With the COVID-19 outbreak in Australia beginning to stabilise, State and Federal governments and ACU are looking at how we might return, gradually, 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.

Please note this plan is provided to assist with your planning and preparation; definitive advice willfollow over the coming weeks and months, and will align with government regulations as well as theadvice being provided by ACU’s Critical Incident Response Group.

With the easing of government restrictions, we plan to ease some restrictions on research in reverse order to that in which they were imposed (i.e. the higher level restrictions brought in most recently are likely to 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 (e.g. interviews and surveys) will be allowed to recommence, providing social distancing guidelines are adhered to.

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

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 (i.e. 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
  • 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

Please note that the above outlined restrictions would only be lifted as government and broader ACU policy allows. In addition, and regardless of restriction easing, for the foreseeable future there will a heightened need to practice good hygiene in research which will need to be adhered to. This means, amongst 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 GovernmentDepartment 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, rest assured that these modifications will stand as restrictions are lifted. This means that 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 visit the ACU Research section on the FAQ page 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 FAQ's

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 15 July 2020.

Victoria

In line with government restrictions in Victoria, in effect from 8 July, no face-to-face research can be conducted at this stage. This may change in the future and we will provide updates as information becomes available.

If you are in a position to continue your research without face-to-face participant contact, we ask that you submit a request to modify your project, explaining the protocol changes you will implement to mitigate risk, such as:

  • changes to screening or consent from face-to-face to phone or virtual (eg Skype, Zoom, etc) meetings
  • changes in the way participants are supplied with any materials or devices
  • changes in the way the research is documented (eg electronic records rather than paper).

Prior to implementing any protocol changes, you will need to have these approved by the ACU Human Research Ethics Committee. If you cannot continue your research without face-to-face participant contact but are able to delay your research we encourage you to do so and, where necessary, ask that you submit a request for extension. Unfortunately, if you cannot modify or postpone your research to comply with the above direction, it will be necessary to suspend your project. As always, the HREC should be notified when the decision to close or suspend a project is taken. If you had already modified your research in response to earlier restrictions, such that it can be conducted remotely, you may continue to conduct this research in line with your approval.

For the most recent advice on research involving Victorian state schools, see the FAQ ‘My research involves state schools – how do the COVID-19 restrictions affect this?’.

New South Wales

Phase 2: As per previous advice, one-on-one, face-to-face research involving non at-risk populations, including research involving home visits, may continue. In addition, research involving groups of 20 or fewer people (including participants and researchers) may continue, including research conducted in public spaces. Social distancing must be practised by:

  • maintaining a physical distance of at least 1.5 metres from others
  • ensuring good hand hygiene
  • allowing for 4 square metres of space for each person
  • limiting contact time to 2 hours.

This is consistent with the most recent NSW Government COVID-19 advisory updated 14 June.

Queensland

Phase 2: As per previous advice, one-on-one, face-to-face research involving non at-risk populations, including research involving home visits, may continue. In addition, research involving groups of 20 or fewer people (including participants and researchers) may continue, including research conducted in public spaces. Social distancing must be practised by:

  • maintaining a physical distance of at least 1.5 metres from others
  • ensuring good hand hygiene
  • allowing for 4 square metres of space for each person
  • limiting contact time to 2 hours.

For the most recent advice on research involving Queensland state schools, see the FAQ ‘My research involves state schools – how do the COVID-19 restrictions affect this?’.

The above is in accordance with the Queensland Government’s Roadmap to Easing Restrictions released on 30 June.

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.

Researchers should consider strategies to progress your research projects during these periods of unavoidable delay, including ways to continue project development, literature reviews, meta-analyses, data collection, data analysis, manuscript preparation and grant application development (most grant schemes are still reviewing application as usual).

These strategies may include, moving to phone, online or virtual meetings, testing and collaboration using audio/visual tools. If strategies require changes in research protocols, project plans, budgets or ethics approvals, we can help you manage this via the usual post-award processes and by an ethics modification.

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 20 July 2020.

Victoria

On Monday 29 June, a partial resumption of the RISEC process commenced and included applications to amend existing RISEC approvals. Previous advice was that researchers could approach schools from 20 July. This has now changed.

The move to Stage 3 restrictions and the announcement of a return to remote and flexible learning in many areas of Victoria necessitates that the Department of Education and Training consider the status of research and evaluation involving these sites, and the RISEC process. No researchers may approach schools and early childhood sites until further notice.

You can find further information on the RISEC website.

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 overlayed 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

As per previous advice, from Term 3 (Monday 13 July) the Queensland Department of Education has stated that research projects with existing approval and involving Qld state schools and educations sites can recommence, providing it:

  • can be delivered remotely, and/or
  • is linked to a program that is being delivered on a school site.

New applications for research involving single state schools or education sites will also be considered at the discretion of principals and site managers respectively.

For all other new applications, the Department will continue to accept and review proposals, but permission to approach state schools and educations sites will not be granted until Term 4 (Tuesday 6 October).

In all cases, researchers are being asked to consider the needs of schools, and to minimise the impact of their research on staff and students.

The contract milestones and timeframes in research contracts and agreements for your project will very likely be affected.  Legal issues may arise from extended time frames 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, A/Prof Michael Baker and the Research Contracts Team) before you contact or make arrangements with any other party or funder for your project. 

Given the short timeframe available to complete an honours project, the indefinite period of suspension, and the uncertainty of how government action may extend, these projects should be modified to continue without the need for face-to-face data collection.

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 adhere to 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 prior to 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:

ACU's COVID 19 FAQ financial work and legal support

Australian Government's Services Australia

Study Australia Support for International 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. In these cases, we recommend that researchers defer to the COVID-19 protocols being instituted by the lead or sponsoring organisation, which in most cases will align with ACU’s protocols.

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