Important update in light of the COVID-19 pandemic relating to research

Reviewed January 2021

This webpage was last updated 8 January 2021 following the new national lockdown in England.

Under the new restrictions, you may leave home to go to work if you cannot reasonably do your job from home. These legal restrictions will apply to all University staff whether involved in teaching, research or professional services. For research, the guidance provided below is still relevant – research should be adapted to be conducted from home wherever possible. However, for research that requires access to specialist facilities such as research laboratories, researchers and research students can still access those facilities on campus under the new Government guidance. We already have established associated safety procedures and Risk Assessments are in place for our research labs and research facilities.

Government advice states that only essential travel is allowed and therefore university travel insurance is not valid unless it is pre-approved by our insurers and meets the following criteria:

  • In the national interest
  • COVID 19 related research
  • Research that cannot be performed any other time or place
  • Travel to partner institutions

Where any travel is required in these exceptional circumstances, staff may submit requests for consideration to

Please continue to follow the guidance below. The current situation is changing and evolving and the safety of our staff is paramount, we appreciate your patience and your support for each other in difficult times.

The is:

Researchers and research students will be able to continue in-person research activities if the research work cannot reasonably be conducted from home.

However, where it is possible, research should be carried out at home, or without gathering with others, and where it can reasonably be done, in-person research activity requiring gathering with others should be paused for the period of national restrictions. If the research participants are not being paid, and the participant’s involvement is not crucial within this period, we recommend that work with research participants is rescheduled until after the period of national restrictions.

Remote and reduced operating model

Our remote and reduced operating model reflects working in line with the instructions to control the spread of the coronavirus. Our staff are advised to work from home; all internal meetings should be organised by electronic means and there are updated instructions for restarting face-to-face activities with external parties. Only a small number of staff essential to on-campus services have been allowed on campus with prior arrangements from their line-managers. Repopulation of the campus and the majority of its activities must only be commenced following thorough risk assessment and instruction from senior management.

Under this new model, the university’s research support and development teams remain available remotely to support our researchers and we encourage our staff to continue to develop research proposals, taking note that some funders may decide to extend deadline for calls but that shouldn’t be taken for granted. We advise researchers to check with their Research Services contacts for further information.

Face-to-face activities

New guidance is available for restarting face-to-face activities with external parties for research, enterprise and engagement staff.

Research Calls and Opportunities

For research calls and opportunities please click on the link.


UKRI is one of our major funders and acknowledges the serious challenges facing the research and innovation community due to the restrictions in place because of the pandemic. During this period, UKRI has two priorities: the safety and wellbeing of their staff and as far as possible the continuation of their business as a national funder of research and innovation.

The nature of these impacts will evolve and increase over the coming weeks and months and UKRI will be working with Government, research communities, institutions and other funding organisations to understand the impacts and to develop support to mitigate them. Our Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise, Professor Louise Heathwaite, and our Associate Director of Research (cross-faculty), Professor Malcolm Joyce are acting as points of contact for UKRI via Research England to contribute to this work.

The latest UKRI update can be found including information of grant holders and applicants. Where travel is impacted, if researchers or students cannot travel due to government/official advice, or it poses a risk to the individual (due to an underlying medical condition etc.), this can be charged to the grant in line with any other cost. If that cost cannot be absorbed by any overall underspend on the grant, then UKRI will cover that small addition. In the same circumstances, no cost extension requests to grants would be granted. Further guidance for UKRI funded studentships is provided below.

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) has released on funded research and on pausing studies to release staff for frontline care and/or to protect public health.

Other UK funders are beginning to provide guidance and statements for example, the and the .

Active Research

The University is preparing to return to onsite working and has begun to re-open laboratories and research facilities with the appropriate risk assessments. However, this will take some time and for current research projects, it is still preferable to continue research on-line where this may be possible. The safety of our staff remains of paramount importance and Departments will be required to consider activities that are specific to their operations and review their current risk assessments to take account of the additional hazard - Covid-19 and to follow the 5 key steps the Government has set out.

Researchers should check with their departments and faculties on the latest position and further information about risk assessment can be found on the .

Clearly, there will be impacts due to continuing restrictions and research staff paid directly from funded research projects should discuss research activities with their principal investigator.

Principal Investigators should ensure that any requests sent directly to funders regarding grant extensions or requests for other mitigating actions should be copied to Research Services -

Researchers that require HRA sponsorship approval to work with the NHS should continue to seek this through an IRAS application. It is likely response times will be impacted by the current situation so we would advise it is better to start the process now so that it is in the system.

Ethical Approval

Despite the easing of lock-down it is still preferable to conduct research online where possible. Researchers should consider if you can adapt your research to conduct participant interactions remotely and how this affects ethical approval. When considering adjustments give thought to whether a change to the research protocol might alter the level of risk to the participant. For example, if you will ask questions on a sensitive topic, to conduct research remotely might remove the safeguard of the researcher being able to detect distress and the mitigation of referring to an appropriately trained person.

If this is not to conduct research online,your research could be paused for a number of months and in these cases research ethics committees will not require notification. You must inform your participants that the research has been paused. It will be key that in whatever communication you send to participants that you describe how any actively enrolled participants will be managed, particularly concerning any safety monitoring/follow-up etc where applicable.

If you wish to begin or restart research face-to-face please see university guidance on how to gain appropriate health and safety approval. Please note, health and safety approval must be gained via your department before applying for ethical approval.

Where planned activities have been modified (which includes moving activities to online from face-to-face, or vice versa) an amendment must be submitted to your faculty research ethics committee for approval, these will be processed as quickly as possible. Any modified activities (those not as described in the original application) should not take place until the amendment is approved. Continuing a project where the activities deviate from the approved protocol could constitute research misconduct.

There is no need to inform the ethics committee when switching between approved protocols within the project. Therefore, if you resume face-to-face activities or if additional lockdown measures are reintroduced so you resume online research there is no need to inform the committee, as long as you are following an approved protocol.

Guidance for those who will make changes to conduct their research remotely

If you have not yet begun data collection but have ethics committee approval you will need to submit an amendment to the appropriate FREC. You should submit an amended application form and likely need to include evidence of consideration of confidentiality, amended participant information sheets and consent forms and if additional personal information needs to be collected, information about data storage plans. You will be able to proceed once your request is re-approved.

If you have already begun data collection and will now change to remote participant interaction then you will need to plan for a short pause whilst you submit an amendment as outlined above. Any already active participants must be informed of the switch to remote interaction and be provided with the updated participant information sheet. It is important that you make clear to participants that if they no longer wish to participate owing to this change, or for any other reason, that they are free to withdraw at any point.

Postgraduate Students: If you are unsure if it will be possible to conduct your research remotely you should discuss this with your supervisor as soon as possible. Once the appropriate way forward has been agreed, please follow the guidance below to adapt your research.

Knowledge Exchange Projects

Most of what is described above is relevant to Knowledge Exchange (KE) projects across the University. Faculty and RES based KE teams are available to support activity remotely whether it be general partnership development, guidance on specific schemes such as Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs) or advice relating to intellectual property and commercialisation. We continue to liaise with relevant funders including the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government that support our portfolio of European Structural and Investment Fund (ESIF) projects. Project delivery should continue as fully as is able.

Frequently asked questions