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Covid-19 Guidance For Current And Prospective PhD Students

Covid-19 Guidance for Students

Last Updated: 21.04.20

Prospective Students

I have to take an English language test however my local testing centre is not open. What are my options?

The options available to you largely depend on the specific test you’re required to sit. For UK universities, the two primary testing bodies which are used are the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and the International English Language Testing System (IELTS).

Considering the current situation, both testing bodies are providing candidates with the option to undertake their English language tests online. You can find out the current guidelines for bodies on their respective websites: TOEFL and IELTS.

Can I still apply for a PhD right now?

Yes, you can still apply for PhD positions online. Although most applications will still be processed as normal, it would be wise to expect some delays given the current situation. Should you be required to communicate with any potential supervisors or interview for any positions, please expect this to happen over email and video conferencing for the foreseeable future.

Will there be fewer PhD positions available now?

Whilst nothing has been confirmed yet, there have been several discussions regarding potential limits to the number of students that may be admitted for new undergraduate courses. However, this should not affect admissions into postgraduate and PhD positions.

Will there be any changes to student loans?

The latest guidance from the Student Loans Company is available on the government website: Student Loans Company Coronavirus Update.

To summarise the key points:

Current students: You will continue to receive loan payments as normal at the start of the summer term, irrespective of whether the university has made alternate teaching arrangements.

Prospective students: Student loan applications for PhDs beginning in the 2020/21 academic year and are scheduled to open in June. As of writing, SLC has confirmed that they still intend to open applications as normal in June.

I’m due to start my PhD in September 2020. Will there be any change to this?

It is currently anticipated that the start of the 2020/21 academic year will not be delayed as a result of the current pandemic. This is largely because the peak is expected to pass before this September. Besides this, universities are also working hard to make the necessary adjustments required to keep courses running as scheduled. As part of these adjustments, it’s likely that until January 2021, you will have restricted face-to-face contact with your supervisor and restricted access to the campus and laboratory facilities.

When are the next open days for universities?

University open days and events are now postponed until further notice. However, many have moved to an online virtual format for their open days. Please visit the individual websites for any university open day event you were considering attending to determine whether they have made any alternative arrangements.

Current Students

How will my PhD be impacted by my university closure?

In the vast majority of cases, you will be able to continue your studies by working remotely and communicating with your supervisors via email and video conferencing. The two exceptions to this are below:

Laboratory or fieldwork: If you have any laboratory or field-based work planned, this will most definitely need to be rearranged until further notice. In the meantime, you should focus on other aspects of your PhD; now would be a suitable time to draft or proofread chapters of your thesis.

Viva examinations: If you were due to sit your viva in the next few weeks, unfortunately, this too will be directly impacted. The remediation surrounding this impact will vary from university to university, therefore, it’s highly advisable that your first course of action is to get in touch with your university or academic department. Although your university may respond differently, there appear to be two common approaches being adopted. The first has been to maintain the current schedule of viva examinations but to conduct them online via teleconference. The second has been to delay all viva examinations until further notice.

I am due to submit my PhD thesis soon. What should I do?

Most universities are now accepting electronic copies instead of the standard printed and bound copies. Please check the specific requirements with your supervisor or academic department if you’ve not yet received any guidance surrounding this.

My viva examination is coming up soon. Will it still go ahead?

In the current circumstances, a viva with your examiners in person will not be possible. Many universities, however, have successfully moved to holding vivas virtually through video conferencing and this is likely to be the case for the next few months.

If my PhD is extended due to the pandemic, will my funding also be extended?

UKRI has stated that students that are funded via a UKRI studentship may be granted extensions to their funding based on an assessment of their circumstances. The latest advice surrounding this is available here: UKRI – Coronavirus Impact on UKRI Supported Research.

Will any graduation ceremonies still go ahead?

Assuming that you passed the requirements for your degree, you will receive your official graduation certificate as normal. However, all UK universities have cancelled their graduation ceremonies for this year and are expected to make rearrangements for other dates falling within 2021.

What can I do as a student on a Tier 4 visa?

At the time of writing, the general advice being provided by universities to current postgraduate research students is to remain within the UK and to continue working remotely. To support this, it’s recommended that you continue to arrange meetings with your supervisor, through either video conferencing or via telephone.

The situation and guidance surrounding this subject will continue to change over during and after this pandemic. Queen Mary University of London offers a great resource page with up-to-date information on this subject which can be viewed here: Immigration and COVID-19.

What support is available to me for my mental health and wellbeing?

Most universities are offering their own supports services during this time, accessible through your university’s pages. The following services also offer support and guidance:

Where can I find more information about COVID-19

Please visit the NHS advice site at:




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