Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) - Coronavirus (COVID-19)
This webpage contains a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) you may have with regards to your research degree study during the 2021/22 academic year. General information and advice on studying safely on our campuses is available on the University’s Covid-19 information and advice pages. Detailed guidance for students on what you need to know and do when coming to campus is also available. If you also hold a role as a member of staff – for example as a PTA – you should also read the guidance for staff.
Last updated: 25/04/2022*
Carrying out your research project
Our laboratories and other types of research facilities on our campuses are open and in most cases are now operating at normal capacity. Booking systems are in place for some facilities, your supervisor will be able to advise on how to access the facilities that you need for your research.
All overseas research fieldwork activity must be approved by the Director of College Operations and be supported by the Director of Research. Travel to a red list country (if applicable) will require the support of the DOR and must be approved by the Research Restart Panel and Gold. Please refer to the approvals below which details the approval pathways.
- Pro-forma questions for Research Restart Programme (Off-Site)
- Travellers Guidance Notes for Overseas Fieldwork Approval
For fieldwork within the UK, you will need to seek approval from the Director of Research for your discipline (your supervisor will be able to advise you on this). Please remain especially mindful of research involving human participants and/or third-party researchers – especially when they are located in high-risk areas and countries where the Covid landscape is very different to the UK. Ensure that ethical approval is obtained, and that travel approvals and insurance are in place.
Human participant work does not require Research Restart panel approval. However, the capacity of some facilities may be under considerable pressure (for example to provide clinical services or due to absences).
Please continue to work with facility managers to ensure that your studies can be adequately and safely supported. Continue to review risk assessments against the current government guidelines and study-specific circumstances, ensure that participant information remains accurate and, where appropriate, confirm that participants are willing to give ongoing consent in light of the current changes.
Asymptomatic testing of human participants is no longer required as a mitigation unless the studies are recruiting potentially vulnerable participant groups or where researchers are vulnerable. Public Health Devon has agreed that we can continue to test a smaller group of people to support the most vulnerable. The definition of vulnerable persons, can be found on the Government website.
College Research Ethics Committees are accepting applications for review and amendment. Information on the ethical review process for your College can be found on the College intranet pages, or please contact the Research Ethics and Governance team.
If your research is in health and social care and needs HRA Approval or requires other types of governance approval/licences, please contact the Research Ethics and Governance team who will help you start the right process.
Coming to campus
Local booking or rota systems are in place for some research offices (see separate FAQ for information on centrally bookable study spaces).
The University strongly recommends that students and colleagues continue to wear face-coverings in crowded indoor spaces to lower the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
In healthcare settings, face-coverings remain mandatory. This will apply to colleagues and students using our RILD building and other hospital sites in Cornwall and Exeter. Please also be mindful that there may be different guidance in place if you are based in other off-campus locations.
If you do not normally have a designated desk space or use of a shared study space within your College or research group, or if this space is not available yet, then you will be able to access one of the bookable study spaces on campus – see the Streatham, St Luke’s and Penryn library web pages on how to book a space.
Outside of the study spaces mentioned above, there is also a dedicated PGR study space on the Streatham Campus in the Old Library (currently closed until Monday 20th September). To book one of these desks please go via this dedicated PGR study space booking page.
Please read the Information for students coming to campus on the University web pages including the ‘Safe Community Charter’. Help to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission by familiarising yourself with the measures in place to ensure the safety of colleagues and students and following the guidance when on campus. If you haven’t already been vaccinated, or haven’t had your second dose, see our information on how you can access the vaccination programme.
Which students can continue to access testing?
Symptomatic and asymptomatic testing is still in place nationally for a smaller group of higher risk sectors (NHS, care, Prisons, UK border agencies) and higher risk people (those who are immunosuppressed and particularly vulnerable to COVID 19).
Separately, Public Health Devon has agreed that we can continue to test a smaller group of people to support the most vulnerable:
- Students on healthcare programmes (to comply with setting requirements) can access lateral flow test kits for use at home via the Government online ordering system in line with NHS staff provision. Should there be an issue receiving lateral flow tests via this route, the RRH will be able to provide an emergency source of test kits.
- Students and staff who have direct contact with practicing clinicians or who are accessing clinical settings who cannot access tests (to comply with setting requirements)
- Field trip testing for travel (to comply with travel and setting requirements). Field trip leads can find details of how to access testing on our COVID-19 travel web page.
- Those who are involved with face-to-face human participant research both on and off campus if there are vulnerable participants and/ or researchers. The definition of vulnerable persons, can be found on the Government website.
- Colleagues or students in volunteer roles where there are setting requirements (e.g., care homes) and who cannot access these from the setting.
In addition, we have testing provision set aside in the event of an outbreak.
Anyone in the categories above who tests positive should follow the guidance for their setting and report the situation to the relevant person. Colleagues and students can continue to seek support from the Rapid Response Hub (RRH) and can do this by completing the online results form on our website
We are aware that some students may be continuing their studies remotely for a variety of different reasons. In some circumstances, it may be feasible for students to work remotely (i.e., not attending your normal place of study, whether that is our campuses or an off-campus research site) without impacting progress in their studies. However, following the launch (in the UK) of the Government’s ‘Living with Covid strategy’, we now need to start a transition away from temporary remote study arrangements. We expect that for most PGR students, this will mean a return to attendance on campus (as required for your programme of study). However, we recognise that some students may wish to explore a permanent move to a distance learning programme.
The current Home Office concessionary guidance which permits remote learning by Tier 4/Student visa holders is due to end on 30th June 2022. This means that if you hold a Tier 4/Student visa, you will need to be present in the UK and able to attend events held on campus (e.g., supervision meetings) by the 30th June.
If you cannot meet this requirement, the University will be required to withdraw its immigration sponsorship, which means that your current visa will be cancelled. In this event, you would need to make a request to transfer to a distance learning mode (if such is available for your programme of study) in order to maintain your registration on your research degree programme.
Should you subsequently wish to resume your studies in the UK at a later date, you would need to apply to transfer back to an in-person programme and receive a new CAS in order to make an application for a new visa.
If you need advice about your visa, please contact our International Student Support team.
For students who are unable to be resident within the UK and travel to on site activities (and where distance learning is not an option), they may need to consider applying to defer your start date, or for an interruption to your programme of studies. The implications of deferring or interrupting will vary depending upon each student’s individual circumstances. As such, students should be advised to carefully consider their circumstances. This may include reviewing any terms and conditions attached to any studentship funding, and any visa implications. Please contact your PGR Support Team to discuss this.
If you are experiencing anxiety about returning to on-campus working, then you should discuss this with your supervisor or pastoral tutor. They will be able to provide support and – depending on the nature of your research project –may be able to offer flexibility of work times, or other reasonable adjustments to your study arrangements. You can also get further advice from the PGR Support Team and the University Wellbeing Service.
Health and Wellbeing
If you are experiencing anxiety about returning to on-campus working, then you should discuss this with your supervisor or pastoral tutor. They will be able to provide support and – depending on the nature of your research project – may be able to offer flexibility of work times, or other reasonable adjustments to your working arrangements.
It may also be helpful to complete a COVID-19 age Individual Vulnerability Risk Assessment if you are concerned. The risk assessment will help to identify a COVID-19 age vulnerability level, and where this is identified as High or Very high, information on who to contact and what support is available will be included within the results of the assessment. You can also get further advice from the PGR Support Team, Occupational Health (only if you are also a member of staff) and the University Wellbeing Service.
PGR students may need to complete a COVID-19 risk assessment according to the activity being undertaken, or their personal circumstances, as follows:
General attendance on campus (including use of study spaces)
PGRs who have health and wellbeing concerns about returning to campus should complete the COVID-19 Age Individual Vulnerability Risk Assessment and follow the advice linked to this process.
Labs and fieldwork
Risk assessments are required (for all staff and PGRs) as part of the process for approval of access to labs and any off-campus research activity (fieldwork, archive visits etc). This is because the specific nature of these activities needs to be considered, and these spaces/locations may operate differently to general campus and study space.
PGRs who also have a staff role
If you have a staff role, you will need to complete the COVID-19 Age Individual Vulnerability Risk Assessment and let your line manager know your COVID age, as per the process for all members of staff. This enables line managers to make any appropriate adjustments in relation to the particular role and activities required (e.g., teaching).
Short term absences should be recorded in line with the Student Absence Policy and your supervisor should be kept updated in order that they are able to work with you to manage impact on your study.
COVID-19 symptoms now include:
- hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature)
- a new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours
- a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste
- shortness of breath
- feeling tired or exhausted
- an aching body
- a headache
- a sore throat
- a blocked or runny nose
- loss of appetite
- feeling sick or being sick
Confirmed Covid or Covid-like symptoms but not unwell
There is no longer a legal requirement to self-isolate. Those with symptoms, who have a high temperature or do not feel well enough to go to work or carry out normal activities, will be advised to:
- Study from home and avoid contact with other people;
- Avoid close contact with anyone who you know is at higher risk of becoming seriously unwell if infected with COVID-19 and other respiratory infections.
Please contact your supervisor to discuss this in the first instance.
Students are advised to follow NHS advice and go back to normal activities when they feel better or do not have a high temperature.
Confirmed Covid or Covid-like symptoms and Unwell
If you are unwell for a significant period of time (usually one month or more), it may be appropriate to take an interruption of study. Please see the sickness FAQs below.
Programme, progression, and academic matters
The University keeps teaching, learning, research and many other activities under regular review in order to respond to any changes in government COVID-19 alert levels and guidance. We will keep you informed of any changes through the Doctoral College newsletter, and the Registrar’s updates to students and staff, so please do read these.
As per usual, as you start a new academic year, you will review your research plan and supervision agreement and complete or update a training needs analysis.
This year, it will be important to consider how you will approach your research degree study within the new ways of working that the pandemic situation has created. For example, you may wish to discuss with your supervisory team how to get the most out of a blended on/off campus study experience by planning your time in the office or lab carefully in order to be able maintain productive research study during periods spent working both on campus and from home. If you currently working remotely and do not plan to return to your normal place of study (see the FAQ on remote study for further guidance), you should consider how you will maintain progress in your research at distance.
Many students have already made adaptations and adjustments to their programme of work to enable them to continue their studies in the current circumstances. It will be important to continue to regularly review progress with your supervisory team, which should include assessing revisions to your planned research schedule as circumstances change.
Students and supervisors should mutually agree on how they would find it most beneficial to have meetings either face to face or by MS Teams or Zoom, and how often meetings will take place. This should form part of a wider discussion that supports (annually or whenever there is a change in your circumstances) the completion or updating of your supervisory agreement.
As Covid restrictions ease, activities which have taken place virtually during the pandemic will return to face-to-face or evolve into blended models. We expect to maintain our electronic process, for thesis submission, and full guidance about thesis submission is available in the PGR Handbook.
Vivas for upgrade and final examination will be offered as virtual (all participants attend remotely) blended (at least one person attends remotely while two or more people are in the same room) or face to face meetings (where all participants are in the same room). Many vivas will be either blended or virtual, as personal circumstances, health or location may limit availability to attend a viva in person. Any vivas that have more than one person in the same room must adhere to current government and university covid guidelines to ensure the safety and comfort of all participants. Students will be asked to indicate their preferred viva format when they submit their thesis, and we accommodate preferences where circumstances allow.
More information is available in Chapter 12 - Handbook for Examination of Postgraduate Research programmes
Vivas and upgrade meetings have been taking place successfully online since the pandemic began with positive feedback from both students and examiners. You can read about the experience of 2nd year PhD student Isabel Sawkins, for example, on her blog post about her virtual upgrade.
For students registered on Professional Doctorate programmes, there are in some cases additional requirements in respect of the Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Bodies (PSRBs) that accredit our programmes. Professional Doctorate students should contact their programme administrator or director in the first instance for information about how the impact of COVID-19 on any assessment processes will be managed.
For students starting their research degree programme in the 2021/22 academic year and those who started in 2020/21, we do not anticipate that extensions or additional studentship or fees scholarship funding will be available due to Covid-19 impacts.
We have worked with supervisors to ensure that projects starting in 2020/21 and 2021/22 are viable within the restrictions of the current research environment, and that any foreseeable risks of impact due to the pandemic situation can be mitigated within the overall timeframe for the programme of study.
When planning your research, you should continue to be mindful of the pandemic situation, to consider the foreseeable risks of impact to your particular research programme and build in flexibility and contingencies to address these.
For students who were in post prior to March 2020 and were directly affected by the advent of pandemic, we made provision for extensions or additional studentship or fees scholarship funding. The final call for applications under our University Covid-19 funding extensions/fees scholarships policy was held in June 2021 and this scheme is now closed.
Please also note that the above may also apply to internal programme deadlines: deferrals to these deadlines on the basis of impediments to your research (as opposed to your own personal circumstances, such as illness) are only applicable where these impacts were not reasonably possible for you to mitigate or plan for and are corroborated by a member of your supervisory team. See also the FAQ 'Can I apply for a deferral to a programme milestone, e.g., to upgrade, as a result of COVID-19 impacts on my research?'
See also the other FAQs under 'Programme, progression and academic matters '.
Programme deadlines are important milestones in a PGR student’s journey. As such deferral of these milestones should only take place with good reason, in order to avoid unnecessary delays, which might impact on a student’s overall progress on their programme.
You may be able to apply for a deferral to an internal programme deadline on the ground of unforeseen impediments. Unforeseen impediments constitute circumstances that affect your ability to conduct or pursue your research in the last 4 months (and ongoing) that it was not reasonably possible for you to mitigate or plan for. This must be corroborated by a member of your supervisory team. As such it is advisable to use MyPGR to keep a record of issues at the time they arose, along with information about the ways in which you have been proactively working to manage your research and mitigate any impact on your research. Students should see also the FAQ 'Will I be eligible to apply for extensions if my project is delayed due to the current COVID-19 restrictions?'.
If you have concerns about your ability to engage with a key programme milestone, such as a final or upgrade viva you should contact your PGR Support team for advice first.
Whilst the information on these FAQ pages sets out information in response to the impact of Covid-19 on PGR students, please do be aware that the Doctoral College recognises that your progress may be impacted by a wide variety of circumstances. It isn’t possible to provide specific information about every set of circumstances that might arise and as such if you have concerns about anything impacting upon your studies please be mindful of the information available to you on the Doctoral College webpages and in your College Handbook.
Wherever possible you should get in touch with your supervisory team and/or PGR Pastoral Tutor as appropriate if you have personal problems affecting your ability to study. Should you have any concerns about doing so, you may also contact your PGR Support team and other support services as appropriate. These services will also be able to provide further advice and guidance more generally.
Some of the options that might be available to you are set out below. Please note that the implications of some of these options vary considerably depending on, for example, your funding and visa status. As such it is important that you read the procedures and seek advice as appropriate.
- Annual Leave: PGR programmes of study allow for periods of annual leave. Annual leave does not automatically shift deadlines, but you may wish to discuss with their supervisory team how best to use your annual leave during this period to support your studies and manage your work/life balance;
- Full-time/part-time study changes: In some circumstances changing your mode of study may be helpful;
- An interruption of your studies allows you to take a break from your studies and should be applied for at the time it is needed: the start date of a period of interruption should not be retrospective to the date of application. Please read the FAQ 'I am unable to resume work on my research degree due to Covid-19 - should I take an interruption of study?' and consult the procedure carefully before considering applying for an interruption;
- You may be able to apply for a deferral to an internal programme deadline. If you have concerns about your ability to engage with a key programme milestone, such as a final or upgrade viva you should contact your PGR Support team for advice first. The temporary deferral policy responds to the impact of Covid-19; however, Colleges will be prepared to consider other exceptional impacts. It is possible to apply for a deferral in response to circumstances that include single occasions of illness; adverse personal circumstances & relapses/ exacerbations of long-term fluctuating conditions/ disabilities. If you have experienced mitigating circumstances that do not fit neatly into one of the categories listed you may, nevertheless, make an application for a period of deferral;
- If your programme of study is a professional doctorate, you may be able to apply for mitigation with regards to internal programme deadlines. Please consult your Programme Director/Administrator for any local requirements with regard to mitigation before proceeding;
- If you have concerns about the amount of time you have left for your studies and have experienced very exceptional circumstances normally lasting for a month or more, you may be able to apply for an extension to your programme end date (maximum period of study).
If you feel that you have been impacted by exceptional circumstances which the mechanisms listed above do not appear to cover, please still feel able to raise them: very exceptional circumstances will be considered on an individual basis, in accordance with University regulations, to determine what steps it is possible to take in response.
For students funded through doctoral training entities (DTPs/CDTs), UKRI has a policy on funded extensions. Phase 1 and Phase 2 are now complete. Students should contact their DTE administrator or the PGR Support team for information on whether further applications for funding extensions can be considered by the DTE under Phase 3.
Exeter committed to support funding extensions of between one and six months for University-funded students impacted by COVID-19 on a case-by-case basis. We held multiple rounds of applications for eligible students (those in post on 01 March 2020) between June 2020 and June 2021. This scheme is now closed.
For self-funded PGR students – those who are not in receipt of a studentship or other external sponsorship – Exeter awarded a fees scholarship in respect of any approved extension to the period of study (up to 6 months) due to COVID-19 impacts arising during 2019/20.
This will depend on the terms and conditions of your particular sponsorship. Please contact the PGR Support Team for advice: Doctoral.College@exeter.ac.uk.
Stipend payments during sickness absence
If you are in receipt of studentship funding through the University, your stipend payment will not normally be suspended or adjusted during short-term periods of sickness or other authorised absences of less than one month.
If you are absent from your studies for one month or more due to illness, you may be advised to take an Interruption of Study. We will advise you on your eligibility for sickness pay according to your particular sponsorship arrangements.
The University, in partnership with its alumni community, has created the Success for All Fund to help you if you are experiencing unexpected financial challenges affecting your ability to study.
You may be facing financial hardship; be struggling to pay for IT or a learning disability assessment; or have bills to pay while waiting for your first grant payment to arrive. All registered undergraduate and postgraduate University of Exeter students are eligible to apply, irrespective of fee-status.
Find out more on our Student Funding webpages.
The student loans company has set up a FAQ webpage for any of those with a doctoral student loan and who have any questions surrounding there funding during the COVID-19 pandemic.
If you are not in the UK, you will need to contact the PGR Support Manager for your College for further advice. Contact details for the PGR Support Team can be found below under “Further Advice”.
We also recommend that you read your guidance about studying remotely, under the returning to campus section.
Support for International Students
If you are granted a studentship extension or fees scholarship extension that cannot be accommodated within the length of your current visa, then you will need to consider the cost implications of applying for a visa extension. You will need to pay the visa application fee and Immigration Health Surcharge. You will also need to ensure that you have sufficient funds to meet the student visa financial requirements. For further advice on the immigration implications of a period of extension, please contact International Student Support, and you should do so if you are required to extend your visa.
The University, in partnership with its alumni community, has created the Success for All Fund to help you if you are experiencing unexpected financial challenges affecting your ability to study. Further information and details on how to make an application can be found on the financial help web pages.
The PGR Support team is your first point of call for all PGR enquiries.
PGR Support will continue to offer a digital-only service through Term 2 as a result of COVID-19 while we continue to work on identifying appropriate reception spaces. However, you can meet with members of the team through video conferencing via MS Teams or Zoom if needed. Please email the appropriate team below in the first instance to book an appointment.
- All Cornwall Students - email@example.com
- Business School - firstname.lastname@example.org
- College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences - email@example.com
- College of Humanities - firstname.lastname@example.org
- College of Life and Environmental Sciences - email@example.com
- College of Social Sciences and International Studies (Streatham) - firstname.lastname@example.org
- College of Social Sciences and International Studies (St Luke's) - email@example.com
- College of Medicine and Health - UEMSfirstname.lastname@example.org
If you are uncertain which team to contact, please email Doctoral.College@exeter.ac.uk
If you wish to speak to someone about wellbeing/welfare issues you can speak to Cathryn Baker, our PGR Welfare advisor, on: Welfare.PGR@exeter.ac.uk
Other sources of support are listed on the Doctoral College Support page.