, performance arts and sports facilities.

Extensions and LOA

If you are within 3 months of your submission date and need an extension as a result of COVID-19 then there is a light touch form to complete. We realise that the disruption from COVID-19 will be felt by PGRs for several years to come, so we will be reviewing how these COVID-19 extension arrangements will continue into the future. I urge you to be recording impacts in SkillsForge so that you have contemporaneous records of how you and your research project have been affected.

For some of you taking Leave of Absence might be appropriate (NB impacts on Tier 4 visas and funding). You can apply for an LOA even in your Continuation (aka ‘writing up’) Year as long as you're not within your final three months.

Actions for you

  • Please watch the YGRS homepage and YGRS Community Blog for the latest university level information.

  • Keep in touch with your department for further news and talk to your supervisors regarding changes to your project and contingency plans.

  • Please take the opportunity to email YGRS if you would like to ask questions or share concerns.

  • Come along to our next Ask Me Anything Session - date to be circulated soon.

Stay safe, stay healthy,

Kate Arnold

Dean of York Graduate Research School