25 June: COVID-19 Research Update
I hope this finds you safe and well.
Following the Principal’s message to all staff, I wanted to provide a further update on research matters. One of the positive messages emerging from government and across the sector is the importance of research. The recent report from the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery, ‘Towards a Robust, Resilient Wellbeing Economy for Scotland’, has put education, skills, and research development and commercialisation firmly at the centre of economic recovery. This is also reflected in the significant increase in funding allocation to BEIS of £10.36billion in financial year 2020 to 2021, which includes £8.34billion to UKRI. The Scottish Government, recognising the additional support needed to sustain our research base during this challenging financial period provided additional funding of £75m – from this we will receive £2.5m to help support the excellent research activity we do here at the University of Stirling.
We have had an excellent year in terms of winning research grants, with many significant awards in the last couple of months. I have already highlighted the amazing response there has been from across the research community to address issues related to COVID-19 and am pleased to see further recent success including: ESRC funding to look at the impact of the unprecedented shift to home-based working led by Stirling Management School’s Professor Abigail Marks, as well as a major study into the impact of COVID-19 on gamblers jointly led by Professor Kate Hunt and Dr Nathan Critchlow, from our Institute for Social Marketing and Health (ISMH).
We are keen to promote our research activity, including our response to COVID-19 and have undertaken a refresh of our research web pages so that this is front and centre. The web pages feature our COVID-19 research bites series, alongside news and articles published in The Conversation.
As you will have read in relation to REF, the University received a letter on 19 June confirming the revised submission deadline of 12noon, 31 March 2021, for all elements of submissions. Updated guidance on any revisions to the exercise will be published by 31 July 2020, following a further period of engagement with the HE sector and other partners. As previously advised, the staff census date of 31 July 2020 remains unchanged.
The letter also confirms an extension to the period in which examples of impact may occur, in order to be eligible for submission. The extended assessment period for impact will therefore run from 1 August 2013 to 31 December 2020. This is an extension from the previous end date of 31 July 2020. The extension has been put in place to enable case studies affected by, or focusing on the current response to, COVID-19 to be assessed in REF 2021; this is welcome and colleagues in RIS will be in touch to offer continued support with our REF plans.
I am proud of the way our research community continues to support each other and I will update further as we continue to advance plans for the Autumn semester.
Professor Judith Phillips
Deputy Principal (Research)
Research FAQs for staff
Information on how and when you can restart your research is provided here.
Information and guidance for students and postgraduate researchers is available on the student FAQs webpage and via Canvas modules, created by the Institute for Advanced Studies.
Due to the current situation, and in line with Government guidance, staff are asked to work from home, where possible, and access to buildings is restricted. Access will only be granted in exceptional circumstances, with the prior approval of the Director of Estates. When working remotely, please stay in touch with your line manager and team.
Due to the current situation, and in line with Government guidance, staff are asked to work from home, where possible, and access to buildings is restricted. Access will only be granted in exceptional circumstances, with the prior approval of the Director of Estates. If you deem your circumstances to be exceptional, please contact your line manager in the first instance for your request to be escalated – do not contact the Estates team directly.
The University understands that it will be necessary to scale back some research activity, due to the current situation, and funders are considering the impact of COVID-19 on their funded research. Major funders are expected to take a pragmatic approach by offering no-cost extensions*, flexible reporting and spending deadlines.
Please ensure that you are familiar with the latest position of those funding your projects. Some funders have already communicated their position – please check your funder’s website and social media feeds for the latest information. Links to COVID-19 updates from a number of major funders:
- British Academy
- EC and H2020
- Leverhulme Trust
- Royal Society
- Wellcome Trust
Funders are also considering the impact on grant application deadlines; many have remained unchanged but some are being extended. If you are working on a new application, please check the call details for the latest information.
Inevitably, COVID-19 will have an impact on the progress of your research projects. If you are principal investigator on a grant consider whether you need to apply for a suspension/pause of your research project where currently no work can be undertaken or an extension where work is progressing but with reduced capacity.
Research and Innovation Services are monitoring the situation and can advise you accordingly.
*No-cost extensions: where funders allow the project end date to be changed to a later date, to completion of the research, however it does not provide additional grant funding to cover that extended period.
Research funders are currently considering the impact of COVID-19 on their funded research, with some allowing no-cost extensions. We are asking all PIs and Co-Is to think very carefully about whether requesting an extension or temporary suspension of the project from the funder would be beneficial to both the wellbeing of all of those involved in the project and the outputs of the research itself. Where this is the case we would encourage requests for any extensions to be costed, where this option is available.
RIS have produced a template letter that can be used for extension requests which can be found in Box.
If applying to UKRI for an extension please use the JeS system to make the request.
Please ensure that you are familiar with the current position of funders. Funders are using multiple channels to share information – please check their websites and social media accounts for the latest updates.
We are aware that, for a variety of reasons, many research projects are being scaled back. This may be due to reduced capacity of those involved; limited or no access to laboratories; and changes to other ways of working. Many funders are considering the impact, and are offering no-cost extensions, however, many projects will incur costs during this period, including staff salary costs.
The University is exploring all options open to us through various government initiatives, to support organisations during the crisis, that would support a healthy and sustainable research culture and environment when research projects are able to recommence. We are actively participating in sector-wide discussions and will provide further updates on this issue as they become available.
The University advises that any activity that might expose people to unnecessary risk – such as interviews, group sessions, or activities that require participants to travel – should be cancelled until further notice.
Please review your project plan to consider how the activity might be rescheduled or changed. For example, consider whether the activity could be conducted electronically, by phone, or via post. Ensure any external funder is aware that work has been affected and take advice from Research and Innovation Services regarding any potential issues with funders.
Given the unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 situation, the University requires all research –including face-to-face participant interaction – to make changes to how those interactions are conducted. Guidance has been produced which relates to research projects, involving face-to-face participant interaction, granted ethical clearance by the General University Ethics Panel (GUEP) or the NHS, Invasive of Clinical Research (NICR) Panel and can be found here.
An expedited review process has been developed for new research on the impacts of COVID-19 which may require urgent consideration by the relevant ethics panel. Information on how to request expedited review can be found here.
The University received a letter on 19 June confirming the revised submission deadline of 12 noon, 31 March
The letter also confirms an extension to the period in which examples of impact may occur, in order to be
The University subscribes to Research Professional, which you should be able to access remotely, through the Portal. If you are having any problems, please see here for support.
Research Professional has set up a page which brings together information on funding, policy, opinion and more. Visit its COVID-19 webpage for the latest information. Research Connect also has a publicly available webpage with a summary of worldwide funding news.
I am grateful to our research community for all your efforts over the last few difficult weeks as we try to navigate our way through these uncertain times.
It is critical that we continue to share information and support each other and I am continuing to meet online with Associate Deans for Research and colleagues across the University and wider sector.
You will have read that Research England has extended the deadline for REF 2021 (27 November 2020) in response to the current situation. This decision has been made in recognition of the need for institutions to divert staff time to priority areas, including those working in clinical or health-related fields.
At present, Research England has not set a new submission deadline. However, it should also be noted that the census dates for staff, impact, environment (31 July 2020) and outputs (31 December) has not altered. The deadline for panel membership (3 April 2020) has been lifted with nominations continuing until further notice.
Research England will adapt the details of the framework to ensure the impact of COVID-19 can be taken into account. They will make decisions on this when they have greater clarity about the period of serious disruption to universities and have consulted widely. The University is logging current and potential disruptions to our REF preparations and will communicate these to REF as needed.
The new submission deadline will be notified to HEIs no later than eight months prior to the deadline.
Until we have further detail from REF, the University’s approach is to continue to work on outputs and the environment statements as much as possible, whilst recognising the extraordinary burdens currently on staff. In relation to impact case studies where testimonials are still required, we would stress that those responsible should only ask for such testimonials where it is absolutely appropriate to do so and does not involve organisations or individuals who are engaged in providing services to fighting COVID-19.
The University’s REF team is in communication with key REF-preparation personnel across the University and will keep them informed of any changes to University-level deadlines. We have made great strides in putting together a strong REF submission thanks to collective efforts and we hope to maintain this momentum, while acknowledging the difficult circumstances under which colleagues are working.
The full statement from Research England can be found here: https://www.ref.ac.uk/publications/further-update-on-coronavirus-covid-19-and-ref-timetable/
I would also like to highlight the link to our FAQs on COVID-19 guidance for researchers where you will find information on conducting your research and information relating to ethics and integrity can also be found here. Additionally, RIS will update relevant information via the box link here.
As you may also be aware, the Scottish Government, via the Chief Scientist Office, is making funding available for research aimed at tackling the challenges posed by the current COVID-19 pandemic in Scotland. Please find further information at the following link. They have requested a co-ordinated response from Universities of all applications, Susan Alexander is co-ordinating our response and can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The closing date is 5pm, Wednesday 8 April 2020.
Most importantly, I would like to reiterate my thanks and support to you all at this very difficult time. Please do not hesitate to get in touch with my office, or the RIS team, to seek support on research matters.
Professor Judith Phillips
Deputy Principal (Research)
In recent weeks, our University community has transitioned to new ways of working in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic – and I understand that this has presented significant challenges to our research community.
Some colleagues have been able to move research online but others are having to scale back their planned activities. Meanwhile, those of you with teaching commitments have faced additional pressures as you introduce new approaches to learning and assessment. I am extremely grateful to you all for your ongoing efforts during these unprecedented times.
The situation has raised a number of questions and concerns around the implications on research funding and for those working on research projects.
Many funders have already taken a pragmatic approach by offering no-cost extensions, and flexible reporting and spending deadlines. Some are issuing rapid response calls for COVID-19 research and it was fantastic to see so many of our researchers respond to the Chief Scientist Office call issued last week. UKRI are also offering the opportunity for existing research funding to be repurposed into projects investigating COVID-19 and we will continue to share these opportunities as they arise.
I encourage you to ensure that you are familiar with the latest position of those funding your projects by visiting funders’ websites and social media channels. Links to COVID-19 updates from a number of major funders are available on the FAQs below.
I know colleagues who are funded directly by research grants have particular concerns in relation to the current situation. Please be reassured that the University is actively participating in discussions with partners across the sector on this issue and we will provide an update at the earliest possible opportunity.
Following the extension of the REF 2021 deadline, a series of FAQs around REF 2021 contingency planning has been issued – providing further useful information while we await a new submission deadline.
I reiterate my thanks to our research community for all of your efforts in recent weeks – and encourage you to keep checking our dedicated COVID-19 research webpages for the latest guidance, information and updates.
Finally, I would like to remind you that nominations for the research culture awards, celebrating people and groups who contribute towards a positive research environment in the University, can be made here until Friday 17 April.
Professor Judith Phillips
Deputy Principal (Research)
I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your efforts as we continue to navigate through these uncertain times.
Already, we have more than 30 research projects being developed or submitted to funders in response to the COVID-19 crisis. We also anticipate hearing, in the coming weeks, about a portfolio of projects related to COVID-19 recently submitted to the Chief Scientist Office.
Additionally, our research success continues across the board and I would like to congratulate Dr Isabel Jones, Lecturer in Biological and Environmental Sciences, who will be leading a new £1.2 million project, funded through a UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Future Leaders Fellowship.
As you will be aware, the REF consultation survey is now open for completion. The survey consists of two questions and a draft University response can be accessed here. If you have any comments, these can be shared with Anne Donaldson, REF Manager, by close of business on Wednesday 29 April; this will allow time to collate and finalise the University’s response by the survey deadline of Tuesday 5 May.
Research grants and projects
We are continuing to update our advice and guidance for grant holders in line with information issued by funders. This advice can be found here and will continue to be updated as our understanding of the impact of the virus on our capacity to deliver research projects develops.
We are asking all PIs and Co-Is on projects to consider carefully whether requesting an extension from the funder would be beneficial to both the wellbeing of all of those involved in the project, and the outputs of the research itself.
We understand that many of you will have been seeking ways to adapt your research to the current situation. Some projects will be able to carry on with limited impact and it is important to maintain our research activity in those cases.
Some funders, such as UKRI, are offering no-cost extensions and where the funder hasn’t explicitly stated (or are perhaps an industry partner) then please initiate dialogue in order to discuss the impact on individual projects and agree next steps.
The University is exploring all options open to us through various government initiatives, to support organisations through the crisis, that will enable a healthy and sustainable research culture and environment when research projects are able to recommence.
A template letter, created by RIS, is available for use in requesting an extension, and for UKRI grants please use JeS to request an extension. The template letter is available in the FAQs below.
As you will be aware, we have created a new virtual programme for the Festival of Research (19-21 May) which can be viewed here. I look forward to engaging with you all virtually and would encourage you to register for sessions. In advance, I hope many of you will be in touch with Professor Rachel Norman, to contribute to a new series of short (10 minutes), accessible, pre-recorded lectures in relation to COVID-19. Rachel’s lecture can be viewed from the Public Policy blog.
Please do not hesitate to contact me, or the RIS team, to support you or colleagues at this time.
With best wishes,
Professor Judith Phillips
Deputy Principal (Research)