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COVID-19 information for graduate research candidates

Pārongo KOWHEORI-19 mā ngā kaitono rangahau tāura

Updated: 18 August 2021

Who is this advice intended for – does it cover me?

This advice is relevant to students who are currently working on a thesis of 90 points or more, as part of enrolment in a master’s or doctoral degree. 

Postgraduate students undertaking research dissertations, projects, or creative research components, please see 'Information for taught postgraduate students'

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Information for international students

Border and entry situation

The government do not expect the New Zealand borders to open in 2021, with the exception of 'travel bubbles' with Australia and some Pacific Island countries. Moreover, Immigration New Zealand will not process student visas until at least February 2022, and even then will only process visas when the border is open to the country you are coming from.

The government is allowing the return or entry of some graduate research candidates through two schemes, but both have tightly prescribed criteria, and all those allowed into New Zealand must have held a visa for study here in 2019 or 2020. There may be further schemes to allow some international students into the country, but we cannot predict which criteria they might use.

If you are interested in undertaking graduate research thesis study at Otago, we are still accepting and processing applications. In some cases, it may be possible to start your study offshore, and by part-time enrolment.

Details about the PhD application process; for other research programmes, please find the relevant website or email

Please continue to refer to the Immigration New Zealand COVID-19 updates for the most current information about border exemptions.

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Possibility to start your study at Otago from overseas

Normally, international PhD students are expected to be in New Zealand to start their study. If in New Zealand, or if undertaking fieldwork overseas, international PhD students are eligible for domestic fee status (normally you can be away for up to 12 months).

However, while travel to New Zealand is impossible, it is possible you can start your PhD overseas (and have domestic fee status), if you meet all of the following criteria:

  1. You have a student visa or you intend to submit an application for a student visa, once Immigration New Zealand is again accepting applications from offshore students.
  2. Your research can be initiated from your location.
  3. Your supervisors are willing to support a remote start.
  4. You have an unconditional offer of admission (this means any qualifying degrees must have been completed and any English Language requirements have been met).
  5. You understand that once a student visa is approved by Immigration New Zealand, and once the borders are open and flights are available, you are expected to arrange travel to New Zealand as soon as practical (unless you are undertaking field or lab work that requires you to stay offshore). Travel costs will be your responsibility, and you may need to fund some or all of the costs of quarantine should that be a requirement for entry into New Zealand.
  6. You understand that if you do not get a visa, you will be liable for international fees for the period after New Zealand borders are open and travel is practical.
  7. You have an internet connection of sufficient quality to support video conferencing through platforms such as Zoom, Skype, or Google Hangouts, and that enables access to library databases and eVision.
  8. You are able to pay the enrolment fees from a distance, or, for scholarship holders, the fees can be paid by the relevant funder.
  9. You can be considered for a University of Otago doctoral scholarship, but note that if awarded, we cannot pay your living cost stipend offshore. Rather, the scholarship will cover your tuition-fees until you arrive in New Zealand and have activated a bank account here, at which time your stipend will start being paid (it will not be backdated to the time of your award). Your tuition fees will continue to be covered for the tenure of the scholarship. If you need to work part-time to support yourself, you can do so up to 10 hours a week while on a full-time scholarship, or up to 20 hours a week if on a part-time scholarship. Change between part-time and full-time status can be made at the start of a semester (i.e. in January or July). Candidates who were awarded a scholarship before July 2020, will still be paid their stipend, but only in back payment form, once they are able to get to New Zealand (unless they already had a New Zealand bank account set up).

Alternately, you may wish to delay your start date until New Zealand’s borders open and you are able to travel.

If you have a University of Otago Doctoral Scholarship offer with an expiry/offer lapse date within the next six months, Student Administration will automatically extend your offer by a further six months.

If you and your supervisor do agree to remote study initially, you need to ask your supervisor to contact the Graduate Research School ( and they can advise the process to request formal approval.

In the meantime, we recommend that you do not make any plans to travel at this stage.

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Existing students wanting to return home due to COVID‑19 disruption

If you are an international PhD candidate wanting to return to your home country to continue your study, we currently have more flexibility to allow this, with you remaining on domestic fee status, at least for 2021 and while our borders remain closed. However, you need to be aware that it may be very difficult to return to New Zealand, given the situation with border restrictions and quarantine requirements.

We require candidates to complete the Off-campus Request section of the ‘Change of Research Details’ form, and get it approved by their supervisor (and then sent through for further signatures as required).

Go to the link to the Change of Research Details form

There are particular aspects which need to be considered, when completing the form:

  • Reasons for returning home (these could be compassionate / family / COVID‑19-related reasons, etc.)
  • Confirmation from supervisor that your research, and supervision of it, can continue from a distance
  • Brief details of how supervision will work at a distance – points that should be covered
  • Confirmation that you will have access to an internet connection of sufficient quality to support video conferencing through platforms such as Zoom, Skype, or Google Hangouts, and that connection enables access to library databases and eVision
  • That you have a mechanism to be able to pay any tuition fees that are due, while you are overseas
  • You must complete and submit to your department, a health and safety plan (formally known as a ‘Postgraduate Travel Overseas Research and Safety Plan’), form prior to departure. This is particularly important at the moment, as COVID‑19 presents a widespread Travel Safety issue that should be noted in that section of the form, in addition to any other issues particular to your situation / travel plans.

    Link for the Postgraduate Travel Overseas Research and Safety Plan form

Please note that if overseas study is approved, you would be allowed to pay fees at the domestic rate as long as the borders back into New Zealand remain closed and/or travel is impractical.

If you are receiving a University of Otago Doctoral Scholarship, you will also need to consult with the Scholarships Team ( regarding payment of your scholarship offshore.

Once the borders are open, you could remain overseas on domestic fee status, providing you had approval (requested through a Change of Research Details form) to conduct research overseas that cannot be done in New Zealand (e.g., data collection, field or lab work), and providing your time away from New Zealand does not exceed 12 months (this time away does not include border closure period during COVID‑19). If the reason is not research-related (e.g. write‑up), and it is practical to return to New Zealand, then international fees would apply.

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Student visas

To keep updated on travel restrictions and visa information visit the Immigration New Zealand website.

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Research candidates overseas

For research purposes

The Graduate Research School may have already been in touch with you regarding your options, and please keep in touch with your supervisor.

If you need to extend your time away, just complete a change of research details form to request an extension to your period overseas, with details of your location.

If you are an international candidate on research leave overseas, given COVID‑19, it may be possible to be overseas for longer than 12 months and still maintain domestic fee status at least while the borders to New Zealand are closed and it is impractical to return. Candidate’s should check eligibility for this by emailing

It is also very important that you remain up‑to‑date with the travel advice from the Government of the passport you are currently travelling on.

On deferral

For students on deferral, we do have some flexibility in terms of extending deferrals, supporting remote study, or for more extended (than usual) research-related reasons.

If you are an international candidate and are extending your deferral, there may be more flexibility around time on deferral without losing your student visa – please email to check any impact.

We can also consider retrospective deferrals once students are back in the country, to account for study time lost while away. However, consideration for a retrospective deferral for a period in the previous calendar year, must be lodged no later than early March.

If your research has been significantly disrupted due to COVID‑19, you can apply to the Pūtea Tautoko Student Support Fund for a one or two month extension to your scholarship, or for a tuition fee waiver and living expenses.

Stuck because of travel restrictions

If you have become stuck because of travel restrictions you can:

  • Be away for up to two months without needing any approvals in place. If self‑funding, you will likely want to take a deferral so you are not paying fees
  • Apply for off-campus study overseas if you can keep doing some study while away. Just now you can be writing up and remain on domestic fee status, at least while our borders are closed and travel is impractical
  • Apply for a deferral – minimum of one month and maximum of 12 months. Just note that taking a deferral means you lose access to resources (including the library) and any scholarships payments cease.  You should also check any visa implications by contacting
  • Do any combination of the above e.g. holiday for 2 months, then off-campus study (good to take advantage while the borders are closed as if they open we would likely have to charge international fees), then deferral etc.

Nearing submission or under examination

You may be in the write-up phase of your project, or you may be awaiting examination. We have significant flexibility and tools to support remote supervision during write-up and remote examinations.

If you have an oral examination soon, we recommend going ahead with your exam by Zoom / other video conferencing software, as long as you can access a facility with reliable internet access. If participating by video conference is not workable, please email the Dean of the Graduate Research School:

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Funding support

Pūtea Tautoko Student Support Fund

There is a fund for students needing financial support as a result of the COVID‑19 global outbreak has been launched by the University, with applications now open.

Students can apply through their eVision portal – a link to the application form should appear in the My Finances section on the home page of your eVision portal (please note this is NOT the Finances tab in the top ribbon). If on deferral, you cannot apply through eVision; instead email and ask to be sent a form to complete.

If students have had their research significantly disrupted by COVID‑19, self-funders are able to apply for a tuition fee waiver and/or a contribution to living expenses, and scholarship holders can apply for scholarship extensions.

Applications are considered by several panels, all including student representation. The panels will robustly assess hardship, using tools we already have to assess applications for existing hardship funds, and for our needs-based scholarships.

When applying, students are required to identify sources of income. If they have received an Otago scholarship, the application form shows this information and the end date for the scholarship/s, including any research grants and departmental awards. As part of application, students must describe their circumstances and how COVID‑19 has affected their research. They are also required to provide a referee for the assessment panel to contact to confirm circumstances. For postgraduate research students this defaults to the primary supervisor, although can be edited to another individual.

If students are currently experiencing severe hardship and urgently need financial assistance, they should contact Otago University Students’ Association (OUSA) Student Support (;, as they may be able to provide some support.

Implications for candidates’ scholarships

The University of Otago is now awarding Doctoral Scholarships to overseas-based international students, but note these will be only for tuition fees while offshore; stipend payments will begin once you arrive in New Zealand and have activated a bank account. Stipends will NOT be backdated to the time of your award, and instead will cover the remaining tenure of your scholarship.

If you are on a University of Otago Scholarship, departmental award or research grant, and your research is substantially delayed, we recognise that you may require financial support beyond the end of your scholarship tenure.

For candidates whose research has been significantly disrupted and/or who have suffered financial hardship due to COVID‑19, you can apply for a scholarship extension, if your tenure finishes over the next 12 months. You can apply for an extension of up to two months – see how in the section on Pūtea Tautoko Student Support Fund.

If your remaining scholarship/award/grant tenure is greater than 12 months, you can still apply for financial assistance from Pūtea Tautoko Student Support fund now – this can be useful to establish a record of disruption faced, and immediate need can be considered, but please bear in mind that you may be asked to reapply for an extension in the last year of your tenure.

Implications for candidates funded through research grants

If you are funded by a research grant, you need to discuss possible impacts with your supervisor and the appropriate Research Adviser. Do not contact the funder directly. The Research and Enterprise Office are currently liaising with key funders to ascertain any impacts.

If your grant is not getting extended, you can apply for support through the Pūtea Tautoko Student Support Fund.

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Options for candidates if research is substantially disrupted

Continue to study, doing what you can and discuss your progress with your supervisor. If your progress has been significantly disrupted, apply for a scholarship extension, or, for self-funders, a tuition fee waiver and additional living expenses, via the Pūtea Tautoko Student Support Fund.

Apply for a deferral by emailing a request to your supervisor, who can then endorse it and forward for further endorsement by your Head of Department / Programme / School (if you are doing a professional doctorate (e.g., DMA, EdD, DBA, DClinDent etc), please check with your Programme Coordinator), and the Graduate Research School (via The deferral must be for a minimum of one month, and during this time your study clock stops and your scholarship payments (if applicable) cease. A deferral can be extended if needed – just reapply by email as above. In some cases the deferral may need to cover a retrospective period, but note that this should be lodged by early March, if the period includes any months in the previous calendar year. If you are receiving a scholarship and are considering a retrospective deferral, you should contact the Graduate Research School, to check any financial implications before applying.

Note that if you are an international PhD candidate, your visa normally only allows deferrals up to 3 months in any 12 month period. Please check with to find out if a deferral for longer than 3 months will impact your student visa (as advice from Immigration New Zealand is being updated).

If you are an international master’s candidate in New Zealand, deferrals are not usually allowed, but may be permissible now – email to check your options before applying for a deferral.

If you are an international master’s thesis candidate and are offshore, you can apply for a deferral, and you should not lose your student visa (but you must check with as the Immigration New Zealand advice is being updated).

If you are in a taught programme, doing a dissertation, then a deferral is not possible. Talk to your programme coordinator or supervisor to discuss options.

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Changing any research details or enrolment status

If your circumstances have changed (e.g. location of study), and/or you want to switch to part-time (or full-time) status, you will need to complete a change of research details form (PDF) to gain approval for the changes. Note that changes from part-time to full-time status or vice versa, can only be made at the start of each semester, i.e. in January or July. There may also be visa implications, so please check with

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Travel and conferences

The University has restricted all research-related travel. This means that any travel requires the approval of your Head of Department and Pro-Vice-Chancellor.

The Pro-Vice-Chancellors decide whether funding is available for virtual conference attendance. This may vary across Divisions, so please contact your respective Associate Dean (Postgraduate) to check.

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Submitting theses for examination

We now only accept digital theses for examination.

For PhD candidates

About a week before submission, you must email for approval to submit. After checking you are eligible for submission, Student Administration (doctoral) will advise you how to submit.

You need to submit:

  • A digital PDF file of your thesis either by email or Mail Express
  • A signed thesis submission declaration form (digital signature is acceptable) emailed to A photocopied or scanned declaration is acceptable as long as the signature is hand written or digital – not typed.

For Master’s thesis candidates

You need to submit:

  • A digital PDF file of your thesis either by email or Mail Express
  • A signed thesis submission declaration form (digital signature is acceptable). A photocopied or scanned declaration is acceptable as long as the signature is hand written or digital – not typed.

Where to submit:

  • in Dunedin, email to the Client Service Administrator in your department/unit
  • in Christchurch, email to the Manager, Academic Programmes, in the Dean’s Department (except for Master of Public Health theses which should be submitted to the Department of Public Health and General Practice

in Wellington, email to the Postgraduate Liaison Officer in the Postgraduate Office

Note that you may be asked to produce one or more soft-bound copies for the examiners.

COVID-19 impacts on thesis

If COVID-19 has significantly impacted the nature of your research, this form can be used to provide guidance to examiners about the nature of the disruption.

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Publishing bursaries

If you are delayed in completing your publication, please contact Mr Peter Boston (Manager, Postgraduate Scholarships, Prizes and Awards) – – to request an extension to the date.

Additional funding is unavailable, but you can apply to the Putea Tautoko Student Support fund.

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Library services

For the impact of any Alert Level changes on Library services, please check the latest news on the Library website:

Support for well‑being and research productivity

We know undertaking research can be stressful, let alone the added stressor of a global pandemic. The impact of lockdown and level system will have ongoing implications for many students.

While it may feel like there are aspects of normality returning you may feel overwhelmed with trying to catch up if you had delays or if it was hard to focus.

Self-care and leisure activities to support your well‑being and productivity are important right now. Regular breaks and exercise are encouraged.

In the University community, your peers and departmental colleagues are your best source of support. Hopefully more of you are able to reconnect in person and return to labs and offices but keep using virtual means of connecting if that has been something that has worked.

If you feel you need some coaching to maintain productivity and keep yourself healthy, consider contacting the Graduate Wellbeing Coach, Carolyn Jenkins (Nikki Fahey is on leave until September 2022). Carolyn offers either face to face or Zoom consultations (especially for northern campus and distance candidates); in Alert Level 2, she does mainly Zoom consults; while in Alert Level 3 and 4, only Zoom consults are offered.

If you are struggling with your mental and emotional health, you can contact Student Health or your local health professional.

For support with grief, anxiety, distress, or mental well-being, you can call or text 1737 – free anytime, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – to talk with a trained counsellor.

For further support

  • If you are a PhD or master’s thesis student, email
  • If you are doing a professional doctorate (DBA, DClinDent, DMA, EdD), contact your programme coordinator

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Keep up-to-date with advice

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Visit for ongoing updates