Wednesday 29 April 2020

All staff email

Covid-19 update Wednesday 29 April 2020 - start of term and PhD funding

Dear colleagues,

As we continue to tackle the uncertainty ahead with purpose, I am writing to share information on a number of decisions taken yesterday at the Executive Board. My apologies that this email is being issued so late this evening due to diary commitments that could not be changed.

The first decision taken is an agreement to start our new academic year on 28 September, as planned.

Making this commitment will help provide further clarity and structure for our work over the coming months, and facilitate further and deeper engagement with our offer-holders, and our current students.

In my email yesterday, I reflected on the need for agility, to anticipate a number of different scenarios for the start of the new academic year, perhaps with a mix of some students starting term online and others based on campus as normal, but having a mix of online and classroom teaching.

It is important however to note that how we start the academic year will remain dependent on government guidance about social distancing measures and potential ongoing constraints to international travel. But taking this decision now allows us to confidently communicate our intention to our offer holders, and we will also be signalling to them that further information will be shared with them in the coming weeks, as we advance the detail of our plans for how we will start the new academic year.

External Relations will be contacting departments and admission tutors about our offer holder communications, including our ongoing promotion of our Next Steps to University MOOC, and the imminent launch of bespoke summer courses that have been exclusively designed for York offer holders.

For our current students, our message remains the same: we have delivered quality teaching, assessment and progression online, underpinned by a comprehensive programme of pastoral, wellbeing and academic support, and we will be starting our new academic year in September as planned. Our key priority is that all our students remain safe and well, and are able to conduct their studies to the best of their abilities in these very challenging times.

PhD funding extensions

The other decision made by the board yesterday concerns our PhD students. We know that the pandemic has caused major disruption for many of our postgraduate researchers and we have been listening to their concerns about ensuring that they have the necessary time and funding to complete their research.

PhD funding is complex, and UK and international funders have responded to the issues in a number of ways including some funders offering short extensions to students in their final year of funding (known as costed extensions). We needed to absorb the different advice, guidance and policies from funders before being able to take a final decision. UK funders such as UKRI and the Wellcome Trust also issued further guidance late last week, which also informing our decisions.

I am pleased to say that the Executive Board agreed to introduce an underwritten support package that offers up to a 6 month funded extension for all of our PhD students who either receive funding from UK funding agencies or who are funded by the University.

The Dean of the York Graduate Research School will be communicating further details to our research community about the process that students, whose funding is due to end between 1st April and 31st March, need to follow to access a costed extension.

This remains a complex situation, because of the different funding models that exist, including the various ways universities, other institutions, or industry may match-fund posts. We are continuing to liaise with national funders to support postgraduate researchers who have been affected by the pandemic, and the Graduate School will also be issuing further advice to our international and self-funded PGRs on the best ways to complete their studies successfully.

Research Contingency Group

I also wanted to provide an update on recent decisions for our research and innovation community, as we take action to strengthen the position of our research base and look after our researchers, at all stages of their career, during the Covid-19 pandemic.

We want to ensure that we can effectively support our research community by coordinating decision-making, continue to assess impact, and set priorities to navigate the challenges ahead.

To that end, we have established a Research Contingency Group, chaired by our current Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research, Professor Deborah Smith. The Group’s focus will be on how we best deliver our distinctive research agenda during the period of uncertainty that will follow the covid 19 pandemic and to continue to proactively engage with key research funders.

We know the time frames between sharing key announcements after they are made, and confirming the necessary detail to put them into practice, varies depending on the complexity of the policies. This group will be able to share timely updates about issues being discussed, expand on details of decisions, and identify where work still needs to be done to establish the relevant processes. We continue to update our staff research pages as well, to keep our community informed.

Thank you, once again, for your patience as we consider what has been a huge transformation already, as well as looking ahead to what is to come. A heartfelt thanks for your efforts in the last and coming weeks.

Best wishes


Professor Charlie Jeffery