Research sabbaticals and other research visits abroad and the coronavirus

(Videresendt fra Sabbatical abroad and the coronavirus)

On this page, you will find principles and information on how sabbaticals and other research visits abroad that are planned for the autumn semester of 2021 must be assessed before they can take place.

Topic page about sabbaticals | Pages tagged with sabbatical

Norsk versjon - Forskningstermin i utlandet og koronavirus

Research sabbaticals and other research visits abroad in the autumn semester of 2021 #

Purpose #

In the spring semester of 2020, NTNU stopped sabbaticals and other research visits abroad because of the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic is expected to continue for some time to come, and at least until the autumn semester of 2021.

The Rector has decided the following:

  • Each visit abroad must be assessed to decide whether the trip is necessary.
  • Whether it is justifiable to carry out the trip must be assessed based on the attached assessment criteria and insurance coverage.
  • The research visit must be planned for one location abroad. Employees may be allowed to change the research location where this is necessary in order to conduct the research.
  • The faculties themselves are financially liable for any extra costs related to visits abroad that are to be carried out.
  • The decision applies to all temporary visits abroad for work purposes in the autumn of 2021. This includes PhD candidates, postdocs, and other employees at NTNU.

It is the faculties that are responsible for their employees abroad. The employee and the Head of Department assess whether the sabbatical or other temporary stay abroad for work reasons is necessary and justifiable. The final decision is made by the Dean.

It should be made clear that even though there are now opportunities for carrying out necessary research visits abroad, this must not be regarded as general encouragement to travel abroad. If the pandemic situation changes, the current guidelines may be revised in line with new information.

Necessary work travel #

The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs advises against all international travel that is not strictly necessary. This global travel advice currently applies until September 1st 2021. Exceptions have been made for countries and regions in the Nordics and the EEA/Schengen area with sufficiently low transmission (so-called “yellow” countries/regions).

This also means that travel for work that is not strictly necessary must be avoided. It is up to each employer to assess whether a work trip is strictly necessary or not. The Ministry of Education and Research has stated that it regards travel by students to the country where they are studying abroad as necessary travel on an equal footing with necessary work trips.

A factor that weighs in favour of classifying sabbaticals and other research visits abroad as necessary travel for work is that research abroad is one of NTNU’s core activities, and a key aspect of the way that the sector, including NTNU, plans for its ordinary activities. Internationalization is also an important part of NTNU’s strategy. NTNU aims to raise the quality of its research and to develop several academic environments at a high international level. Active participation in an international peer community is an important part of academic work, and international mobility is one way to develop collaboration that boosts academic merit.  

Where can one travel? #

If the sabbatical or other research visit abroad can be regarded as necessary work travel and the Dean allows the employee to travel out of Norway from August 2021. Where can one travel?   

There are many challenges related to the current situation. Employees must follow the rules for entry and infection control in the country to which they travel, and they must stay in quarantine for as long as is required locally. Before departure, they must check that the host institution is open and that the research can be conducted as planned. Several countries outside Europe are not currently issuing visas for long-term visits.  Other challenges involved in travel to countries outside Europe include different infrastructure of the public health service, and longer geographical distances that could make it more difficult to travel home if the employee wants to return to Norway earlier than planned. An advantage of travel in the EU/EEA is that the employee has a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which entitles them to coverage of necessary health care abroad.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (UD) states that travellers should be aware that its ability to provide consular assistance may be limited in countries covered by travel advice, and that in the worst case the Ministry may not be able to provide consular assistance if the traveller has problems.

Researchers often stay in several countries during their research visit. Such travel may increase the risk of infection. As the situation is today, the employee must plan the research visit for one location abroad and avoid travel between several countries or commuting.

If the employee wants to change the research location so that they can carry out planned research, this must be taken into account, so that necessary research visits abroad can be carried out.

  • Each visit abroad must be assessed to decide whether the trip is necessary. An assessment of whether it is justifiable to carry out the trip must be made on the basis of the attached assessment criteria and insurance coverage.  The assessment of whether the sabbatical or visit abroad is necessary and justifiable is done by the employee and the Head of Department. The final decision is made by the Dean.

Financial responsibility #

 If the faculties regard the visit abroad as necessary work travel, they are themselves financially liable for any additional costs related to international visits. These may be costs associated with sudden cancellation of a visit abroad due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Assessment criteria for travel abroad in the autumn of 2021 #

The following criteria must be assessed if employees are to carry out study visits abroad in the autumn of 2021: 

  • Does the employee have insurance and social security coverage during their stay abroad? See information and considerations on this topic below.
  • Is it possible to enter the country? Here, it is necessary to check whether the country’s borders are open for inbound travellers. Can any accompanying family members enter the country? Several countries outside Europe are not currently issuing visas for long-term visits.
  • Can the research be conducted as planned in relation to the decision on the sabbatical? Here, it must be checked whether the campus in the host country is open. Will the employee be granted access to laboratories and other equipment necessary for conducting the research? 
  • Is there an accessible and good public health service in the country? If there are major outbreaks of Covid-19, hospitals may be full, causing limited provision of healthcare, as some countries experienced at the start of the pandemic.
  • What is the scope for travelling home if major outbreaks of Covid-19 arise, and rapid evacuation becomes necessary?
  • Will the employee’s grant/funding be lost if the visit cannot be completed as planned? This applies especially to external funding.

Social security/insurance for sabbaticals and research visits abroad #

The Norwegian National Insurance scheme #

In good time before departure, the employee must apply to keep their social security membership in the National Insurance scheme during the period abroad. 

When staying in the EU/EEA, employees must bring their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) with them and arrange coverage of health expenses with the Norwegian Health Economics Administration (Helfo – form S1). If this is takes place before departure, the employee will pay for health services in the host country in the same way as local residents.

Non-EU/EEA citizens and those who travel to countries outside the EU/EEA must apply to Helfo for the right to extended subsidization (Norwegian: utvidet stønad) for health services abroad (0-25% co-payment).  

Personal travel insurance policies #

Employees are recommended to have personal travel insurance abroad. Employees must check with their insurance company whether they have travel insurance that is valid for the entire stay, and whether it covers coronavirus-related expenses. 

The current situation is that most travel insurance policies are not valid for travel to countries classified as “red”. If they are valid, they exclude coronavirus-related expenses. Some insurance companies can offer insurance that also covers coronavirus-related expenses for travel in “red” countries. Examples include insurance from the Association of Norwegian Students Abroad (ANSA) (for students and researchers) and some international insurance companies. 

Statens personalhåndbok (the Personnel Handbook for State Employees #

Statens personalhåndbok (SPH, the Personnel Handbook for State Employees, in Norwegian) states in Section 4-4 that “Employees who are travelling for work purposes or are posted to a country in the European Economic Area (EEA) have the right to health services on an equal footing with the country’s own citizens. Employees are recommended to take their European Health Insurance Card with them abroad. The EHIC card is issued by Helfo. 

For stays outside the EEA, the right to coverage of health expenses is governed by the National Insurance Act (folketrygdloven).  Helfo pays and makes decisions on the right to coverage of health expenses. For stays outside the EEA, the individual enterprise covers expenses necessary for treatment of illness and/or injury during travel at the government's expense, as well as documented expenses for repatriation that are not covered by the National Insurance Scheme or other schemes.”  

The employer has a greater responsibility to cover health expenses and travel home for employees staying in a country outside the EU/EEA. For travel outside the EU/EEA, in principle the employer is responsible for covering health expenses, including those that are not covered by the National Insurance or other schemes.   

  • Can NTNU, as a self-insurer, cover private insurance for employees that covers coronavirus-related expenses?
    Answer: Even though NTNU is a self-insurer and may not buy insurance policies for employees, it is possible to cover insurance for employees for individual trips in special cases. See Statens personalhåndbok (SPH, the Personnel Handbook for State Employees, in Norwegian) 9.3.13 Section 13. Each case must be considered individually.

The Norwegian Public Service Pension Fund (SPK) #

Occupational injury insurance: Employees on sabbatical also have occupational injury insurance when working abroad. In order to get an assessment of the injury, it must have occurred at work, at the workplace and during working hours, and it must fall under the definition of an occupational accident or occupational disease in the Act relating to industrial injury insurance (yrkesskadeforsikringsloven). In some special cases, Covid-19 can be approved as an occupational disease and give the right to occupational injury compensation. The Norwegian Public Service Pension Fund (SPK) states the following on its website:  “Coronavirus infection and Covid-19 were not previously included in the list of diseases that could be approved as an occupational disease and give the right to occupational injury compensation. Illness due to Covid-19 infection is now included in the list, also covered by the Act relating to industrial injury insurance from 1 March 2020. The change in the rules mainly applies to those who work in environments with a special risk of infection.

It is a condition that the work or professional practice takes place in environments with a particular risk of disease or infection or in work areas where employees can easily come into contact with people who are infected with the coronavirus. For members in occupations other than the health sector, an individual assessment must be made in each case. 

Because of the requirement for documentation, it is important to report the occupational injury as early as possible and to document all factors that might be regarded as significant to a potential infection.” 

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