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Covid-19 FAQs for postgraduate students

Coronavirus FAQs for postgraduates

University information on Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Please refer to the University webpages for up to date information and UK Government links relating to health, travel, visa and immigration matters, and staff working arrangements. They also contain important University statements on arrangements for teaching and learning, assessment, and research in Easter Term 2020. These webpages also include a growing set of helpful FAQs.

These pages represent the central definitive resource for University information on Covid-19 – please check it frequently.

Why has the University decided that lectures will be delivered online in 2020/21?

You will have seen the news stories that Cambridge lectures will be online for 2020–21, in light of the current pandemic. Large lectures represent only one dimension of the Cambridge teaching experience. No students are taught by lecturing alone: in particular this announcement does not cover the supervision teaching that is so central to a Cambridge education. We are working on plans to ensure small-group teaching can be delivered safely in person. Some students (PhD and many Masters) do not attend lectures at all, and this announcement will not affect their experience.

Undergraduate lecturing has been shifted online since the Covid-19 outbreak, and very successfully. Online lectures have certain advantages: they can be viewed and reviewed; they can be paused; they can be designed in new, imaginative ways using different kinds of media. In St John's, and in the University as a whole, we are working tirelessly to ensure that the student experience as a whole will remain as rich, constructive and intellectually challenging as possible. This does not mean, however, that lectures will remain online once the pandemic is over!

College information on Coronavirus (Covid-19)
Exams and assessment

What will happen about exams and assessments?

The University has now released detailed guidance for exams and assessment, teaching and learning, admissions and finance. Individual faculties and departments will also issue specific guidance shortly. 

Once you have read the guidance fully, if you have specific concerns relating to your studies, please contact your Director of Studies, Tutor, Senior Tutor or course director.


Can I intermit because of the coronavirus pandemic?

The University's Examination Access and Mitigation Committee considers intermission requests on a case by case basis, as they arise, and in accordance with standard procedures and notes of guidance.  Requests for intermission solely based on changes to modes of teaching and assessment put in place as a result of the current pandemic do not meet the criteria for intermission. Therefore, an application to intermit on this basis is unlikely to be approved, except in the most exceptional circumstances. For further information, contact or read further University guidance on your student status.


How is the College coordinating the response to Covid-19?

Overall strategy for our response to the pandemic is determined by a Covid Gold group, consisting of the College Council and Chaired by the Vice-Master.  Implementation of that strategy is led by a Covid Silver group, chaired by the Domestic Bursar, which features a representative from all College departments and meets weekly. The Silver group's primary task is to discuss and plan the College's operational response to maintain the health and safety of students, staff, Fellows and visitors.

This structure has taken over from the initial Covid Committee which met daily on weekdays at the start of the lockdown period. It was chaired by Prof Ernest Laue, and included the Vice-Master, President, College Nurse, Senior Porter, Domestic Bursar, Head of Communications, Head of HR, Prof Miska (Tutor), and Prof Jiggins (Council).

Why has the College asked as many students as possible to go home?

To the College the most important thing is that when the situation becomes truly difficult, students are at the place where they feel most at home. No student will be forced to leave the College. Nonetheless, Government advice changed on Thursday 12 March when the UK went from the ‘contain’ to the ‘delay’ phase. The aim is to ensure that the disease does not spread fast so as to reduce pressure on the health service. The University is now also in the 'red' phase of its contingency planning. The College is aware that a significant number of our staff will fall ill and now that schools are now closed, staff have to stay at home to look after younger children. The College now does not have the resources to provide the same facilities and support it can in normal times. We believe students will generally be better off going home where possible because they can support their own families and be better looked after if they fall ill.  Many foreign governments have closed their borders to all but their own nationals, and students have been strongly advised to make their plans accordingly.

Can I return to College?

Students may currently only return to College to collect personal belongings and to clear their rooms. See the FAQ ‘Collecting the contents of your room during the Covid-19 pandemic’ below for full details.

I am a PhD student, can I return to Cambridge if my department/Faculty is reopening?

The University is working hard to re-open its buildings for research purposes. This will take time and decisions to re-open buildings are dependent on strict protocols about safety being in place. The default position is still that all students should continue to work from home. No one can enter any University buildings unless they have been given permission to do so by their Head of Department.

What is the process going to be for postgraduate students to return?

Once the Head of Department has determined that it is appropriate and safe for a student to return to the building, the student’s College will be informed and the College will check with the student that they are able and willing to return to conduct their research in Cambridge and that they have access to appropriate accommodation. Once this has been confirmed, the research student will receive confirmation from their Head of Department that they are permitted to return to the building.

I don't currently live in/near Cambridge, how will this work for me?

If you do not presently live in or near Cambridge and will need to relocate, a key consideration will be the nature of the accommodation to which you are moving. You will have to live in accommodation that does not entail joining another household for at least two weeks upon your return. From June 8, those returning from overseas will be subject to the UK Government’s quarantine rules and students in this group specifically will not be able to start work until the 14 day period is ended. You should discuss with College what your accommodation arrangements or needs are and whether you can meet Public Health England’s requirements. We will do our best to accommodate you or find accommodation for you during this fortnight, but you must not assume that we will be able to.

What should I do if I have concerns about returning?

Your agreement to return to conduct your research in Cambridge is a key part of this process and you should consider all of your own circumstances before agreeing. This will include your own health condition, travel and accommodation needs, and any other personal circumstances affecting your decision. You should discuss any concerns with your supervisor, your Head of Department or your Tutor.

Visas and Immigration

What should I do about my visa?

The government has announced that the COVID-19 visa extension scheme has been extended to 31 July 2020 for all visa types and all nationalities and at no extra cost. Further details can be found on the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Visas and Immigration page or seek assistance from the International Student Office.

In summary:

1.      If an individual’s visa has already been extended to 31 May by way of the visa extension scheme, then the latest extension to 31 July will be applied automatically without any further action.

2.     For those individuals who have not yet applied via the extension scheme they must do so online here:


Will I be charged rent for the time that I am away from College due to coronavirus?

No rent will be charged for Easter Term for students who are not resident in College.

Are students still living at St John's paying rent?

Students still residing in College are being charged rent as normal.  Whilst some communal College facilities have been closed during the Government imposed lockdown, their running costs are never included in the calculation of student rent prices at St John's College. It is worth noting that rents at St John’s College remain heavily subsidised. Please see the other FAQs for information about how the College is operating during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Why is the College charging full rent for students in residence?

St John’s rental charges for students are good value. Students pay only towards the cost of their accommodation: there are no extra charges for kitchens or other College facilities such as gyms and punts. Students have been able to stay in their original rooms, our kitchens have remained open throughout the lockdown, and housekeeping has continued in public spaces. Since the normal rent for St John’s residents is already subsidised, we believe it is fair to continue at this level. Any further rent reduction for students would limit our ability to support future generations.

By when have I got to leave my College-provided accommodation?

No student will be forced to leave their College accommodation

The University has issued advice for postgraduates research students that, for time being at least, you can continue in Cambridge – although this situation could change quickly and travel options are rapidly changing. The College position is that any postgraduate student should feel free to leave as soon as they wish. The College will support them in any addressing any issues with the University relating to their academic progression or assessment, as applicable, in the longer term. 

Collecting the contents of your room during the Covid-19 pandemic

The College understands that reuniting people with their property or giving them the knowledge that their possessions are stored safely is of paramount importance.

Government advice has now changed, and allows for a pre-booked journey to be made back to College to collect personal belongings and clear rooms. Please note this journey is only permissible by prior arrangement with College. To facilitate this process, College will be open for the collection of personal belongings between the hours of 8am and 6pm from the 1st to the 28th June.

Students must remember that the relaxing of travel advice, by the Government, currently applies to England only. To ensure their journey is lawful students must therefore adhere to the travel restrictions of their own country. For those who currently cannot travel due these restrictions further collection dates will be made available when advice changes.”

The overriding principle governing this pre-booked return to College or hostels to collect belongings is ensuring the safety of staff, students and visitors. Please follow government Covid-19 guidance and do not return to College if you or any member of your household have any symptoms of Covid-19. Social distancing plays a vital role in maintaining safety which is why College is restricting the number of students who can return on any one day to 25. 

You can book a date slot using the Moodle link (Raven password required) and arrive at whatever time is most convenient to you. No unplanned or impromptu visits will be allowed. Only two people are allowed to return to College i.e. the student and one other. Further information on returning to College is available when you book your slot. This also includes information about returning and borrowing books from the library.

Students must remember that the relaxing of travel advice, by the Government, currently applies to England only. To ensure their journey is lawful students must therefore adhere to the travel restrictions of their own country. For those who currently cannot travel due these restrictions further collection dates will be made available when advice changes.

If you do not wish to return to College to collect your belongings, there are three other options:

1. If you are currently a first or second year and cannot, or do not need to, return to College, there is the option of the College Porters clearing your room and storing the contents for you. Your possessions will be stored securely until you next return to College. If you would like to select this option then please email Student Services

2. If you are an international student, in exceptional cases, it may be possible for your possessions to be packaged and posted to you at your own expense. If you think your case is exceptional, please email Student Services

3. You may have only few possessions in your room or kitchen, which you do not want and would like them to be donated to charity or to have the College dispose of. If you would like to select this option, please email Student Services


  • Once you have emailed Student Services, the Porters will contact you to discuss the detail of clearing out your rooms or sending your possessions to you. The Porters will always exercise care and respect when dealing with your property, but please make them aware of any items of particular value you have. Once your room has been cleared, the Porters will notify you where your property is stored. Please post your room key back to the College. Include your name and room number in the return and send it to the Head Porter at the address below.
  • If you have already vacated your room, emptied it of your possessions, and will not be returning to College either because you are graduating this term or there is no need to be here until next term, then please post your room key to the Head Porter at the address below (include your name and room number).

Address to return key to (remember to include your name and room number):

Head Porter
St Johns College
Cambridge CB2 1TP

How should I behave in College?

Please follow government advice about social distancing. While living in College you are sharing a space with others who are in vulnerable categories including Fellows who are over 70 and fellow students with underlying health issues. We therefore expect you to behave appropriately. Please maintain a distance of two metres from others and do not gather in groups. Please think carefully about reducing all opportunities for infection

Can I still bring guests to St John's?

Unfortunately not. For those who do remain in St John's accommodation, no external visitors or guests are permitted on the main College site or in College owned accommodation - apart from furnished lets occupied by couples, families and Fellows. You may be asked to show identification when you enter and leave the site and in the Buttery. Please respect this rule to play your part in protecting the health of people who live and work at St John's.

I would like to go home but I am worried about infecting my family.

If you have family members who are vulnerable its is completely understandable that you are concerned about returning home. We recommend that you self-isolate for 14 days (please inform us using our online form) and then arrange to be taken home by car.

If this is not possible we encourage you to discuss this matter with your Tutor and your family. Steps may be possible to segregate you or them once you get home. In the longer run, you may be better placed to help them from home. Each case is distinct and you will not be forced to leave College accommodation.

When can I return to College?

The current Government and University guidelines make it clear that all students are being asked to remain in their current location at this time.  However, as and when the University moves out of its ‘red’ state and movement becomes possible, the College will write to all Graduate Students to confirm when such time arrives and we are able to welcome graduate students who wish to return to their College accommodation. 

Cleaning in College accommodation

See below for cleaning information and risk assessments

Students living in College - cleaning information

Students living in Hostels - cleaning information

What you need to know about cleaning

Cleaning basins and taps - task card

COSHH risk assessment - kitchen sanitiser

COSHH risk assessment - washroom cleaner and descaler

Safety data sheet - washroom cleaner

Safety data sheet - kitchen sanitiser

Academic Matters

Will the decision to leave affect my residence requirements?

Please refer to the Senior Pro-Vice Chancellor's message on teaching arrangements , dated 16 March 2020, available here.

I am due to have exams in April, I would rather stay in Cambridge (for example clinical medics, vets and taught Masters)

Please refer to the Senior Pro-Vice Chancellor's message on teaching arrangements , dated 16 March 2020, available here.

My PhD submission deadline is at the end of the year, but I need to do some work in the lab. It looks like my Department/Faculty/Institute may be opening within the coming weeks. Would it be possible to return to College, even if I do have to quarantine for 14 days?

It is not yet clear if, or when, the labs will reopen. As soon as we have this information further instructions will follow.

Will I receive a tuition fee reduction?

Tuition fees are charged by the University, not by the College. The University’s position on the matter is as follows:

The University, in common with other institutions throughout the world, is working hard to respond to the global pandemic by continuing its work remotely, as far as is possible. Teaching and assessment will be delivered this term in alternative formats, library resources are available online, and collegiate University support services (including pastoral and welfare support) continue to be available, and accordingly tuition fees will be due. This position is in line with that of the Department for Education and with Universities UK, which has stated that "where there is wide-ranging support for active and ongoing learning and progression, students should not expect any fee refund from  their university".

If students are unhappy with their learning experience or assessment results they will be able to raise a complaint with the University. So that students can defer making any complaint until the outcome of remedial actions and the results of assessments are known, the normal 28-day time limit for raising a complaint will not apply in relation to complaints arising from the impact of Covid-19. All students will be informed in Easter term of procedures and deadlines for raising complaints relating to the impact of Covid-19 either on their learning experience or assessment results.

Please see also the FAQ on the University’s website (

If you are suffering from financial hardship, please approach your Tutor in the first instance.

Will I receive a College fee reduction?

A smaller part of the fee that you pay goes to the College. For most students this is simply rolled in with tuition fees, so that you pay a single lump sum. The College fee goes towards College services and facilities, including your supervision and direction of studies, your pastoral and welfare support (from tutorial guidance to the health centre and the counsellor), learning resources, IT, the JCR and SBR and so forth. (Your College fee does not cover the full cost of these: they are heavily subsidised by the College.) Given that these remain a vital part of the College’s provision to you, St John's, in common with all other Colleges (and in line with the University’s position as described above) is continuing to charge these fees.

International students

What effect will leaving have on my visa?

The University’s own FAQs also deal with this point. See also the Government’s own’s guidance.

Several countries have closed their borders to non-nationals. I come from one of those countries. Should I still return home?

No student will be forced to leave the College. However, if you can, and have a clear travel plan to get you home safely then you should do so. However, students in difficult situations such as this will not be required to leave the College.

I am from a country that has imposed quarantine on my return. Should the likelihood of the need to self-quarantine on my arrival in my home country for two weeks affect my plans to return home, book flights?

Take official advice for your country and discuss this with your family. No person will be forced to leave the College.

College provision and wellbeing

For those still in residence what facilities will be available?

The College’s provision has been reduced to core functions, and will depend on staff availability. We do anticipate that staff absence will impact catering, housekeeping, portering and nursing. Cover will be available for Tutors’ absence.

We are closing the gym, squash courts and bar on public health grounds. The College is also now closed to tourists and the Chapel, the JCR and the SBR are closed. The Library is also closed – please refer to the Library pages on the website for information about available digital resources.

Regarding access to College, some gates will close at certain times.

The Great Gate entrance to the College is closed, and Cripps Porters’ Lodge will close each day at 4.30pm. Your College card will still give you access to Cripps as usual.

The gate by Cripps into Magdalene College is locked.

Parcel/mail collection is available from the Great Gate Porters’ Lodge from 7.30am-4pm Monday to Friday, and 9am-4pm Saturday and Sunday.

Can I still get food from the Buttery?

The Buttery Dining Room is open a day from 12.30pm to 2pm and serves a hot meal for students, staff and Fellows. A limited cold meal and sandwich offer will also be available. The service will be take away only for all, aside from key staff who have nowhere else to eat.

There is no dinner service. Sandwiches etc. will be available at lunchtime to take away for dinner, and they will also be delivered to the Porters’ Lodges for those working a late shift and for distribution to self-isolators where needed.

If I stay in College and fall ill what help will the College be able to provide?

You should self isolate for seven days if you develop a new continuous cough and or a fever (greater than 37.8C). Students will have to self-isolate in their rooms and should inform the College immediately using our online form available here. Further NHS guidance on self-isolation is available here. We will check on those we know are self-isolating. When opting to self-isolate students asked to nominate 2 willing people as self-isolation supporters – also intending to stay. We are concerned about the loneliness some students may feel and will provide advice/support wherever we can.

What should I do if I am self-isolating?

You should self isolate for seven days if you develop a new continuous cough and or a fever (greater than 37.8C). You must complete our online form available here. We will then provide specific advice for your individual circumstance.

Please consult the Public Health England Advice which is available here

Information about ending self isolation

Will mental health services be available to me even when I am out of residence?

The Tutors will be available to support you. Please approach your tutor initially via email. The College Counsellor is currently available for Skype/Zoom or telephone consultations. The University Counselling Service is putting in place arrangements for counselling by telephone for appointments already made, and will be developing these plans. For College counselling, please contact the College Nurse in the first instance.  

Yoga and mindfulness

Rachael Harris, a Tutor at Clare, runs Mindfulness Classes, and would like to offer regular group mindfulness sessions for people in isolation. She proposes to have a session on Skype at 17.30pm daily or alternate days for approximately an hour every day, but the group could meet to meditate and discuss together even when she is not there. If you are interested, email Rachel with your Skype name and also please let her know what mindfulness/meditation experience you have, and if you have any mental health issues that she should know about. For more information on Rachel's mindfulness courses (under normal circumstances), see

Viviane Carvalho da Annunciação from InYoga Cambridge for Hope is offering yoga lessons via live videos on Facebook twice a week - Tuesdays at 11am and Thursdays at 5pm. Join via the InYoga Cambridge Facebook page or email Viv.

I am in a situation of financial hardship, or do not have equipment needed for working from home - can the College help?

If you are suffering from financial hardship as a result of travel and other arrangements made, please approach your Tutor in the first instance.

The College Learning and Research Funds are still available. You can use your LRF funds to support purchase of computer equipment, books or other items that are needed to facilitate working from home. If you have already used up your LRF funds or feel that they are insufficient then please talk to your Tutor about Hardship funds.

How can I help?

  •  A Cambridge-wide information gathering exercise is being established to identify researchers willing to be involved with the local or national Covid response should the need arise. This could involve assisting in testing or research. A website has been established to capture this information: Please complete it if you are willing to offer help locally or nationally.
  • Anyone who is able to help others is being encouraged to consider donating items or money to the Trussell Trust.
  • In Cambridge, food or financial donations can be made to Jimmy’s,  a charity that has been helping the homeless in the city for more than 20 years. 
  • The Red Hen Project is a small Cambridge based charity that works to support vulnerable families in the city. The charity has been providing food parcels to families in need during the lockdown.
  • You can also support Addenbrooke's and its staff during the coronavirus crisis. Your donation to Addenbrooke's Charitable Trust will aid the wellbeing of staff and help to provide vital equipment needed to support the Intensive Care Unit.
  • Women’s Aid, a national charity, is concerned about the impact of coronavirus lockdown measures have on women and children and is encouraging donations as pressure on their services increase.
  • Supermarkets also have collection points for different charities and food banks.