Guidance for scholars during the current Coronavirus pandemic
The following FAQs provide key information to Gates Cambridge Scholars about their award and the Trust’s policies in relations to the unfolding Coronavirus pandemic. These will be updated as and when required in response to updated advice from the government and the University. All Scholars should follow current UK Government, University and NHS advice in relation to the pandemic (see item 1 below).
Last update: 12 August 2020
- How has the pandemic affected the Trust?
- Where can I get information about Coronavirus?
- What effect will the Coronavirus pandemic have on my degree?
- What support is available from the Trust?
- What support is available from the Scholars’ Council?
- What if I am currently on fieldwork?
- I wish to intermit my degree or undertake Leave to Work Away because of Coronavirus, what is the Trust’s policy on this?
- What is the Trust’s policy on extensions?
- What if I am self-isolating, have underlying health conditions/am pregnant or have Covid19?
- I have a Tier 4 visa, will this be affected by the current pandemic?
- I have a question not covered by these FAQs, what should I do?
How has the pandemic affected the Trust?
Like all parts of the economy, the Trust’s financial situation has been adversely affected by the pandemic. The Trust’s income depends entirely upon the income generated from its investment with the Cambridge University Endowment Fund and this will likely remain lower than planned or expected for some time. However, the great majority of the Trust’s expenditure is on fixed costs (fees, maintenance and rent for the office and scholars’ room) and these have not changed, while some costs have unexpectedly increased (e.g. the cost of scholars’ flights home during the pandemic).
The UK Charity Commission also requires all charities to review non-core costs, so the Trust is reviewing all budgets outside of those listed above, with a view to reducing such costs where this is possible and appropriate. Just under 95% of the Trust’s expenditure is on direct scholar costs, with the balance used for administration.
Despite these challenges, the Trust continues to offer one of the most generous international scholarships available, funds a range of community building and professional development events and activities and will always ensure no scholar is in a position of hardship.
What support is available from the Trust?
The Trust is operating as normal and continues to provide wide ranging support to scholars. Staff meet regularly to ensure the Trust is responding quickly and flexibly to the evolving pandemic. Our staff are working from home but are available by email as usual to support scholars and answer any questions you may have. Please email email@example.com if your question is not answered by these FAQs or the Guidelines for Scholars.
The Trust has made the usual maintenance payments to all scholars who were due maintenance in Easter Term and Long Vacation 2020.
Payment of Long Vacation maintenance is, as usual, subject to both you and your supervisor submitting an annual report by the deadline of 15 June and this being reviewed by the Trust. If the Trust has not received an annual report completed by both you and your supervisor your maintenance will not be paid until the Trust receives and reviews this.
Maintenance for Michaelmas Term 2020 will be paid to scholars who are due to receive it. However, for new scholars who may not be able to come into residence in October and for current scholars who will be living overseas, there may be adjustments to the rate of maintenance paid (e.g. where scholars are living in countries with much lower living costs). There are also issues around how to make international payments. Both of these matters are under active discussion at the Trust and once finalised scholars will receive further information by email. All scholars who will be in Cambridge during Michaelmas Term 2020 who are due to be paid maintenance will be paid at the standard Cambridge rate. The Trust will also be responsive to Scholar’s specific circumstances.
Travel and airfare
The Trust has paid for airfares home for those scholars who could and needed to return home. The Trust will cover the cost of flights back to the UK for scholars currently overseas once arrangements to return into residence have been confirmed by the University.
Scholars currently outside of the UK should not make any plans to return to Cambridge until they have been given permission to do so by their department and their College. Once you have formal approval to return to Cambridge you may apply to the Trust for an airfare back to the UK. This should be done using the new process outlined below. If you already have a return ticket you should use the return portion to return to Cambridge.
Before confirming or paying for your flight, please submit the Flight Authorisation Form below with your proposed flight details to check that the Trust will be able to reimburse the travel costs that you will incur. The Trust will then need to review and approve your proposed flight option. Once approved, you can book and pay for the flight. You will then need to submit a reimbursement form with supporting receipts for the Trust to reimburse you the agreed costs by bank transfer.
Scholars should use a flight comparison website, such as Skyskanner – https://www.skyscanner.net/, to investigate the best value travel options available to them. In some cases it may be more appropriate for you to travel by bus or train and if so, please still use the Flight Authorisation Form to check your travel plans with the Trust.
The Trust requests that you are flexible with your choice of route, airline, departure date and departure/arrival airport where possible in order to source a competitively priced ticket. This information should be evidenced to the Trust in the three journey quotes that you provide in the Flight Authorisation Form.
For example, when travelling to Cambridge you may have the choice of multiple London airports, such as London Stansted, London Heathrow or London Gatwick. Also, by using the calendar function on travel websites you can view which days are cheaper to travel, it may make a significant difference to your ticket price if you depart a day or two earlier (or later). All savings allow the Trust to make the most effective use of its funds for the benefit of all scholars it supports.
Once you have researched your travel options, please complete the Flight Authorisation Form and submit to our dedicated travel email address – firstname.lastname@example.org to request permission from the Trust to book your journey.
A note on insurance – your Gates Cambridge Scholarship does not provide insurance for your travel or to cover your personal belongings. As soon as your travel arrangements are confirmed, we ask that you take out a suitable travel insurance policy in case of any travel delays, loss or damage to your possessions or changes to your plans (particularly in light of the current coronavirus situation).
If you are required to use a country specific, government scheme to travel (such as specific repatriation flights), you may apply for a reimbursement of your travel costs using the form below.
Academic Development Funding (discretionary)
The UK government (and many other governments) has advised against all non-essential travel, so the Trust is not expecting funding applications for in person academic development events at this time. However, we are considering applications to attend virtual events which are of direct relevance to your course. Full details are available from the Guidelines for Scholars.
Family Allowance (discretionary)
Scholars with families are still receiving/eligible to apply for Family Allowance. The Trust has written to all scholars with families about a temporary change in the rate of family allowance; if you have questions about this please contact the Trust. The situation remains fluid and the Trust will respond flexibly to changes to government guidance (e.g. nurseries re-opening) and the individual circumstances of scholars with families. Once there are updates to the Trust’s current policy on family allowance these will be communicated to scholars with families by email.
Maternity/Paternity Allowance (discretionary)
Should you or your partner become pregnant during your award you may, as usual, apply for the Trust’s Maternity/Paternity Allowance. Full details are available from the Guidelines for Scholars.
Should you experience hardship and incur costs beyond your control you may, as usual, apply to the Trust’s hardship fund. Full details are available from the Guidelines for Scholars.
What support is available from the Scholars’ Council?
The Scholars’ Council, funded by the Trust, continues to provide numerous community building activities as well as specific support during the Coronavirus. These include:
- Mutual support
- Buddies of the week
- A list of mental health resources
- A range of virtual community building activities
Full details are available from the weekly e-bulletin.
What if I am currently on fieldwork?
Scholars who previously had Leave To Work Away because they were doing fieldwork and who are unable to return to Cambridge due to the impact of Coronavirus (e.g. travel restrictions), but who are still able to study, should submit a further application for working away to the Student Registry and the Trust. You should also inform the University Insurance Office of any extended period of working away. Full updated guidance on Working Away is here:
You should regularly check the FCO travel advice.
You should keep the Trust up to date with your plans and email us if you have any questions about your award while working away.
What is the Trust’s policy on extensions?
Fourth year funding (core funding)
Although the Cambridge PhD is formally three years, the Gates Cambridge Scholarship provides a stipend for up to 4 years at the outset. Most scholars submit their thesis within 3.5 years, so there is an in-built buffer should more time be needed (e.g. when research has not gone to plan). The Trust therefore expects the large majority of PhD scholars to be able to complete within their four year funded period, which includes the impact of the Coronavirus.
Fifth year funding (discretionary maintenance funding, case by case)
Scholars in their fourth year who (having discussed their progress with their supervisor) think they will require maintenance beyond the end of their fourth year due the impact of the Coronavirus should complete the discretionary funding form below. The Trust will review applications for part of a fifth year maintenance funding on a case-by-case basis. Applications will need to be evidenced and supported by your supervisor.
The Trust is only accepting applications for discretionary maintenance funding for part of a fifth year from fourth year scholars at this point. All other Scholars should continue to work towards completing within the four years of their award. Any delays experienced during Coronavirus and noted in the Annual Report will be taken into consideration should an extension be required at a later date; but it is hoped that the in-built buffer of four years of maintenance should be sufficient in most cases
The University has made arrangements for virtual learning, teaching and assessment to facilitate the completion of one-year postgraduate degrees, so it is hoped the majority of one-year students will complete their degree as planned. However, if your course has been officially extended or if you have been given extra time to complete your course, please contact the Trust with details. We will review applications for additional discretionary funding on a case by case basis.
What if I am self-isolating, have underlying health conditions/am pregnant or have Covid19?
You should follow government and University advice and contact the NHS if necessary. Full details are available from:
Also, the Trust has paid the NHS Health Surcharge for all scholars so that every scholar has free-at-the-point-of-use access to the NHS. The Trust does not have funds to cover private medical insurance or other associated medical costs, but the NHS will provide guidance and, where required, appropriate medical treatment.
I have a Tier 4 visa, will this be affected by the current pandemic?
The Trust does not have the expertise to advise on visa issues. But the University has provided full details on its Coronavirus page and staff at the International Student Office are available to provide information and advice about visas:
It is the Trust’s understanding that the UK Government will aim to be responsive to the unprecedented situation in terms of visas.
I have a question not covered by these FAQs, what should I do?
Please email email@example.com with details and one of our team will provide a response as soon as possible. The Trust is available to support scholars and works to respond to individual circumstances in a sympathetic and supportive way.
Image: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from Wikimedia Commons.