Researchers and Corona: update measures FWO

Following the measures taken by Belgium and many other countries to contain the spread of the coronavirus, the FWO is also making a number of adjustments. In addition, the FWO also allocated 5 million euros to COVID-19 research:

Further, the FWO has taken a number of measures to compensate some consequences researchers in a FWO project or fellowship have encountered since Corona.

Execution ongoing fellowships

Researchers who experience delays and/or other issues in the execution of their fundamental research, strategic basic research and/or TBM project due to the situation caused by the coronavirus, are offered the option, as provided for in the regulations, to continue to use their budget for both staff and consumables for a period of up to two years after the formal end date of the project, in order to finalise their research.

As concerns the EOS research projects, in light of the current COVID-19 situation, F.R.S.-FNRS and FWO jointly decided that the budget for both consumables and staff can be used for up to two years after the formal end date of the project, in order to finalise the research. This 2-year period replaces the 1-year period as stipulated in Art. 20 §3. The limits of the originally allocated budgets must obviously be respected at all times. The scheduled end date of the EOS research projects remains unchanged (i.e. 31 December 2021).

In the reports on their projects, researchers can indicate the delays and problems they experienced due to the coronavirus situation. The FWO will explicitly ask the expert panels responsible for assessment of the reports, to take these extraordinary circumstances into account.

The FWO will also examine if other ways can be found to deal with delays and other issues due to the current pandemic. Further details will be communicated in due course.

During the current corona crisis, FWO fellows and personnel working on an FWO project can, by way of exception, claim the reimbursement of expenses for home working, such as an internet subscription at home, the bench fee of a fellowship, or the consumables of a project. Reimbursement will be based on the host institution’s internal rules for the reimbursement of expenses for home working during the current corona crisis.

Projects under European Programmes

For certain calls with FWO involvement, in the framework of the European Programmes (ERA-NET, EJP, JPI), measures will be taken that allow researchers to complete research proposals by extending the submission deadline. These predominantly European, multilateral cooperation agreements are severely impacted by the recent events, also due to the multitude of partners and countries/regions involved, all of which are facing organisational problems.

However, this does not imply that the submission deadlines for all calls are systematically extended. Possible extensions will be considered for each network and for each call in consultation with all national/regional funders involved. The FWO will inform the central coordination units of the Flemish knowledge institutions of any extensions and will also update the FWO website when it publishes the announcements of the calls. Obviously, the information on the websites and in the communication (channels) of the specific networks involved will be updated as well.

FWO PhD Fellowships

To PhD fellows

Extension of PhD fellowships

To partly offset the impact of COVID-19 for PhD researchers, the Flemish Government decided on 18 June 2021 to provide extra resources to enable a number of FWO PhD fellows to extend their ongoing fellowship for a period of 3 to 6 months.

At the same time, just as last year, the FWO offers last year PhD fellows the opportunity, as an alternative to a fellowship extension, to continue to use the remainder of their bench fee, with a maximum of €1,500, for up to three months after the end of their fellowship. Candidates can also apply for this scheme through the host institution. During this period, however, the fellows involved must remain affiliated, in a recognized status, to the host institution where they carried out their fellowship. This does not apply if the fellow switches to a new FWO fellowship (postdoc fellowship). In that case, only the new bench fee can be used.

Approach

The host institutions invite the fellows (initially PhD fellows in their last fellowship year, and later also PhD fellowships currently in their third year) via their promotor to submit a reasoned request for extension or a request for extended use of the bench fee.

The research council (or equivalent) of the relevant host institution evaluates the requests and submits a proposal to the FWO concerning the extensions to be awarded, together with a list of PhD fellows eligible for extension of the use of the bench fee.

The FWO Board of Trustees endorses and, where appropriate, adjusts the proposals, taking into account the available resources.

Request and evaluation criteria

A uniform approach and evaluation criteria have been agreed with the Flemish universities. This means that the same criteria apply to all FWO PhD fellows regardless of the host institution.

The actual request for extension is a summary of the reasons (no more than 2 pages) based on the following evaluation criteria. The request must be accompanied by an opinion of the supervisor, which is also part of the substantiation (see criteria).

The award criteria for extension of the fellowship are based on a significant delay of at least 3 months in the execution of the research, which can only be remedied by extending the FWO fellowship:

A number of research activities crucial to the completion of the PhD thesis in the area of data collection could not be carried out or had to be delayed, resulting in at least three months’ delay in completing the PhD research.

  • The activities in question are described and planned in the original fellowship application and/or in the 2nd term application.
  • The activities in question could not be carried out as planned as a direct and demonstrable result of corona circumstances and/or restrictive measures.

Delays due to social or medical consequences of corona can be remedied by extending the fellowship in accordance with the FWO regulations for PhD fellowships art. 26§3 (sickness, (corona-related) parental leave and the like) or §4 (reduced capacity to work for medical and/or social reasons)

  • These are activities that are essential and necessary for completing the PhD thesis and that cannot be remedied by alternative research activities (e.g. data collection via desk research vs. field research) that were possible under the corona restrictions.
  • The activities that were not completed in time are situated on the "critical path” of the research project. Rescheduling the planned activities, for example, by rearranging work packages, does not provide a solution.
  • It is not possible to remedy the delay and arrive at a high-quality PhD thesis by reformulating the research questions and/or adjusting the originally set goals (to be substantiated by the promotor as well).

There is a clear and feasible plan to make up for the delay within the requested extension period, with a clear perspective of completion and defence of the PhD thesis. (feasibility of PhD thesis defence to be substantiated by the promotor as well)

There is no alternative financial solution available to continue the research after the fellowship, for example, within one’s own research group, via one’s own resources or projects for which there is still budget available (to be substantiated by the promotor as well)

Use bench fee for homeworking expenses

During the current corona crisis, FWO fellows and personnel working on an FWO project can, by way of exception, claim the reimbursement of expenses for home working, such as an internet subscription at home, the bench fee of a fellowship, or the consumables of a project. Reimbursement will be based on the host institution’s internal rules for the reimbursement of expenses for home working during the current corona crisis.

Continued use of the remainder of the bench fee:

See above (extension of PhD fellowships)

Activity reports

In the reports on their fellowships, researchers can indicate the delays and problems they experienced due to the coronavirus situation. The FWO will explicitly ask the expert panels responsible for assessment of the reports, to take these extraordinary circumstances into account.

Postdoctoral fellowships

To applicants

As a candidate postdoctoral fellow you may be worried about the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on your research career so far, the strength of your application file and the ambitions of your research project.

Therefore we advise you to mention specific factors that influence your application in the entry field ‘career breaks’ and, where appropriate, ‘personal statement’, ‘research stays’ and/or in the project description file. The FWO will explicitly instruct the panel members to take this into account when assessing your application.

To postdoc fellows

Use bench fee for homeworking expenses

During the current corona crisis, FWO fellows and personnel working on an FWO project can, by way of exception, claim the reimbursement of expenses for home working, such as an internet subscription at home, the bench fee of a fellowship, or the consumables of a project. Reimbursement will be based on the host institution’s internal rules for the reimbursement of expenses for home working during the current corona crisis.

Continued use of the remainder of the bench fee

The postdoctoral fellow whose fellowship ends in 2021 are offered the possibility to use the remaining part of their bench fee in a flexible way. These fellows are allowed to use the remainder of their bench fee, with a maximum of €1,500, for up to three months after the end of their fellowship. During this period, however, the fellows involved must remain affiliated, in a recognized status, to the host institution where they carried out their fellowship.

The FWO has personally informed all concerned researchers about this possibility.

Activity reports

In the reports on their fellowships, researchers can indicate the delays and problems they experienced due to the coronavirus situation. The FWO will explicitly ask the expert panels responsible for assessment of the reports, to take these extraordinary circumstances into account

Schematic overview of measures related to international mobility

In response to the latest developments in the coronavirus outbreak, all outbound travel paid for with FWO funds is only allowed if positive travel advice is given by the employer (research institution to which you are affiliated as a researcher). You are required to comply with the applicable guidelines and procedures of the institution concerned. 

If you wish to reschedule your departure and have not yet booked a ticket with one of the licensed travel agencies (Omnia or Uniglobe South West Travel), you can still use the grant at a later date if the destination has a positive travel advice from your host institution. For this purpose, contact the responsible advisory body of your university. Please also advise the FWO of your rescheduled departure.

If you already booked a ticket with one of the licensed travel agencies and you wish to cancel it, you must contact the relevant travel agency (Omnia or Uniglobe South West Travel) to cancel or reschedule your flight. If your flight cannot be rebooked free of charge or if the associated additional expenses cannot be recovered from the licensed travel agency, you must submit a claim to AIG. The FWO has taken out assistance insurance with AIG for its grant recipients. Please note: AIG will only reimburse the expenses if the trip was cancelled for reasons beyond your control. The policy number to be specified in your claim is 9.500.573. After submitting the claim, AIG will send you a form that you must complete and return yourself. If FWO paid the travel expenses directly to the licensed travel agency, you must specify FWO as beneficiary in the claim. If AIG accepts the claim, you will be allowed to use the FWO grant later on, under the following conditions: (1) FWO has received the reimbursed travel expenses, (2) for participation in conferences or workshops: the same conference/workshop is rescheduled to take place at another date (3) for short and long stays abroad: the scientific goal(s) and the host institution as described in the initially approved application, are still feasible/applicable. If AIG does not accept the claim, the travel grant is no longer valid.