With the COVID-19 outbreak in Australia beginning to stabilise, state and federal governments and ACU are looking at how we return to a ‘new normal’ in our work practices.

Accordingly, we are providing you with an update on our plans regarding how our office will support a return to research. This plan is provided to assist with your planning and preparation. 

We plan to ease some restrictions on research in reverse order to that in which they were imposed (ie the higher-level restrictions brought in most recently will be lifted first).

For research involving non at-risk populations, we are planning to ease restrictions in three phases, as follows:

Phase 1: One-on-one face-to-face research (eg interviews and surveys) will be allowed to recommence, providing social distancing guidelines are followed.

Phase 2: Face-to-face research with larger groups (eg focus groups and research in public spaces) will be allowed to recommence, providing social distancing and gatherings guidelines are followed.

Phase 3: Research involving physical contact with participants will be allowed to recommence, noting that this is only likely to occur as government social distancing guidelines ease.

For research involving at-risk populations, we are proposing a similar three-phase approach to what is outlined above, noting there may be some overlap between phases in each group (ie elements of research involving at-risk populations may be allowed to recommence before Phase 3 research in non at-risk populations is permitted). In accordance with the Australian Government Department of Health, those most at risk from COVID-19 are:

  • People with compromised immune systems (such as people who have cancer)
  • Older people aged 70 and over
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and people in remote communities
  • People with chronic medical conditions
  • People in group residential settings
  • People with disability
  • People in detention facilities

The above outlined restrictions would only be lifted as government and broader ACU policy allows. Good hygiene in research must be followed. This means, among other things:

  • Washing hands regularly
  • Avoiding unnecessary physical contact
  • Regular disinfection of devices, equipment and surfaces used in research

A useful checklist for the workplace that can be adapted to the research environment is provided by Work Safe Australia. For more information on good hygiene practice, see the Australian Government Department of Health Good Hygiene for COVID-19 Information Page. Although ACU allows staff to attend the campus, staff must continue to follow relevant public health orders in the state or territory in which they work, and researchers need to bear in mind that restrictions on movement and activity outside the home still apply to their research participants.

For those researchers who have already modified ethics approvals in response to COVID-19, these modifications will stand as restrictions are lifted. Once the restrictions relevant to your research are lifted, you will be free to continue research as modified, or as per your original approval (without the need for further modification). Any other changes to your protocols will need to be approved by the ACU Human Research Ethics Committee, as normal.

We hope the above assists with your planning and preparation. We understand that you will be eager to establish timelines for recommencing your research in line with our phased approach, however we are bound by state and territory government restrictions. We will provide further updates on the implementation of each phase as information becomes available.

Please read our FAQs below which addresses questions regarding funding, contracts, and changes to your project.

Key contacts:

Ethics: res.ethics@acu.edu.au
Research Contracts: res.contracts@acu.edu.au
Post Award: res.postaward@acu.edu.au
Grants Team: res.grants@acu.edu.au
HDR Candidature: res.cand@acu.edu.au
Director Research Services: res.director@acu.edu.au

Other research FAQs

We’re sending regular email updates to our researchers around the status of research as it evolves with public health advice – so please check your ACU email account often.

The advice below was provided on 1 November 2020.

Victoria, New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory, Queensland

In line with the recent announcements by the Victorian State Government, all states and territories are now at Phase 3. This means you can now conduct all types of research (with the exception of research involving at-risk participants) across every Australian jurisdiction (although travel between some jurisdictions is still restricted).

Please note that the conduct of Phase 2 and Phase 3 research is contingent upon adherence to the below outlined hygiene and risk management protocols:

  • A screening protocol must be implemented to ensure any participants attending ACU facilities and/or coming into close/physical contact with ACU staff are, as much as can be reasonably ascertained, healthy and at low risk of transmitting COVID-19. We will allow individual research groups to develop protocols that best suit their needs but require that, at a minimum, you confirm participant health status and risk-level prior to participation and again on the day of participation. For guidance, download our screening tool template, which you are free to use or tailor to your needs.
  • On the day of participation (or if multiple days, on their first participation), ask research participants to provide you with a current mobile number or email address, and keep a log of who has attended the research space (including staff movements). This information may be required to support contact tracing efforts, and records should be maintained for a period of at least 28 days (from a participant’s last participation). To protect the privacy and confidentiality of your research participants, these records should be stored securely and separately to their personal research data.
  • In engaging with research participants, adopt enhanced hygiene practices. This includes regularly washing hands, avoiding touching your face, following cough and sneeze etiquette, increasing access to fresh air by (where possible) opening doors and windows, and disinfecting devices, equipment and surfaces used in research. You should also make it easy for your participants to practise good hygiene. This includes providing access to tissues and hand sanitiser, removing items that might spread infection (such as waiting room magazines), and clearly signposting bathrooms and wash areas. For more information on good hygiene practice, view the Australian Government Department of Health Good Hygiene for COVID-19 Information webpage. For guidance on good cleaning/disinfecting practice, download the Safe Work Australia Workplace Cleaning Checklist.
  • For all close/physical contact with research participants, employ personal protective equipment (PPE). This includes, at a minimum, disposable gloves, face masks (level 1, 2 or 3 surgical mask) and gowns. It is the responsibility of the named chief investigator to ensure that appropriate PPE is provided to researchers and, where applicable, participants, as well as to ensure researchers are trained in the appropriate use of PPE and that records of this training are maintained.
  • Where it is not absolutely necessary to be in close/physical contact with research participants, revert to standard social distancing protocols, including:
    • maintaining a physical distance of at least 1.5 metres from others
    • allowing for four square metres of space for each person within the premises
    • limiting contact time to two hours
    • for research conducted in Victoria, limiting gatherings to 10 people (including both ACU staff and research participants).
  • As much as possible, minimise unnecessary contact. This includes scheduling the arrival and departure of participants so that they do not come into contact with one another, and ensuring that only those researchers/staff whose presence is required are onsite.
  • While engaging with research participants, it is your responsibility to regularly check in with them and monitor for signs of ill-health. If you suspect a participant is showing signs of COVID-19 infection (noting these can be similar to the signs of influenza or the common cold), you should suspend their participation in the research immediately, and take the following measures:
    • Send the participant home, ensuring they exit the premises quickly and with minimal contact
    • As appropriate, encourage the participant to seek medical advice and/or be tested for COVID-19
    • Where there is a risk of exposure to ACU staff, these staff should self-isolate, seek medical advice and/or be tested for COVID-19
    • Clean areas and items with which the participant has come into contact
    • Inform your head of department and this office (res.ethics@acu.edu.au) at the earliest opportunity
    • Inform ACU via the link to COVID-19 medical advice and reporting
    • As appropriate, follow up with the participant to confirm their status
    • As appropriate, re-engage with the participant.

For guidance on identifying the symptoms of COVID-19, download the Australian Government Department of Health poster. To ensure you and your colleagues are aware of and have easy access to this information, you may wish to print a copy and post it within your research premises.

It is the responsibility of all researchers to ensure these protocols are followed and documented and researchers should be aware that their projects and protocols may be subject to an audit by the Research Ethics and Integrity team at any time, without notice.

Additional points:

  • For all jurisdictions, approval to conduct research involving at-risk populations will be considered on a case-by-case basis. If you wish to conduct research in at-risk populations, we ask that you email the Research Ethics and Integrity team directly, outlining the particulars of your research.
  • In line with guidance from ACU’s Recovery Management Team on a return to work, researchers who are themselves at increased risk of COVID-19 infection should speak to their supervisor about the risks and available options before engaging in face-to-face research.
  • The above advice applies to all research being conducted under the auspices of the ACU Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC). For ACU researchers working under the auspices of an external HREC (such as a hospital HREC), and where no research is conducted on ACU premises, researchers should defer to the guidance being provided by that HREC.

The ARC and NHMRC have confirmed that any variations to funded 'research projects and researchers that have been directly affected by the Coronavirus pandemic' can be considered via their usual post-award procedures. Impacts may involve 'changes in circumstances, including scope changes, personnel changes, suspensions and extensions to end dates'. The ARC and NHMRC will consider variation and extension requests on a case-by-case basis.

Review the latest information and communications from your funding body to check if this research can be delayed/extended. If the research can be extended and conducted at a later date and you would like to do so, notify your research team and submit the details and budget variation to the post-award team. Notify the contracts team of your proposed changes and ensure they are able to be made from a contractual perspective. If the research cannot be extended and the project must be closed down, please contact post-award.

Yes. Research that is able to be conducted remotely and that does not place researchers or research participants at increased risk of contracting a COVID-19 infection may continue as approved.

Below are updates on research involving or being conducted in state schools in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. For research involving state schools elsewhere, please email the Research Ethics and Integrity team at res.ethics@acu.edu.au, outlining the particulars of your research.

This advice relates only to state schools. In most jurisdictions, research involving Catholic and independent schools is overseen by the local diocese or school principal respectively, and approaches to these schools and the conduct of research is still permitted – providing it complies state and federal government restrictions, as well as ACU’s own restrictions on research.

We’re sending regular email updates to our researchers around the status of research as it evolves with public health advice – so please check your ACU email account often.

The advice below was provided on 30 September 2020.

Victoria

All research and evaluation activity involving Victorian government schools and Victorian early childhood sites requires approval through the Department of Education and Training’s (DET’s) Research in Schools and Early Childhood settings (RISEC) process.

The move to increased restrictions across Victoria necessitated that DET pause the RISEC process and research and evaluation activity involving schools and early childhood sites. These activities are suspended for the remainder of 2020.

Therefore, the following should not proceed:

  • RISEC-approved research and evaluations
  • any other contact with schools or early childhood sites, staff or children to conduct, or to recruit for, research and evaluation activity
  • RISEC applications and amendment requests.

The Department requests that we carefully consider the need for research involving schools and early childhood sites, and to make use of existing datasets where possible.

The RISEC website will be updated when further information becomes available. Any queries may be directed to research@education.vic.gov.au.

Australian Capital Territory/New South Wales

For both the ACT and NSW, the requirements for research involving, or being conducted in, state schools remain unchanged. Note however that education department requirements are overlaid by the COVID-19 restrictions of the relevant state or territory government, as well as by ACU’s own restrictions on research.

For information on conducting research in the ACT, visit the ACT Education Directorate’s website.

For information on conducting research in NSW, see the NSW SERAP website.

Queensland

From Term 4, which commenced on Tuesday 6 October 2020, the usual central and regional office appraisal and approval processes for research in state education sites will resume.

In all cases, researchers are requested to:

  • comply with directives on the Queensland Health website
  • limit imposition on school leaders, staff, students and parents/carers
  • consider using remote methods of data collection if possible
  • follow any additional instructions from school principals and site managers
  • respect the right of school principals and site managers to decline to participate in the research at present.

Research applications are submitted through the Department’s online portal: the Queensland Education Research Inventory (QERI). Please note the processing time for research applications continues to be longer than usual so allow extra time for your application to be processed.

 

The contract milestones and timeframes in research contracts and agreements for your project may be affected. Legal issues may arise from extended timeframes or changes to protocols. The contract parties will be able to consider these changes and usually agree to an appropriate outcome. However, you must contact the Office of Research Services (the Director, Dr Michael Baker and the Research Contracts Team) before you contact or make arrangements with any other party or funder for your project. 

Candidates should contact their Principal Supervisor and, where appropriate, the faculty Associate Dean Research to discuss strategies and decide an appropriate course of action for their research project.

In general, candidates whose research does not involve face-to-face interactions, or whose research can be undertaken remotely, should proceed as normal in consultation with their Principal Supervisor.

Candidates whose research project involves face-to-face interactions/contact must follow the directions and restrictions in effect in the relevant state/territory and, in consultation with their Principal Supervisor, consider strategies to progress their research during these periods of unavoidable delay. Strategies may include literature reviews, meta-analyses, data collection, data analysis (as appropriate).

Candidates who are unable to continue their research should consider a variation to their candidature. All variation requests must be submitted via Orion.

Suspension of RTP scholarships (fees offset and stipend)

Candidates who are unable to continue with their course in a meaningful way due to restrictions imposed under the coronavirus pandemic should consider applying for a suspension of candidature. Suspensions will not affect the overall duration of the candidate’s enrolment.

Extraordinary extension of RTP scholarships (fees offset and stipend)

  • Is a temporary RTP measure legislated by the Australian Government which is beyond the provisions in the current ACU RTP Scholarship Policy
  • To be eligible to submit an extraordinary extension request, candidates must have been enrolled as a HDR candidate at ACU as at 1 March 2020
  • The maximum duration of an extraordinary extension is six (6) calendar months regardless of study mode
  • Candidates do not need to submit an extraordinary extension request immediately. ACU can approve such extraordinary extension requests at any point before 31 December 2022 even if the extension itself will occur after that date
  • Candidates who submit a request for an extraordinary extension must demonstrate that coronavirus restrictions have had an adverse material impact on their research and include appropriate evidence and supporting information along with their request. At the minimum this should include:
    • Details of the work all work undertaken on their degree during the timeframe that their research was adversely materially impacted by coronavirus restrictions
    • A supporting statement from their Principal Supervisor confirming the work undertaken and the timeframes the student’s research was adversely materially impacted by coronavirus restrictions, including information detailing the nature and extent of the impact of the coronavirus restrictions
    • An annotated timeline to completion endorsed by the Principal Supervisor

Leave entitlements

Candidate leave entitlements are outlined in the appropriate sections of the HDR Regulations and the ACU RTP Scholarship Policy.

Candidates whose research project has not been adversely materially impacted by the coronavirus restrictions but who have been affected in their personal life should be encouraged to use the provisions to vary candidature as set out in the HDR Regulations and the ACU RTP Scholarship Policy.

Other avenues of support and information for students:

Further information on the Australian Government’s RTP temporary measures can be found on the DESE FAQ page.

All requests to suspend or vary a HDR stipend scholarship require consideration on a case-by-case basis as a decision depends upon the source of the funding, conditions of award, and how far the student has progressed in their candidature.

In line with temporary RTP measures legislated by the Australian Government, the University may consider extraordinary variations to an RTP stipend scholarship. For details, refer to ‘Extraordinary extension of RTP scholarships’ information in the Question above.

RTP Stipend scholarship recipients may also apply to vary their stipend scholarship under the existing provisions in the RTP Scholarship Policy.

Stipend scholarship recipients whose scholarship is not RTP-funded should consult their Conditions of Award for information before submitting a request to vary their stipend scholarship. Decisions will be on a case by case basis and will depend upon the source of the scholarship funding.

Candidates who require information on their Conditions of Award should email Candidature Services on res.cand@acu.edu.au

In line with advice from DESE on 1/5/2020 if a candidate has experienced circumstances that have “materially adversely impacted their research activities” as a result of CoVid-19, then the University can approve extraordinary variations to their candidature and scholarship.

Extraordinary variations are outside of the standard provisions of the HDR Regulations and the RTP Scholarship Policy, and consideration of the use of extraordinary variations will be made on a case by case basis and will depend upon the source of the scholarship funding.

Due to visa requirements, International HDR Candidates may not currently apply to suspend their candidature.

Any other requests to vary candidature should be submitted as normal via Orion. Following a review of the request, the candidate will be notified of the outcome and will be advised if the variation is classified under standard provisions or extraordinary provisions.

For information relating to Confirmations of Enrolment and Student Visas refer to the ‘CoVid FAQs for International Students’.

Many ethics applications are reviewed and approved by other organisations and registered with ACU. For ACU researchers working under the auspices of an external HREC (such as a hospital HREC), and where no research is conducted on ACU premises, researchers should defer to the guidance being provided by that HREC.

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