Requesting new meeting with the ministry of higher education and research

In February a survey was sent out to the universities in Norway asking about how the process of handling application of prolongation/compensation/work contract extensions have gone and how the national principles for compensation have been implemented and recieved. Also, if they should be revised for 2021.

We asked and were also able to reply. We gather input from our member organisations and wrote and submitted an answer on behalf of all PhDs in Norway.

The survey has now been reviewed and a request for a new meeting with the Ministry of Higher Education and Research (KD) has been issued.

You can find our answer below:

Our answer to the survey

We have gathered input from our member organisations. The following statement reflects
the opinions of PhD and postdoc interest organisations at UiT, NTNU, UiB, UiS, UiA, NMBU,
UiO, OsloMet, NHH and HiØ:

While we acknowledge that many temporary research have benefited from contract
extensions based on the principles outline above, we think the principles could be improved
in the following ways:

Principle 3 (Intern omdisponering) should explicitly take into account the additional
workload associated with digital teaching.

Principle 4 (Forsinket datainnsamling /eksperimentell virksomhet) should not just
refer to the time that universities and associated facilities were closed, but also reduced
levels of maintenance and support offered by these facilities while they were open, in
addition to delays caused by lower productivity and activities of third-party companies. In
addition to data collection and experiments, the educational component of the PhD may be
delayed due to cancelled courses and reduced course offerings. This may in turn delay data
collection and analysis itself, if the necessary training to conduct those activities cannot be
properly obtained.

Principle 5 (Utfordringer knyttet til hjemmekontor) is very much open to
interpretation, which creates space for differences between institutions and unequal
treatment. While care for minors has been appropriately addressed by many institutions,
more insidious effects of the pandemic and the resultant reductions in productivity are not
always taken into account. It is not clear here what exactly counts as intrusive: inferior
working conditions (i.e. no desk/space for a desk, poor internet connection, children at
home) and mental health issues related to being isolated from colleagues may not be easily
quantifiable, but may nonetheless diminish productivity over prolonged periods of time.

In addition to the principles outlined above, we would like to add that diminished
psychosocial and physical well-being could be a separate criterion, as this is not only caused
by challenges associated with home office, but the distressing effects of the pandemic
(including worry for one’s family, the quality of one’s research, and future career prospects)
in general.

Some of these principles may be more relevant to longer delays rather than shorter
ones. We argue that the current definition of ‘intrusive obstacles’ is most applicable in cases
where projects were de facto delayed due to tangible reasons for a short period of time. The
cumulative effects of intangible causes of delay over longer periods of time should be taken
into consideration for applications extending beyond the standard two months.

In addition to the principles on which extensions are granted, we have some considerations
related to the timing of delays and applications:

The pandemic is still ongoing and its effects are not limited to the first lockdown.
Delays are still accumulating, and future rounds of extensions will be necessary. To
consistently meet the changing demands PhDs and postdocs whose contracts are finishing, it
should be possible to apply for extensions, if not continuously, then at least multiple times a
year. In addition, applicants in the last year of their contract should be prioritised over those
in the beginning of their project. This is not to say that PhDs in their first or second year
should not be able to apply – rather that handling should be expedited for those nearing their
completion date.

The minimum duration requirement of two consecutive weeks of delay does not
match the reality of researchers who are struggling with long-term, partial reductions in
productivity. Smaller delays throughout the year add up, and these should be counted as well
as the longer periods spent in lockdown.
In general, we hope that the principles can be revised so as to better accommodate the
applicants’ experiences of what they see as intrusive obstacles, when, and how it affects their

Experiences shared by our member organisations reveal the following:

The effects of the pandemic are often felt more strongly by our international staff.
International researchers may suffer more delays for various reasons: they are more isolated,
the pandemic may hit their home countries harder than Norway, they have more cause to
worry about their family and a weaker support network and social security in Norway. Where
these reasons are not formally recognised in the principles for granting extensions, they will
cause the international research community to bear a disproportionate amount of the delays
and reduced scientific quality and productivity as a result from the pandemic.

Discrepancies in information dissemination by institutions, faculties and departments
leads some PhD students and postdocs to forego the possibility to apply because they 1)
were not sufficiently aware of these services, 2) they felt or were told they were not eligible,
or 3) were under the impression that resources were limited and that others were in more
dire need then them – even if they suffered significant delays themselves. This is leading to
an underestimation of the number of people who are delayed and the amount of extension
that they need. There is a need for more consistent and transparent communication about
the possibilities to apply for extension as well as a reassurance that everyone, in principle, is
equally able and encouraged to apply for extensions as provided under the universal

In practice, this is not case, and the process and chance of success are overly reliant
on support of the supervisor, adding an element of arbitrariness to the handling of delays
depending on which research group the PhD or postdoc finds themselves in.

Several organisations have called for more transparent communication and reporting
of decisions as well. Specifically, a more detailed explanation of the number of days granted
and why they may deviate from what was applied for, is desired, as well the right to appeal
any decisions that were perceived as erroneous or unjust.
Lastly, we commend UHR’s decision to collect information about this process, and would
recommend UHR to conduct a complimentary survey that asks the same questions (whether
the guidelines for extensions were satisfactory) from the researchers applying for them, in
addition to the administrators handling them. We expect that the reflections of PhDs and
postdocs regarding whether their applications were handled adequately, may differ
substantially from what their faculty and department committees think, and will provide
valuable added information for the revision of principles and guidelines for contract