COVID-19 information for postgraduate students

The COVID-19 epidemic has changed how everyone at the University is working. Find out what it means for graduate students working on their thesis.

This page was last updated on 22 February 2021.

Current COVID-19 level

Wellington and most of New Zealand are at COVID-19 alert level 1 from midnight Thursday 18 February 2021. Auckland will be at alert level 2.

Download and use the Government’s NZ COVID Tracer app (including enabling the Bluetooth function) and scan the QR codes at entry points to buildings. You can download the app in the Apple App Store or from Google Play.

You are encouraged to be vigilant with scanning QR codes as you move through the University. You are also encouraged to swipe in and out of buildings and use the physical sign-in sheets around our campuses.

If you have been in Auckland or Taranaki recently, please review the locations of interest list on the Ministry of Health website and follow the instructions on that site if they apply to you.

Continuing your research

You are welcome at the University campuses. We are encouraging all schools to allow their postgraduate research students to return to work in their normal workspace, provided physical distancing is achieved and hygiene principles provided by Mauri Ora (Student Health and Counselling) are implemented. Your school will be in contact with you about the specific conditions for your workspace.

Any questions regarding the minimum resource agreement and whether you can take your computer, screens and computer chairs if you continue to study at home should be directed towards your individual School.

You should continue to have regular meetings with your supervisor. You should discuss with them the challenges that COVID-19 has caused to your research programme and work with them to keep your research on track.

If you are still affected by the COVID-19 restrictions, for example, you are unable to conduct fieldwork, talk with your supervisor about how you can refocus your research. In particular, we do not know when New Zealand and international borders will reopen so research that involves international travel may need to be reworked. Work together to make a plan B that leads to a successful thesis, even if the research may look different from your original plan.

We know that the lockdown affected everyone. We encourage you to take advantage of the experience of your supervisors. They have met challenges before that have required them to adapt their research in the face of unexpected obstacles. They will have useful advice.

Research overseas

The University is not currently approving research away leave for research students who are in New Zealand, unless the circumstances are exceptional. If the student is already overseas and travelling outside their normal place of residence to carry out their research, they need to get permission to do this.

Prior to COVID-19, if a student was travelling overseas to do field work, they needed permission to do so. This is so that we can be sure the student had taken all the risks into account and that the University had fulfilled its duty of care to the student.

In addition to the usual ‘Application to undertake doctoral research away from Victoria University’ form, any application to do research overseas must be approved by your Pro Vice-Chancellor and that application should be accompanied by a risk assessment. The risk assessment does not have to be onerous, and an assessment should have been done in any case for field work. Given the pandemic situation, the risk assessment will need to include the risks of catching COVID-19 while undertaking the field work and the protections in place to mitigate this risk and respond if it does happen (e.g. does the student have medical insurance if working in a country without public healthcare).

Research extensions

We acknowledge that your thesis may take longer to finish.

Masters-by-Thesis students

The normal time allowed to complete a Master’s thesis is 12 months. Masters-by-Thesis students are being given a one-month grace period, fees free, to submit beyond their original end date. Those students who need more than that month will need to apply for a further extension.

Students enrolled on 30 April 2020 in a 90 point or above thesis are eligible for the one-month grace period. There is no approval process attached to this request, students just need to complete the required form and return it to their Faculty Advisers. The one-month fees free will be added on to the end of student’s normal 12 month registration period (full time, or equivalent), and students should apply before their current registration lapses. For students who have already applied for a COVID-19 related extension prior to this one-month grace period being announced, put in an application form noting this.

Students who also apply for a retrospective suspension will need to explain why they need the suspension in addition to the one-month grace period.

Doctoral students

Provisional to full registration: The Dean has granted a one-month extension to the usual time period for provisional registrations for all students registered on 30 April 2020. You are normally expected to progress from full registration within 12 months (24 months for half-time candidates). Considering the current situation this period has been extended to 13 months for affected students. This is automatic and you need make no application.

Thesis submission date: Doctoral students have up to four years to complete before needing to apply for an extension. The average finishing time has been 3.5 years, prior to COVID-19, so most students can still expect to complete within four years. If your research takes longer than the maximum time, you can apply for an extension.

For any student, major disruptions to research caused by COVID-19 will be considered a good reason for an extension to be approved. To apply for an extension, complete the Faculty of Graduate Research’s Request for an extension form.

Because doctoral students have considerably more freedom than Masters students in the length of time to complete, there is no automatic extension on submission date. Instead we have put in place additional funding to support students financially if they need extra time. See details below under “Financial aid”.

A retrospective suspension is an alternative option. See the details below under “Suspending your studies”.

If your doctoral degree takes longer to complete than you expected, and you find yourself in financial hardship, you can apply for a Doctoral Hardship Scholarship. The University's Wellington Doctoral Hardship Scholarship offers short-term scholarships to doctoral students nearing the end of their degree. The regulations for the Hardship Scholarship have been modified to allow application from any student in hardship owing to COVID-19.

For students on existing Wellington scholarships, see further information under “Scholarships” below.

Alternatives to full-time enrolment

We are aware that some students are still in a position where they cannot work full time on their research owing, for example, to continuing caring responsibilities. There are alternatives to full-time enrolment.

Part-time enrolment

Domestic doctoral students can change to part-time enrolment if they are spending fewer than 30 hours a week on research. If this is the case for you, apply by completing the Faculty of Graduate Research’s Change between full and half time form.

If you are on a student visa, the conditions of that visa do not allow you to change to part-time enrolment.

Suspending your studies

If you were unable to work effectively on your research during the lockdown, you can apply for a retrospective suspension once you know the extent of the impact on your study. As it may be some time before you know the full extent of the impact, retrospective suspension related to the early 2020 COVID-19 lockdown can be applied for up until the end of November 2020.

We will look sympathetically on suspension requests from anyone who was significantly affected by the COVID-19 situation.
If you are awarded a retrospective suspension then the fees you were charged for the period of suspension will be credited to your account.

A suspension can affect entitlement to StudyLink or to your scholarship and you should check with your funder before you apply for suspension.

If you are on a student visa, there is a limit to how long you can suspend your study for: see details under “Visa implications” below.

You can apply for a suspension using the Faculty of Graduate Research’s Request for a suspension form.

Doctoral students who are overseas

Doctoral students who are overseas and unable to return to New Zealand may continue to study at a distance. We have a dispensation from TEC to continue to charge such students only domestic rate fees. International students can return to New Zealand on their current visa provided the visa expiry date is for after the borders are reopened.

International students who have an Offer of Place are temporarily being allowed to enrol from overseas and begin their PhD studies from a distance. Students enrolling from overseas will have to meet the criteria outlined in the Guidelines for enrolment of international PhD students who are overseas due to Covid-19 travel restrictions.

Students interested in this option must discuss with their supervisor(s) whether this is a feasible arrangement for them and their research, and if it is, please contact us for further information on the enrolment process and for the appropriate forms. Further information is available on the Faculty of Graduate Research website.

If you are already in New Zealand you can proceed with your study visa application and enrolment.

Doctoral examinations

Doctoral examinations are still taking place for all students, whether in New Zealand or overseas. We will continue to use videoconferencing for all examinations. As restrictions ease, we will consider at what point we can allow all the Wellington participants to be in the same room for the oral. The examinations team will contact you before your exam date to make arrangements.

Submitting doctoral theses for examination

We have permanently changed the rules so that all doctoral theses are now submitted in electronic form. Contact the Doctoral Examinations team and they will advise you on how to submit your thesis for examination. They are also able to handle exceptional cases where the thesis includes physical aspects that must be submitted physically, such as some architecture or design theses.

Lodging a copy of your thesis in the Library

Instead of going to the Library in person to submit a hard copy of your thesis, you can submit it online. The Library has this guidance on submitting your thesis online. You will be able to deposit a hard copy later if necessary.

Financial aid

For Doctoral students nearing their thesis submission you can apply for the Wellington Doctoral Submission Scholarship. This scholarship will provide a stipend of $2,000 per month, less any outstanding tuition fees, before your thesis submission. The scholarship has been temporarily modified so that students affected by the COVID-19 situation can apply for up to five months for scholarships to start between November 2020 and December 2021. Other students can apply for up to three months.

If you are facing financial hardship now, the University also has a general Hardship Fund that you can apply for.

For students on Wellington scholarships, please see also the notes under “Scholarships”.

Wage subsidy

International students who are legally entitled to work and are employed by a New Zealand employer can be covered by the wage subsidy, as can domestic students who are employed by a New Zealand employer. The subsidy covers employees who are working part-time, or on a casual or contract basis. As the subsidy is paid to employers, it does not cover students who were not in employment prior to COVID-19.

Learn more about wage subsidy on the Work and Income website.


If you are on a Wellington Doctoral Scholarship or a Wellington Master’s Research Scholarship and your research is substantially delayed, we recognise you may require financial support beyond the end of your scholarship tenure. We have extended the Wellington Doctoral Submission Scholarship so that students affected by COVID-19 can apply for up to five months for scholarships to start between November 2020 and December 2021. Although this gives an extra two months funding where necessary, we strongly recommend rescoping your project where possible to complete within the time of your current scholarship.

If you have any questions about your scholarship, contact the Scholarships Office.