Student and Staff Wellbeing

Covid-19 Update - 26 March 2020 research students

Covid-19 Update Message to research programme students - 26 March 2020

Lucy Backhurst, Academic Registrar shares the latest updates with research programme students.

Dear research programme students,

Please find below today’s update. It’s quite long, but it provides important information about the changes we are making following Boris Johnson’s “tougher measures” announcement on Monday 23rd March 2020.

It also sets out our developing approach over the next three months in terms of supporting research students to progress with their research projects, where possible, as well as the assessment arrangements for those students who have already submitted their thesis for examination. Information about the developing plans for 2020 graduation is also provided, together with details of a postgraduate policy review workshop which is to take place tomorrow via Zoom. 

New Government advice

As I’m sure you know, in an address from Downing Street on Monday evening, Boris Johnson introduced drastic measures to tackle the spread of Coronavirus. These measures included a ban on public gatherings of more than two people and advice to leave home only where “absolutely necessary”. This will undoubtedly bring big changes for you in terms of university life, and for us all in terms of how we all lead our daily lives.

We must all take the information on social distancing very seriously for the sake of ourselves, our families and our NHS front line staff, as I’m sure you will.    

We recognise that for our students who have no choice but to stay on campus or indeed in Newcastle, this is a particularly difficult time, and you may well be feeling isolated if you’re unable to return home or see friends and family. It is important that you keep in regular contact with your supervisors and keep talking things through with them.  

To remind you, NUSU have set up a Covid-19 Community Facebook group (Newcastle University: Covid-19 Community) and pastoral support is available from Student Health and Wellbeing via email: pastoral.support@ncl.ac.uk

For those of you who were planning to go home in the next few days, we have checked with Public Health England and they have said that this constitutes essential travel, so you are free to do so.  We would find it very helpful if you could provide us with information on your intentions and in our previous communication of the 19th March 2020, we advised that we have created an online form, to gather this information and we would encourage you to complete the relevant Faculty form (if you have not already done so) to help us to support you as best as we can:

If you do decide to return home (outside of the UK) due to the current situation, it is important that you notify your supervisor and Graduate School, both for visa requirements and so we can support you appropriately to continue your studies. You can do this by submitting an Outside Study form, which is available via PGR ePortfolio, and the Graduate Schools will prioritise the consideration of these.  You should select the option ‘Choosing to Return Home due to Covid-19’ and this will allow the Graduate School to expedite your request and record a period of time away from the University for the next three months provided that you are returning to your permanent place of residence. 

If you are returning to a country other than your permanent place of residence, you may be asked to provide more information to the Dean of Postgraduate Studies, in support of your request.

Changes to progress review and assessment 

I am aware that you may be concerned about your ability to make progress with your research project, or your ability to complete your thesis by your required deadline, depending upon the stage you are at in your research project.  The following FAQs will provide you with information on our current approach.

In these circumstances there is no perfect solution, but the University’s Executive Board approach will be a pragmatic response to the situation that balances the need to ensure:

  • the integrity of our/your degrees and the value of our/your awards;
    • that the success of your research degree is not compromised due to the current situation 
    • trying not to over-burden our students and staff

Access to Resources and Support

  • What will happen for students who have less/no means of accessing the necessary hardware/ IT equipment generally?
    • Public Health England advised us on Tuesday 24th March that we must now close all our computer clusters and the King’s Gate building for physical access.  We recognise that this may create issues for students who may not have access to computing facilities and we are working as quickly as possible to address these issues. We will be updating the answer to this question as we have further updates to provide, please check back regularly for more information.
    • What software is available for students when accessing their learning remotely from their own homes?
      • There is a range of software that you can access as students to support your studies, including full access to the Microsoft Office 365 suite of tools (which all students can download for free). Details of this and other software available to you can be found on the NUIT pages. There is additional software that we know students will need access to, including specialist software normally available on clusters. This is a really important issue and we are working as quickly as possible to put in place ways of making this available.

Progress Review

  • What will happen with my research project which needs primary research/field work/lab work etc. which cannot now be completed?
    • We understand that you will be concerned about the impact that the Covid-19 situation will have on your ability to complete your research.  We know that some of your research projects required in-person research and data collection, UK and/or Overseas fieldwork/facilities, placements, etc. that are now not possible in this period of remote learning. The impact of this will be different for students depending on the stage of study, discipline and point of progress through the project. As such there will be different ways of addressing these issues and we are considering all possible options to deal with the many different scenarios that we know our students will be experiencing.
    • Will my Annual Progress Review be affected?
      • It is likely that upcoming reviews may be disrupted and that deadlines may need to be changed and progress meetings may need to take place remotely. Arrangements for upcoming reviews will be determined by your Academic Unit/Faculty and you will be provided with information as it becomes available.

Assessment

  • Will I still have to submit my thesis by my latest submission deadline?
    • If your submission deadline is within the next three months (between the 23rd March 2020 and 30thJune 2020), we understand that your ability to complete your thesis by your required deadline may be affected, which may due to a variety of factors, such as IT equipment availability, lack of access to resources, personal issues – including caring responsibilities.
      • In order to mitigate against these factors, we are supportive of extending your submission date by up to 3 months (in the first instance) depending on your circumstances, should you need this as a result of disruption caused by Covid-19. If you are in this situation, you do not need to take any action at present, as your Graduate School are collating details of the relevant students and will make contact with you by 27th March 2020 (normally using your University email address, unless you have already provided us with additional, alternative contact details).
    • I have already submitted my thesis and awaiting my viva – will I still need to have a viva?
      • There will be no face-to-face assessments for the remainder of the academic year, and this will obviously have an impact if you have a viva scheduled between now and the end of the academic year.  However, we are doing everything we can to ensure these will happen as planned.
      • The assumption is that all vivas will be carried out remotely, and to facilitate this the Deans of Postgraduate Study have approved a blanket concession for MPhil and PhD vivas to take place via video link, subject to confirmation that the viva is conducted via a professional Zoom link.
        • In order to ensure that the vivas run smoothly the following additional points with regard to the appointment of an Independent Chair have also been developed:
          • The Preliminary Reports from both Examiners must be received by the Graduate School two weeks before the scheduled viva date.  The Dean may require an Independent Chair to be appointed if there is any indication of particular problems or likelihood of failure etc. 
          • The Internal Examiner must be experienced – as per the normal criteria
          • If the student has wellbeing or particular anxiety issues, the Dean may require an Independent Chair to be appointed.  Supervisors should indicate if there is a particular problem of this kind to the Graduate School.
          • Your Graduate School will be providing guidance directly to your academic unit/supervisors about how vivas by video link can be supported and are currently identifying students who have a viva scheduled in the next three months and advising the relevant Supervisors that they should confirm to their Graduate School if the viva is going ahead by video link. 
            • If you are a student in FMS and required to undertake a pre-viva presentation, this is likely to be done via video link to just the Examiners.
            • We are aware that if you are a creative practice student, you may have different arrangements for your examination which may include elements in addition to a viva, e.g. a performance, installation, etc.  If you are concerned about the arrangements for an upcoming examination in the next three months, we suggest you contact your Supervisor and/or Graduate School to discuss this and determine the options available to you.

Student Support

  • I have a Student Support Plan in place.  Will this be affected by the Covid-19 situation?
    • The University continues to do all it can to support students with disabilities.
      • The ability to put your Student Support Plan arrangements in place may be affected by the current situation.  Please contact your Disability Adviser directly if you have concerns about this, as soon as possible.  They will advise and support you appropriately.​ 

Graduation

  • Do you have to physically attend a graduation ceremony to graduate?  
    • No, you do not need to attend a congregation ceremony to be awarded your qualification and graduate.  The qualification from the University is awarded when your Pass List is produced, following approval of the award recommendation from your Examiners by the Dean of Postgraduate Studies.
    • Graduate Schools will continue to produce electronic Pass Lists and Statements of Qualifications on receipt of the final copy of your electronic thesis following notification of an award recommendation.
    • Hard copies of Degree parchments will be posted out whilst secure and verified electronic degree parchments will be issued via the Digitary CORE portal: (https://www.ncl.ac.uk/exams/results/documents/). Further information and instructions will be issued in due course.

Postgraduate Policy Review Workshop : Friday 27 March, 2pm – 3.30pm

The University is currently undertaking a review of all student-facing policies.  Tomorrow (Friday 27 March) from 2.00pm – 3.30pm Katie Smyth, NUSU President, Karina Sorrels, PG Officer and Professor Chris Day, Vice-Chancellor, will host a workshop inviting postgraduate students to share their experiences of and/or concerns about current postgraduate student-facing policies.  The workshop will take place via Zoom and further information can be found on a dedicated Facebook page or by contacting Katie Smyth directly

Self-care

Finally, we know that the current situation has meant a significant change for everyone as well as a loss of routine and an increase in the unknown, all of which can be stressful. It is vital therefore that you look after yourself at a time like this. As you know, our Student Health and Wellbeing Services are all available to you remotely, but not everyone will want or need to access formal therapy. You may be interested instead in the iNCLude app which comes recommended by our Wellbeing team. It has many new features specifically developed to help you adapt to this new situation. You may also want to take advantage of our online CBT platform, Silvercloud, which provides you with techniques designed to help you manage stress and anxiety.

An important part of self-care is staying active. Sport England have released some workouts you can do indoors, so you may want to visit their website for some suggestions on how to stay active.  

Remember for those of you close to campus, the Coop store NUSU remains open to provide essential supplies to students and staff.  All other NUSU services are available online only

If you have any further questions that are not addressed by my emails or the FAQs, please get in touch at: Covid19enquiries@ncl.ac.uk 

With best wishes,   

Lucy Backhurst

Academic Registrar