May 15, 2020, by Susan Lim

COVID-19: support for postgraduate researchers and invitation to a virtual town hall

In my latest update, I am pleased to clarify news of support for the University’s PGRs whose studies have been affected by COVID-19, and supervisors. I’m also inviting UNM’s research community to join me at a virtual town hall meeting that will enable us to consider together what the “new normal” might look like for our research in the post COVID-19 world.

I do hope this support will help to alleviate some of the pressure many of you are feeling at this difficult time while underlining our commitment to our research community.

What the Conditional Movement Control Order means for our research at UNM

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced on 01 May that the Government would implement a Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) beginning May 4 to ease the partial lockdown and to allow almost all businesses to operate subject to strict Standard Operating Procedures set by the Ministry of Health and the National Security Council. This is currently in force until 09 June 2020.

The Ministry of Higher Education has clarified that universities must generally remain closed, and that only administrative, maintenance and business operations are allowed with a minimum number of staff. For UNM, this means that the current phase of return to work on campus is restricted to a small number of essential workers who cannot perform their role through web-based remote access.

These new government guidelines still restrict research activity on campus since laboratories are to remain closed during the CMCO period. Therefore, until further notice, PGRs are advised not to return to campus and so must continue their research work, supervision meetings and personal development training using online platforms. Data collection for research activities is only permitted during the CMCO using online platforms, and it’s great to hear that some of our PGRs have already initiated creative new projects that involve data collection using online surveys.

For staff and PGRs whose work relies on laboratory access, the UNM management team has started to develop a research recovery plan informed by School prioritisation of projects. We will use this information to prepare in advance so that we can support staff and PGRs to get up and running quickly as soon as the government restrictions are eased for laboratory research. More details will be shared as soon as they become available.

Support for postgraduate researchers

The Malaysian government has helped those PGRs working on projects funded by a Ministry of Higher Education award with the option to apply for a no cost extension up to 3 months (deadline was 10 May). We are already matching this package by offering a range of no cost extensions to all PGRs depending on the stage of the PGR registration period. You can read our UNM Research Update #05 (issued 12 May 2020) which includes a clear summary of options for PGRs and supervisors including applications for ‘Extenuating Circumstances’ and ‘Voluntary Interruption of Study’. All PGRs will be treated equitably in this process, and the time extension awarded will be commensurate with the disruption experienced up to a period of six months.

For all University-registered PGRs who feel that they could use a few extra weeks to ease pressure caused by the pandemic, the final four-year deadline (i.e. end of thesis pending period) will be relaxed for one calendar month and no late fee will be charged.

All of these COVID-19 related extensions will need to be supported by a statement of need, using the ‘COVID19 Impact Statement form.

UK campus updates

Meanwhile, in the UK, the government has announced its support package for UK universities. One element of this support includes bringing forward £100 million of quality-related government research funding (QR) into this current academic year as immediate help to ensure research activities can continue. Another element of this support includes a costed extension up to 6 months for those PGRs receiving UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) scholarships who are due to complete in the next year. The University welcomes these early measures of support aimed to help universities with their cash flow in the coming months but this support does not address the much larger challenge of the need for the full costs of research to be covered by funding bodies and government.

You may have read in Professor Dame Jessica Corner’s recent blog that the University Executive Board has agreed to match this government package by extending equivalent support to all PGRs who are receiving university stipends and registered at the UK campus. We are already supporting all PGRs registered at the Malaysia campus with a support package that matches the one provided by the Malaysian government, in the same way, that the UK campus is matching the support package provided by the UK government.

Virtual town hall meetings for researchers

In these unprecedented times, it is so important that we have the opportunity to come together to share ideas, ambitions, concerns, and to offer mutual support. To support our determination to stay connected I will be hosting a virtual town hall meeting with a panel of colleagues from across the University, as we consider: “What does a new normal for world-leading research look like?”. I hope you can join me to share experiences and your thoughts on how we can support each other and prepare for the challenges – and opportunities – of working together in the weeks and months ahead.

The town halls will take place via Microsoft Teams. One session will be for postgraduate researchers and their supervisors. Another session will be for the wider research community. There is no need to sign up or register. You’ll receive an invite direct to attend. You’ll also have the opportunity to submit a question in advance.

I very much hope you can participate and contribute to the discussion on how we can navigate these challenging times.

I hope all of you are managing to balance the current web-based working at home, with the demands of a constrained personal life and caring for children and other family members, especially during this the holy month of Ramadan. Thank you once again for your dedication and hard work.

 

Best wishes,

 

 

 

Professor Deborah Hall
Vice Provost (Research and Knowledge Exchange)

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