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Paid extensions of MSCA projects following disruptions caused by COVID-19 pandemic

Paid extensions of MSCA projects following disruptions caused by COVID-19 pandemic

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This petition has been created by Alejandro Manzano M. and may not represent the views of the Avaaz community.
Alejandro Manzano M.
started this petition to
MSCA/REA/EC representatives
To whom it may concern,

The rapidly evolving COVID-19 pandemic has now affected over 160 countries over the world, with Europe now being considered the new centre of this pandemic. This evolving situation has affected many aspects of everyday life, such as business, schools, and university closures. Additionally, several cities and countries are now under different lockdown measures which have included travel restrictions both within and across country borders.

This letter has as its main aim to express concern and the uncertainty generated over the replies many of us MSCA fellows have received from our Project Officers (POs) concerning the extensions of our grants. Many of these communications came after we received the 6th of March 2020, with the subject “CORVID-19 and the Implementation of your MSCA-IF project“.

In this communication, the MSCA expressed their understanding regarding the so-called “COVID-19” and the impact this might have in the implementation and mobility of participants, finishing with “[...] Projects could also be exceptionally extended, if necessary.”. To the surprise of many of us, after contacting our POs we received a response similar to the following (literal response to an MSCA):

“Unfortunately, the project cannot be extended as it is fixed in terms of maximum contribution (24-month salary and additional costs). We could suspend the project but this will mean that you will not be paid for the suspension period. What I can suggest you is to keep working on the tasks you can perform in remote and see how the situation with the Coronavirus progresses in the next weeks.”


This was, to say the least, a hard thing to swallow for many of us, especially since EMBO [1] , the Portuguese FCT [2], and the German DFG [3] have announced one, two, and three month extensions for their long term fellows and PhD students (working in a DFG programme), respectively. With possible further extensions depending on how the situation evolves. There are serious problems with the options we are being offered:
  • Suspension of the project.The suspension of the project would also mean our salaries would stop. This, as you can imagine, would have grave impact in our lives, since we have to pay rent, buy food, and/or provide for our families. For other, our VISAs depend on us having a job. We can simply not choose this option.
  • Remote working on tasks. While we recognise this applies to a number of projects, there are also many of us which are currently undertaking mostly wet-lab projects that are currently halted and will not restart for at least another month or month and half. Some projects might have suffer longer-lived consequences due to the rightful closure of the universities and labs as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Others, have just started and have no data to currently analyse while in home-office, affecting the normal development of the project. Others have children to take care of now 24/7 or are assisting health agencies/hospitals with their expertise in COVID-19-related tasks (running tests, RNA amplification, among others).

A third option has been offered to some of the fellows, which consists of being able to use the MSCA research activities funds beyond the paid research period to continue the project, albeit with no salary provided by the MSCA. This would mean some of us would be potentially driven to work for free.

While the POs have informed us the suspension of work will be rightfully taken into account when evaluating the results of our project, for us it is not only about not getting penalised for not accomplishing our project goals. We have worked hard to get this funding and career-building opportunity and want to accomplish our proposed research and need your support through these difficult times to do so.


Therefore, we urge you to reconsider or and/to communicate this to the pertinent authorities within the MSCA/REA/EC and encourage you to take actions similar to those of the FCT, EMBO, or DFG, because it is the right thing to do.

Sincerely,
A concerned group of MSCA fellows.



[1] EMBO Long Term Fellowsip two month extension
https://www.embo.org/news/articles/2020/coronavirus-update?fbclid=IwAR2HKbjzX0NpKmoOnmXg2pcUdzLb2_t1CrO2w-r14luPUVKgeyHIijEtykE

[2] FCT one month extension
https://www.fct.pt/noticias/index.phtml.en?id=510&/2020/3/FCT_extends_by_one_month_all_the_scholarship_contracts_it_directly_finances

[3] DFG three month extension for PhD students working in DFG programmes https://www.dfg.de/download/pdf/presse/download/anschreiben-corona_massnahmen_stipendien_fellows.pdf

P.S. For all signers, if you are an MSCA fellow affected by this and need a paid extension, share your story.
Posted: 23 March 2020 (Updated: 17 April 2020)