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Research Operations Group

Research Operations Group oversees the delivery of effective research operations for the 2020/21 academic year.

Enabling excellent research

UCL’s ambition is to provide world-leading support for its research activities. In response to feedback from staff and partners, UCL has an ongoing initiative to set new standards in research support.

The Research Operations Group (ROG) is part of UCL’s management structure for delivering services and provision during academic year 2020/21. It seeks to understand the challenges to research operations as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Research operations is understood to be any process, service or function that supports the research lifecycle and can involve any area of UCL, such as Faculties, Research Services, Finance, Estates, Human Resources, and Information Services Division. ROG also strives to take the opportunity to make UCL’s processes more robust and straight-forward, in order to enable excellent research.

Where an issue outside UCL affects how its research is carried out, ROG will identify how best to make the case for change.

ROG builds on the work of the Research Operations Committee (which was active between May 2019 and March 2020) and Aquamarine Silver 4 (Research) (part of the Gold-Silver-Bronze structure between March and June 2020).  ROG is chaired by Professor Alan Thompson (Dean of the Faculty of Brain Sciences) and its members include senior academic and professional services staff.

Actions to date

PurposeApproachOutcomesMeasurement
To support disrupted UKRI-funded projects through the COVID-19 Grant Extension Allocation (CoA).A CoA Governance Group was established to oversee the distribution of funding according to UKRI terms and conditions (funds had to be spent by September 2021). Researchers with eligible projects which ended before Spring 2021 were offered funding via the CoA. Those with vulnerable projects ending after Spring 2021 had the opportunity to seek support.£10.8m is being allocated to eligible UKRI-funded projects across UCL.
To support grant-funded staff during the COVID-19 pandemic disruption.

Grant-funded staff who were due to depart UCL between May and August 2020 were offered the opportunity to be furloughed and have their leaving date extended by up to two months.

Grant-funded staff who were unable to carry out their duties between May and October 2020 were offered to be placed on furlough.

Staff received reassurance during a period of uncertainty time.

Staff due to leave UCL had the opportunity of a bridging arrangement where future appointment elsewhere may be delayed.

UCL maintained staff at their full salary.

Over 300 grant-funded staff benefited from the scheme.  UCL £2.4m.
To provide a support package to funded and self-funded PGR students

Final-year funded PGR students had their stipends underwritten by UCL at the minimum UKRI rate for up to three months in the first instance.

Self-funded PGR students had the third and final instalment of tuition fees extended from 2 May until 31 July 2020.

Any PGR student experiencing financial hardship eligible to apply to the Financial Assistance Fund for a grant of up to £3,000 at any time up to 31 July 2020.

Any PGR student who was registered as of 1 March 2020 automatically given 15 months (full-time) or 30 months (part-time) writing up status at the time they take this up.

PGR students received reassurance and targeted assistance.

As of November 2020:

Over 130 PGR students have had their stipends underwritten.

378 self-funded PGR students had their tuition fee instalment extended.

268 PGR students benefited from Financial Assistance Fund.

All PGR students (over 7,000) given an extension of their writing up status.

To ensure that fieldwork is started or resumed appropriately during the COVID-19 pandemic.framework for researchers and PGR students to identify and mitigate risks and obtain appropriate authorisation.

The framework was launched in August 2020 and is kept updated by the Fieldwork framework Group which reports to ROG. The framework was used as the basis for similar guidance in taught and MRes programmes.

Over 115 risk assessments have drawn on the framework for undertaking fieldwork.
To ensure that research projects related to COVID-19 were centrally registered and prioritised for lab access, research ethics approval and research contracts support.A protocol that required confirmation of support by the Dean.A rapid and immediate response to the need to prioritise COVID-19 research after campus closure.Over 460 COVID-19 projects were registered on the central database.
To streamline research ethics approval process for COVID-19 projects.A new fast-track approval process was introduced with a sub-group monitoring implementation and addressing capacity issues as necessary. COVID-19 research projects subject to ethical review could commence more quickly. 

63 new applications for ethics approval and 34 requests for amendments were processed through the streamlined process.

To make CL-3 laboratories available for COVID-19 research.The proposal was fast-tracked, and the commitments monitored by a sub-group.CL-3 laboratories were made available as quickly as possible. 28 COVID-19 research projects made use of CL-3 laboratories.
To ensure the COVID-19 Rapid Response and Grand Challenges funding calls are delivered on schedule.A sub-group tracked progress with the funding calls so that interventions could be made to ensure successful delivery. 

Objectives for the COVID-19 Rapid Response and Grand Challenges funding calls were met.

Researchers had access to additional internal funds.

18 projects received funding totalling £700k under the COVID-19 Rapid Response.

Over 300 expressions of interest under the Grand Challenges call.

To provide a single platform for open access to UCL’s COVID-19 research.A dedicated collection set up on the ScienceOpen.com platform.UCL’s COVID-19 research is searchable, accessible and discoverable. It underlined UCL’s commitment to open science. Over 924 outputs uploaded which have attracted over 22,000 views.
To provide additional online training resources in maths and computing to bioscience PGR students.Provide access to the SysMIC platform co-developed by UCL and funded by BBSRC.PGR students benefited from the acquisition of skills for effective interdisciplinary research and collaboration.300 PGR students participated.
To deliver clear external online messages about UCL’s response to the COVID-19.

An overhauled web presence to provide an overarching UCL narrative.

Regular internal communications on developments related to research.

A clearer narrative to support UCL’s messaging around COVID-19 research.

Between March and July 2020, 10 communications were issued via the Daily coronavirus (Covid-19) update e-newsletter and articles by the Vice-Provost (Research).

A new COVID-19 webpage was devised and launched and reached over 51,000 unique visitors (by November 2020).

To ensure facility costs in research applications are consistent and compliant with funders’ requirements.An annual financial report completed by faculties.The approach is currently being rolled out across UCL.In progress.

Support team

ROG and its activities are supported by a small team in the Office of the Vice-Provost (Research).

Jeremy Barraud, Director of Research Operations Governance

Alison Williams, Research Operations Committee Officer

Getting in touch

Have you had issues with support for research? Or have you experienced something that works very well? Please let us know.