Pandemic-related extension for PhD-students – a practical guide and FAQ

As a PhD-student you are working towards a major deadline, at which point you are expected to publish and defend your thesis. The employment, or other types of financing, for PhD-students are directly connected to this deadline and it’s common for PhD-students even during a normal year to worry about finishing on time. However, when the pandemic hit it was no longer a normal year and the problem of finishing on time has been exacerbated.

Many have had to revise the planning of their research studies both in a short-term and long-term perspective. Field studies, interviews, visits to archives and libraries, international conferences and courses are only some of the aspects of doctoral education that has been affected by the pandemic. Working from home also comes with a specific set of challenges.

On the 26th of May 2021, Fackförbundet ST and Sveriges förenade studentkårers doktorandkommitté (SFS-DK) held an online seminar centered on the how-to of documenting your need for extension due to delays caused by the pandemic. The seminar was well-attended, with 170 participants, and this FAQ is loosely based on the issues raised by PhD-students in the seminar. The practical guide to documenting your need for pandemic-related extension can be found at the bottom of the page.

The answers to the questions, especially on who to turn to in order to get help and support generally vary according to whether it’s an individual problem or a structural one. With the individual problems, you can for example get support from your local trade union representatives, if you are a member of that trade union. However, if it is a structural, collective issue, then the local trade unions are likely to be interested in the issue regardless of membership.

The trade unions will give advice to anyone who contacts them, but they will not be able to actually represent an individual or a group visavi the employer unless there is at least one member. However, given enough information and examples across the university, the trade union will also be able to put pressure on the employer on behalf of the PhD-students in a more general way.
Here’s the contact information to the local representatives of Fackförbundet ST (the webpage is not in English, but choose your university and then send your e-mail to the chair and vice chair (ordförande and vice ordförande): https://st.org/st-inom-universitets-och-hogskoleomradet/sektioner

The student unions and the PhD-student ombudsman (doktorandombud) are likely to support all students, regardless of membership.
Especially on the central university level, the likelihood of achieving improvements is better when trade unions and student unions are pushing for similar measures.
Links:
Information from Arbetsgivarverket that delays due to the pandemic counts as “särskilda skäl” for extending the employment or other financing of PhD-students (in Swedish):
https://www.arbetsgivarverket.se/nyheter--press/nyhetsbrev/arbetsgivarverket-informerar/2020/fragor-och-svar-om-corona-viruset-i-samband-med-resor/anstallning-och-arbetsskyldighet/

 

FAQ

How do I apply for pandemic-related extension?
Unfortunately, it’s not possible for us to answer this as the routines and templates or forms to use are university-specific, or sometimes even department-specific. If you have not been given clear information on how to apply, ask your supervisor, the director of studies of the PhD-program or your local PhD-student council. If you are still not given any clear instructions, we recommend that you document your need for pandemic-related extension in an appendix to your individual study plan (ISP). Even if you are given other instructions, we recommend that you also document your need for an extension in your ISP. This gives you the best form of official documentation to argue your need for extension as the ISP constitutes an agreement between you and the university. However, always try to follow the instructions of your department and/or university as well on how to apply for an extension.

 

My research studies are funded by a scholarship, can I still get an extension?
Yes, you can, it is the responsibility of the university to fund your extension, in accordance with the legislation. Since the time on a scholarship is normally limited to one year out of four, it’s the subsequent employment-funded period that will need to be extended.


I have been told that there will be about 2-3 weeks of extension and that doesn’t match the delays to my research studies, what should I do?
The extensions for pandemic-related delays should match the time that you have been delayed, there is no basis for the employer to argue that there can only be two weeks of extension regardless of the effects of the pandemic on your specific situation. Document your actual delays and apply for extension. If your application is rejected, contact your local trade union representatives (if you are a member), your PhD-student ombudsman (doktorandombud) or your student union.
 

The head of my department and/or the director of studies actively discourages us from applying for extension, what should I do?
This is a serious problem and as this is a structural issue, not just an individual one, contact your local trade unions (regardless of membership), your PhD-student ombudsman (doktorandombud) and your student union.

 

I was on part-time sick-leave, do I still have a right to pandemic-related extension?
First of all, you should be granted an extension for your sick-leave. Regarding the time that you actually still spent working, if the pandemic caused delays in your work, then you should get extension.


My manager says that “everyone had to adjust” and hence, we should not be applying for extension, what should I do?
While it is true that everyone had to adjust to the new situation during the pandemic, PhD-students are in a specific situation, enrolled in PhD-program, with a long-term project, by the end of which they need to deliver both a thesis and a sufficient amount of course credits. The doctoral studies are also regulated by specific legislation and is, first and foremost, an education, meaning that PhD-students are not yet graduated researchers and are in need of a different kind of support than more senior researchers. Furthermore, Arbetsgivarverket, has stated that pandemic-related delays count as “särskilda skäl”, particular grounds for extension in accordance with the legislation.

 

My university has stated that the externally funded project should finance the extension and the project manager says that there is no money, can I still get an extension?
When you were accepted into the PhD-program the university assumed the responsibility of funding four full-time years of research studies. Hence, it is not the research project that is responsible for funding your extension, but the university. If you face problems of this kind, contact your local trade unions (regardless of membership), your PhD-student ombudsman (doktorandombud) and your student union, as this is a structural issue, not an individual one.


My department runs with a budget deficit and the management has said that there will be no money for extension, what can I do?
Whether or not the budget of the department runs with a surplus or a deficit is not relevant to the issue of extension. The university has a responsibility to extend the PhD-position and the financing of that position. The problem cannot be pushed onto the individual PhD-student. Since this is very much a structural issue, contact your local trade unions (regardless of membership), the PhD-student ombudsman (doktorandombud) and the student union.