[COVID-19] Research Operations (PDAD&C #66)

To: Principals, Deans, Academic Directors, and Chairs
From: Vivek Goel, Vice-President, Research & Innovation, and Strategic Initiatives
Date: April 21, 2020
Re: [COVID-19] Research Operations (PDAD&C #66)

The University remains dedicated to ensuring the health of our community and, as much as possible, the continuity of research and innovation activities. Based on orders and directives from the government, we must have as few people on our three campuses as reasonably possible while maintaining essential services. Only those research labs that have been exempted by the University are permitted to operate on-site (i.e. those conducting critical COVID-19 related research or other time-sensitive critical projects). All on-campus activities must follow requirements for physical distancing and take precautions as advised by Occupational Health and Safety. 

Most externally funded research personnel continue to be engaged in work remotely, or on campus for those in essential programs. All these individuals have continued to be paid and the University expects that this will continue to be the case for research personnel. I am sure that there continues to be work such as literature reviews, data analysis, and planning for future research that can be done by most of our research personnel. 

Given recent trends in local epidemiologic data, I am hopeful that we will be able to ease restrictions to on-campus research in the coming weeks. A working group has been struck to examine how we may gradually restart research programs as government restrictions are eased. 

There are some circumstances where research programs, or some parts of them, that have not been approved as essential, have dedicated staff who are not able to continue to work remotely. The staff costs in these circumstances may have an impact for those Principal Investigators (PIs) whose grants have not been extended by the funding agency. Furthermore, some funders, such as industry or foundations, may be considering reducing future funding allocations. 

The University has engaged both levels of government and funding agencies to address concerns about continuity of research funding. At present, public sector institutions are not eligible for the federal Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy program. Significant work, in partnership with other universities and research hospitals, continues to make the case for support of our country’s research personnel. We know that researchers have many questions about their funding and we continue to work to get them answers. 

There are many different and complex situations across our campuses.  Each PI’s research program is relatively unique in terms of funding source(s) and personnel. Each program has different opportunities to continue work remotely, or as we start to consider restart of operations, to be able to maintain physical distancing and other control requirements related to COVID-19. 

Unfortunately, some research programs will require difficult decisions, if we are not able to restart them in the coming weeks and if there is no external funding support to maintain wage continuity. There is no institutional fund to bridge lost or interrupted research funding. Academic administrators will need to work with their PIs and divisional leaders to address financial challenges to research programs, ensuring that plans take appropriate account of the University’s collective agreements and employment policies.

The University expects that funding commitments for trainees such as graduate students and post-doctoral fellows will be met and that supervisors will ensure that they are able to maintain their academic progress. Academic administrators should work with their divisional leaders to assess any individual circumstances that require special consideration.  The School of Graduate Studies has issued guidance for Chairs and Supervisors

For questions regarding eligible research expenses, please see the VPRI COVID-19 FAQ or contact the appropriate staff member in the Research Services or the Innovations and Partnerships Offices.