Impact of coronavirus on research activity

Published on 19 March 2020

This message relates to our research activity and how we must manage it in light of the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

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Dear colleague,

 A decision has been made to halt all non-essential campus-based research by Tuesday 24 March at the latest.

We recognise that our community of researchers includes front-line academic staff, research fellows, doctoral students and technicians.  We also know that research is embedded and co-dependent on the support of many colleagues within Schools and across the Professional Services.

We have a duty of care to each other and to society beyond. In accordance with Government policy, all University staff and students have been instructed to remove themselves from research and teaching facilities wherever possible.

However, there are important issues in relation to ongoing campus-based research, and whilst laboratory and experimental research are obviously concentrated in some Schools, such as Medicine, Life Sciences, Science & Engineering, DJCAD, this information is relevant to all staff and all our external suppliers.

The University identifies three levels of on-campus activities - ‘essential’, ‘desirable’ and ‘non-essential’.

In this context essential is really by exception, that is to say activities involving i) animal welfare, ii) where equipment and/or samples will be seriously degraded if research does not continue, iii) the operation and function of acute clinical research facilities, iv) issues of national security, or v) where research has direct implications for the current Covid-19 outbreak.

By these criteria, no new on-campus research projects should be initiated unless authorised by the relevant Dean, which is in line with ongoing Government instruction.

Even with research activities deemed essential, there are further risks to viability as a result of lack of availability of staff, lack of access of staff to facilities or reduced support from the University and/or outside resources. Moreover, in the spirit of our institutional values it is imperative that where possible no colleagues, and especially those in at-risk groups, feel compelled to be on campus against their better judgement.

All Schools need to have robust plans in place to shut down all experimental work, most likely at very short notice and probably within a matter of days if needed. Equipment that requires continued and regular maintenance to ensure safety or critical failure needs to be catalogued and arrangements made for periodic access to cover a period that is likely to last several months.

So, mission-critical samples/resources/equipment should be made stable, and where regular attention is needed, this should be documented in School contingency plans along with consultation with Estates and Campus Services.

We also know colleagues have concerns about the implications and obligations around funded research along with many service and consultancy functions. We have teams from across our University Research Office (spanning RIS, Research Finance, Library and Learning, Researcher Development, the Doctoral Academy and Research Policy) working with major funders and all relevant networks such as the Scottish Funding Council, Universities Scotland, and Universities UK, to ensure we minimise and mitigate impact with no-cost and costed extensions where necessary.

Hopefully, we all recognise that the impact of this crisis will be finite. Yes, there is massive disruption but lives are at risk.  We can stay connected to each other and our doctoral students and we hopefully remain very productive.

Perhaps we can all take inspiration from Isaac Newton, who self-isolated for two years in the 17th Century during the Great Plague of London, and in that time laid the foundations for calculus and ultimately defined the laws of gravity!

We will shortly also information relating to priority areas such as laboratory working, funder commitments, research students and REF2021 planning, and hope to have this ready by early next week. Our approach is that by March 24 at the latest, on-campus research activities will only continue by exception, as described above, and this will be reflected in School emergency contingency planning. This has been agreed by the University Executive Group with the full support of all Deans.


Thank you for your forbearance,

Professor David Maguire, Interim Principal & Vice-Chancellor

Professor John Rowan, Vice Principal (Research, Knowledge Exchange & Wider Impact)


Press Office, University of Dundee

Announcement Category

Coronavirus (COVID-19)