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 relation 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: 08 January 2021
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 2020, Long Vacation 2020, Michaelmas Term 2020 and Lent Term 2021.
Payment of Long Vacation maintenance was, 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 Lent Term 2021 has now been paid to all scholars who were due to receive it and have signed in. If you have not received your funds or were not able to sign in during the designated time, please do alert us by emailing email@example.com
Travel and airfare
The Trust has paid for airfares home for those scholars who could and needed to return home in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic. The Trust will also cover the cost of a flight back to the UK for these scholars if they need to return into residence for Michaelmas term 2020 or later in the academic year.
Scholars are required to follow the University guidance regarding return to Cambridge and should consult with their Department and College before making any travel plans. Scholars are advised to only make essential travel bookings at this time due to the fast changing situation with country borders and entry requirements.
You may apply to the Trust for an airfare back to the UK 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.
During the COVID-19 pandemic situation, the Trust will exceptionally consider Academic Development Funding requests from scholars in their 4th year (not 5th year) who were unable to attend an event last academic year because it was cancelled. Requests will be subject to the usual case-by-case review and subject to legitimate reasons and supporting evidence etc. There must be a genuine academic reason to attend the event for the benefit of PhD completion, not just to enhance personal skills.
Also, Academic Development Funding will be exceptionally allowed to contribute towards the cost of a laptop or software if a scholar is not able to work/study effectively without it. The Trust will consider applications to contribute 50% of the cost, up to a MAXIMUM of £500. This will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis and subject to legitimate reasons and supporting evidence. Funds cannot be used to upgrade a functioning laptop.
Please note this is a temporary agreement and the Trust has the right to end this scheme at any time.
Full details are available from the Guidelines for Scholars.
Family Allowance (discretionary)
Scholars with families are still receiving/eligible to apply for Family Allowance. During the full lockdown (mid-March to August 2020) the Trust wrote to all scholars with families about a temporary change in the rate of family allowance while schools and childcare facilities were closed. Since September 2020, the full rate of Family Allowance has been paid but the Trust will continue to monitor and respond flexibly to changes in government guidance and the individual circumstances of scholars with families.
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?
If you are in residence in Cambridge please alert your College, most probably your College Tutor, so that appropriate support can be provided. The University has provided guidance on their dedicated Stay Safe web pages.
You should also follow government and University advice and contact the NHS if necessary. Full details are available from:
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.