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Research

Last updated on 31 March 2020

The University of Manchester recognises that staff and PGR students may have concerns about the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. This section contains guidance and advice for the University’s research community. Please review this page and your funders’ webpages for regular updates.

Wellbeing

REF 2021

Research funding

Data collection

COVID-19 research

Business engagement

Contracts

Research IT

Personal data storage

Working in labs

Wellbeing

How can I look after my wellbeing whilst working from home?

We recognise that during this uncertain time remote working is not easy. Here are some excellent ideas about how to manage this and stay well.

If you can, set up a dedicated workspace in your house, it will help to differentiate between 'research' and 'off' time and create a boundary between relaxed, social space and workspace. There is some useful guidance about working from home and from NHS Englandabout how to sit at your desk correctly - try adapting this to your at-home setup.

Maintain a routine, this will look different depending on your circumstances but can include things like getting up and ready as you usually would, taking a morning and afternoon walk instead of your commute, and taking regular breaks away from your workspace.

  • If you have caring responsibilities, speak to your line manager about how to manage your research work around these. It is likely that this will be a changing situation and will require ongoing discussion.
  • Try and define the hours you will be working and resist the temptation to check-in outside of these hours.
  • Even if you are isolating with symptoms, light exercise is recommended, try these at home and at your desk.
  • Make use of the many online resources including podcasts and apps on mindfulness and wellbeing.

REF 2021

Will REF2021 go ahead as planned?

On Tuesday, 24 March, Research England confirmed that the REF2021 submission deadline on Friday, 27 November 2020 will no longer apply. This was in recognition that institutions are diverting staff time to support teaching as well as priority areas, including for those working in clinical and health-related fields.

Research England will maintain the REF staff census date (Friday, 31 July 2020) and will now look to adapt the details of the REF to ensure full allowance is made for the impact of coronavirus across affected areas of submissions.

The University will continue with our preparations wherever possible and we will work closely with Unit of Assessment (UoA) teams to adapt our work plan. We will provide updates during this constantly evolving situation.

In the meantime:

  • If you have any queries about the Research Review Exercise or more general queries about REF preparations in your area, you can find your local contact here.
  • If you are an Impact Case Study author and have any concerns about your ability to work on your case or to collect supporting evidence, you can contact your assigned Impact Officer for advice.

Research funding

Can I still apply for research funding?

There are currently no application restrictions in place for UKRI or the Wellcome Trust. Other funders are delaying funding rounds, so researchers should consult funders’ web pages for the latest information.

Research Services will continue to support the costing and application process but may need to prioritise support for research funding applications to manage the impact of the move to mass remote working. Highest priority will be given to funding applications relating to COVID-19 rapid response calls and those with submission deadlines before the end of June 2020. Researchers are asked to ensure that they provide extra time when requesting costings and submission support for applications.

How will my funding application be approved if staff are working remotely?

All funding applications still require formal approval in line with University policy. Research Services will handle funding application approvals in the normal way for Principal Investigators (PIs). Where staff are unable or unavailable to approve funding applications, email confirmation from the relevant approver or delegate will be accepted.

What should I do if I have recently received an award, or will before the end of June 2020?

Please consider if starting the project now is absolutely necessary given the circumstances. Main UK funders have indicated that they will take a pragmatic approach to project timescales and researchers are advised to delay the start of a project for at least two to three months or until the national picture is clearer.

There will be some awards where it is beneficial to continue with setup/start and Research Services will prioritise support for these. Examples are provided below:

  • Awards that focus on lone scholar work, where the researcher is already in post and the early months of the project can be conducted remotely.
  • Awards where an existing PDRA or staff member will be transferring to the project and this ensures continuity of service for these staff. Note that the early stages of the project may need to be re-planned to take account of remote working.

Where an award is currently in the process of being started, or due to be, via the purchase of equipment researchers should pause the start process and follow the latest guidance from procurement before proceeding further.

Where a new award requires the appointment of a new staff member, recruitment should be deferred in line with the funder’s position on start and finish dates for recent awards and the University’s position on approval of new appointments. Research Services will prioritise support for award set-up to those which do not require the recruitment of external staff in the next three months.

Will my existing awards continue to run?

University systems will continue to be online. Expenditure will continue to be charged to awards in line with transactions posted to project codes. PI Financial Statements will also continue to be issued.

Researchers should note that transaction postings and statements may take longer to process than usual.

Research Finance will prioritise the invoicing process to ensure income continues to be collected for projects where the funder does not pay on a profile.

My award ends soon. What should I do?

Where an award concludes before the end of June 2020, and the PI is confident the deliverables have been or will be met, these awards should follow our standard closure processes in line with the funder’s terms and conditions. If the project has been disrupted please refer to the next question.

My project is due to end soon but it has been disrupted. What should I do?

Where an award is ending before 1 July 2020 and the research activity has been disrupted, funders are normally allowing a no-cost extension to the award (note that costs are still incurred by the University during such an extension). An application for a no-cost extension should be applied for in the normal way via your Research Services Team.

Some funders have also issued advice concerning the flexibility permitted for certain specific project costs such as re-scheduled travel. Please refer to your funder’s web pages for up to date information on this, or ask your Research Services team for advice.

Where a no-cost extension would mean the project will run beyond the contract end date for project funded staff, the PI must contact their local Research Services team to establish if the funder will meet these staff costs. Where the funder has not agreed to meet these additional staff costs, the Research Services team will establish the additional cost likely to be incurred by the University and the Dean of Faculty will need to approve.

Data collection

What should I do if my research/project involves face-to-face contact with people? What research involving human participants should stop?

Unless there are exceptional circumstances, the following types of research should stop as soon as is ethically possible: interviews, focus groups, observations in public spaces, psychological experiments, tissue sampling, and any other research procedure requiring face-to-face contact.

Can I continue to collect data involving human participants?

Data collection which does not require direct personal contact can continue during this period, such as via Skype, telephone or electronic surveys/questionnaires. Where possible, projects should be adjusted to be conducted remotely. Research will only be permitted to continue face-to-face if there is an exceptional reason such as clinical need or a significant ethical rationale for non-immediate cessation. Any continuation of face-to-face research will require University approval:

COVID-19 research

I want to do some research into COVID-19, how can I get ethical approvals?

Business engagement

What should I tell business partners?

Continuing relationships with our business partners is extremely important. The Business Engagement (BE) team has developed a letter template that you may wish to use when communicating with business partners. The BE team is also developing on-line activities to enable business continuity and to minimise the impact on our partnership and collaboration activities.

Who do I contact for more information?

Contracts

I have a research contract with an industry partner, what will happen if I can’t continue to conduct the work?

Despite our best efforts at mitigation and putting in place the appropriate remedial measures, the current situation will have a major impact on a significant number of the University’s research activities over the coming months. Most contracts have terms and conditions which deal with the legal position should work be suspended, however, each situation will be unique to the circumstances and will be dependent on how much work can continue to be delivered and the duration of the suspension. 

Academic staff, researchers and postgraduate research students should keep clear records of how work planned for the coming months has been affected and the impact on your research productivity, outputs and financial expenditure.  If you are concerned about your contracts, please contact the relevant Contracts Officer or Contracts Manager for advice.

I have a research contract that needs an authorised signature, will it still be signed?

Arrangements are in place to ensure contracts are continuing to be signed, please continue to liaise with the relevant Contracts Officer or Contracts Manager for advice.

I have a subcontractor who requires urgent payment, what should I do?

Presuming this is in line with the subcontract (eg. the work has been completed and it is in line with the payment schedule), please ensure your subcontractor sends the invoice electronically to the email address in the agreement with all the relevant supporting documentation and this will be paid as per normal processes.

Research IT

Can I login to the CSF / iCSF / HTCondor from off campus?

Yes. We recommend that you access these platforms using the GlobalProtect VPN software as you are likely using this to access other University systems while off-campus. Alternatively, you can login via the Research IT Linux Virtual Desktop. Please visit Research IT working from home for detailed instructions.

Can I access my files held on Research Data Storage (Isilon) from off campus?

Yes, you can access your storage when the GlobalProtect VPN software is running on your off-campus desktop or laptop, or via the Research IT RDS-SSH gateway.

There are two types of storage areas:

  • On your desktop or laptop which will require you to map your storage as you would any drive (eg R:/drive). For each method of access, please follow the step-by-step instructions  on the Research IT WFH page; and
  • On a central platform such as CSF, iCSE or HTCondor submitter, which are accessed as described in the previous answer.

Personal data storage

During this period of working from home - can I process personal data at home that has been obtained for the purposes of research?

You can process personal identifiable research data at home if all of the following conditions apply:

  1. You have ethical approval to process the personal data for the purposes of research.
  2. You are based in the EU and the data was acquired in the EU or you are based in the country of origin of the personal data if this is outside the EU.
  3. Where data is being provided by a third party, there are no clauses within the contract of the data provider/data controller that prevent you from processing the data at home.  (You should check contractual arrangements where there is a data provider before you access such data from home.) 
  4. There are no strict requirements guided by the data provider or the nature of the research that means that the physical environment from which the processing is being undertaken is restricted.
  5. You can ensure that no other member of your household can view any personal data.
  6. You use a University-managed device/access the data via VPN (Global Protect)/or follow the guidance regarding the use of your own equipment (see below).
  7. You take appropriate security measures (encryption), and back up your data securely following the advice by IT Services below.
  8. The information you have provided to the research subjects (Participant Information Sheet and Consent form) which describe the storage and processing environment do not prohibit you from doing this.  See the ethics website for more information.

Where the storage or processing of data cannot be undertaken on University infrastructure then contracts/data sharing agreements and other such formal documents (e.g., system level security policies) which state the location of storage and processing, should be updated to reflect the new storage and processing locations. Any contracts would need to be reviewed by the University Contracts Team before being forwarded to the third party data provider. Note that data can only be accessed/viewed within the stated territory of use in such contracts.

Can I process research data containing personal identifiable information on my own equipment? 

The University usually requires that personal identifiable data are stored on a University-managed device, not a personal computer, because these devices are encrypted and maintained by IT Services. The data should also be stored on a University server so that it is backed up regularly.

However, if you do not have a University-managed device you can use your personal device provided that you take account of the need for appropriate security, confidentiality and integrity of the data and are confident that your personal device meets the standards set out in the IT Services Bring Your Own Technology and Remote Working standard operating procedure.

As a last resort, how do I safely store data on my own equipment?

Where possible, and especially when you are processing restricted/highly restricted data, you should use VPN to access your University of Manchester staff desktop and storage eg. P drive or Isilon shared drive, University of Manchester Dropbox for Business or SharePoint/OneDrive services.  You should not save any copies of the data on your personal device.

As a last resort, if you need to store research data which includes personal identifiable information on your own device (i.e. laptops/desktops – not USB pens or portable hard drives), this must remain in your home at all times, and should not be transported elsewhere due to the increased risk of theft. Files containing personal identifiable data must be encrypted, and devices password protected/locked to prevent unauthorised access. Virus software and operating system updates should be kept up to date on your device.

Which text-messaging, Voice over internet protocol (VoIP) services and video services can be used for data collection?

If you are a member of staff:

If data is being recorded using the recording function in the service, University-approved services must be used via a University account:

The use of personal accounts or the use of other platforms is only permissible for communication – not recording.  Please contact Information Governance if you have any questions.

If you are a student:

Important: The guidelines issued below in relation to the use of personal accounts for the purposes of data collection are only to be used for research conducted during COVID-19 outbreak, while face-to-face data collection is prohibited. Discussions are currently ongoing regarding how to best support students who wish to use digital methods of data collection once the University re-opens and revised guidance on this topic will be circulated in due course.

Personal accounts may be used to record data as long as participants are made aware of the privacy policies of the relevant service, including the fact their data may be transferred to countries outside of the EEA before starting a recording either in a participant information sheet or in another written communication sent to the participants prior to the start of data collection. Participants must be advised that they do not have to take part if they do not wish a recording to be made.

It is strongly advised that Skype or Zoom are used to record video or audio only interviews with participants. Use of other third party apps/add-on apps to record conversations within other VoIP services such as WhatsApp or Telegram must not be used.

What should I tell participants before I start data collection?

The following text must be provided to participants:

Your participation in this research will be recorded in [Skype/Zoom] and your personal data will be processed by [Microsoft/Zoom]. This may mean that your personal data is transferred to a country outside of the European Economic Area, some of which have not yet been determined by the European Commission to have an adequate level of data protection. Appropriate legal mechanisms to ensure these transfers are compliant with the UK General Data Protection Regulation are in place. The recordings will be removed from the above third party platform and stored on University of Manchester managed file storage as soon as possible following the completion of data collection.

Further privacy information:

How long may I keep recordings?

The recording files must be downloaded, saved to University storage and deleted from the service as soon as possible.

Further information on recording participants for research purposes can be found in the University of Manchester Taking Recordings of Participants for Research Purposes Standard Operating Procedure.

If the recording is on a cloud service, then the cloud service should be based within the EU and the account must be protected by a unique strong passphrase consistent with the University of Manchester IT Services Password Technical Security Standard.

If the recording is stored on a personal device and this is backed up to a personal cloud e.g. Apple device and iCloud the recording must be permanently deleted from all back-ups and moved to University file storage. Backups of University information must NOT be taken, as personal devices never store the master copy of information. The master copy of information should be on University of Manchester storage. 

Please contact Information Governance if you have any questions around the use of other tools for data collection.

What should I do about storing physical documents containing personal information (ie consent forms)?

If you have physical documents containing personal identifiable information you should keep these in a secure place within your home, preferably in a locked filing cabinet for which only you have access.  When the University re-opens, all such data should be safely returned and stored at the University. 

Working in labs

Can I continue to use LabCup?

For security reasons, LabCup, the University’s chemical inventory and laboratory management system, will not be available for those working from home, unless they are working specifically on Covid-19 research, until further notice. If you require access to LabCup, please contact Irene.Barinaga@manchester.ac.uk.