UKRI to provide extension funding for non-final year PhD students

£7 million left over from earlier funding will support more doctoral students who need extra time to complete their studies due to Covid-19

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has announced further support for doctoral students who need extra time to complete their studies due to Covid-19.

£7 million will now be available for extensions for PhD students who are not in their final year. This is money left over from the £44 million of urgent ‘phase one’ funding released in April 2020 to cover six month extensions for UKRI-funded students in their final year.

A further contribution of £11 million in block funding will be made available to English universities via Research England.

UKRI is also consulting on giving training grant holders the flexibility to fund extensions by cutting training activities and reducing recruitment in 2021/22 “if absolutely necessary”.

In November, £19.1 million in phase two funding was allocated to research organisations to enable them to provide support to PhD students most in need.

“Covid-19 has placed immense pressures on our country’s PhD students, and it is a priority of mine that we continue supporting our world class research community through this pandemic and beyond,” said science, research and innovation minister Amanda Solloway.

“Today’s measures will provide vital support to doctoral students most disrupted by the pandemic, ensuring they have the flexibility to continue carrying out their crucial research during these challenging times.”

Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, chief executive of UKRI, said: “PhD students face huge challenges in both their work and personal circumstances. The measures announced today will help those most affected by this crisis, including students with caring responsibilities.

“We will continue to work with the community to make the best use of the limited resources available to us to support students and the wider research and innovation system through these unprecedented times.”

In an open letter, Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser explained that a blanket six-month extension to all PhD students would cost the sector “well in excess of £1 billion” and argued that many students have been able to complete their studies on time.

She adds that “it has been heart-breaking listening to the many compromises everyone is having to make, and the stressful and sometimes tragic circumstances under which people are working. This includes the many eloquent and passionate requests from students, student groups and those working to support them.

“I really appreciate the time and care people have taken to explain their situations. We are trying to respond as best we can and we will continue to work with the whole community to mitigate the devastating impacts of the pandemic and to develop the strongest possible recovery from it.”

Responding to the announcement, UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “Postgraduate researchers have faced huge difficulties continuing their research during this pandemic and UKRI should have been making more efforts from the start to support them.

“Whilst we welcome the acknowledgement that more than just those in their final year require additional support, the available funding falls far short of that required to give all postgraduates the offer of a funded extension.

“This funding is not new money and with a budget of over £6 billion, UKRI can go much further to support students who have been impacted by Covid-19.  They must also recognise the need to provide more support for international postgraduate researchers who face additional pressures as a result of the government’s hostile environment.”

UKRI intends to set out further guidance in the early spring.

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