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Hi all,

I hope you’re all staying safe and healthy. The other Sabbs and I have continued to make sure that your perspective and concerns are considered in all decision-making rooms at UCL.  We stick by our guiding principle that research students (as well as all other students) are not disadvantaged in any way by any decisions being made due to the COVID-19 crisis. We continue to listen and voice your concerns to senior members of UCL and in the wider research community.  I wanted to update and remind you of some decisions that UCL has taken in relation to research students, which we have been pushing them to clarify or we’re aware there has been some confusion amongst research students.  

Remote Supervision

Supervision should still be taking place on a monthly basis as per the Code of Practice. Supervision should take place remotely such as through MS Teams, phone or video calls. If a supervisor is unwell, normal procedures should follow with other supervisors covering for them. If all your supervisors are unwell, a temporary support, e.g. a Department Graduate Tutor (DGT), should be nominated in the department. A DGT, Faculty Graduate Tutor, or Head of Department should be able to help identify suitable cover in this instance. 

Tier 4 / international students

If the student chooses to return to their home country, they must inform UCL of their intention to leave the UK by completing the Coronavirus Return Home notification for in the ‘Visas and Immigration’ category of askUCL. Students must also inform their supervisors, DGT, and PGR administrator.

International students have the same options regarding remaining registered or taking an interruption of studies. However, please keep in mind that formal interruptions could have visa implications, special advice on visas during this emergency applies. Further advice can be found on the Immigration advice and Covid-19 webpage.

UKCISA has a lot of helpful advice for international students in response to COVID-19.  

Any other visa queries should be directed through askUCL.

Extensions

All students who were registered as of 1 March 2020 will automatically be given 15 (FT) or 30 months (PT) of CRS (writing up) status at the time they take this up. Students currently on a CRS extension have also been given an extension in Portico as above. If UCL stays under remote working conditions for longer, we will update the timing accordingly. For students who registered after 1 March and feel impacted by the current events, can still apply for CRS extension in the normal way and this will be granted. If a student subsequently needs a further extension for another reason, they can apply, again in the normal way.

Students who interrupt their studies will also be given the automatic extension.

For funders who do not normally allow for a CRS period, e.g. Wellcome and UKRI: they have updated their submission deadlines as well as offering funding extensions. Internally at UCL, we plan to still move students to CRS so that additional fees are not incurred during this time.

Funding

Support announced by funders: Funded students will be expected to utilise any funds their funders make available for covid related extensions in the first instance.

UKRI (includes all Research Councils) have announced an extension for final year students of up to 6 months.

Wellcome Trust have announced an extension for those studentships ending in 2020 of up to 6 months and those ending in 2021 of up to 3 months.

Other funder announcements will be posted on the COVID-19 – Impact on Research Funding website as they become available.  

These extensions will be managed by the local Programme Administrator.

Support from UCL for funded students: For funded students in their final year of normal registration (not CRS) whose funder is unable to fund an extension, UCL will underwrite stipend payments at the minimum UKRI rate on a monthly basis. These extensions will be managed by the local Postgraduate Research Administrator.

Further Financial Assistance

UCL has increased the maximum amount payable to research students through the Financial Assistance Fund (FAF) to £3,000 and set-up a new Emergency Assistance Grant (EAG) for awards of up to £500. UCL is also working to simplify the application procedure where possible. 

Self-funded students

UCL will prioritise applications from self-funded students for the Financial Assistance Fund (FAF) and Emergency Assistance Grant (EAG). We are continuing to raise the impact that the current situation has on self-funded students and will carry on pushing UCL on mitigating this impact.  

UCL is also reviewing the fee deferral process with the aim to simplify or extend the normal deferral period. Interruptions are also possible if it is felt no research can be progressed during this time, particularly for those with caring responsibilities.

For self-funded students who cannot do any research at the moment, UCL is advising these students to interrupt. However, if self-funded students are able to continue on some level, it would be better if they didn’t interrupt so they still have full access to supervision and other resources. There is the CRS extension if additional time is needed.

Students will need to email fees@ucl.ac.uk if they would like to defer fees.

Students with caring responsibilities

Students with caring responsibilities may find it particularly difficult to study during this time. Additional CRS extensions will be possible as a result. Interruptions are also possible if self-funded students, although for funded students, it is not recommended so that they can continue to receive funding.

Similar to self-funded students, students with caring responsibilities will be prioritised for the Financial Assistance Fund (FAF) and Emergency Assistance Grant (EAG)

Also, have a look at this blog from Ahsana, our Officer for Students with Caring Responsibilities. She’s listed lots of ways to help those who have children or caring responsibilities manage this situation. 

The UCL Doctoral School has been updating their response on a regular basis and you can view their responses here

Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any specific or general concerns or questions.

Also please take advantage and cherish all the support available at UCL. Keep in touch with your peers, check in on all your friends self-isolating, and keep engaging in our UCL Community as best as you can. Also, visit the Union’s wellbeing support information

In good health,

Jim Onyemenam

Postgraduate Students’ Officer

You can read my previous update for Research students here