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100% UK's Top Scholars Urge PhD Funding Body to Reconsider Denial of Additional Time

PhD Funding Squeeze: Academics Fight for Extension Rights in Pandemic’s Wake

Hundreds of academics in the UK have joined forces to challenge a decision by the nation’s primary funder of doctoral studies, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). At the heart of the dispute lies the issue of pandemic-related disruptions and their impact on PhD Funding students’ research timelines. The academics, through a signed letter, are urging UKRI to reconsider its stance of not offering additional funding or time extensions to a significant portion of PhD researchers.

The letter, signed by over 770 academics including prominent figures, highlights the critical role PhD research plays in the UK’s post-pandemic recovery. They argue that providing support to these researchers safeguards the very research and teaching efforts “needed as the UK and the world recovers from this crisis.”

PhD Funding

UKRI, which shoulders the responsibility of funding roughly a quarter of all PhD Funding students in the UK with an annual budget of around £400 million, has taken a different approach. Their directive emphasizes project adjustments for “new and early-stage” doctoral students to ensure completion within the existing funding timeframe.

The academics acknowledge UKRI’s initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic. They recognize that the funding body initially acknowledged the vulnerability of students in the middle and final stages of data collection. However, the letter expresses “grave concern” regarding the revised policy released on November 11th, 2020. They argue that this review “has failed all PhD Funding, but particularly this cohort.” They cite the report’s own findings, which revealed that a staggering 77% of students not in their final year required extensions.

The concerns extend beyond the lack of extensions. The letter criticizes the additional burden placed on students, particularly those with disabilities, caring responsibilities, or belonging to protected groups under the Equality PhD Funding Act 2010. These students, according to the letter, face the additional challenge of documenting their pandemic-related disruptions.

The potential for exacerbating existing inequalities is another critical point raised by the academics. They argue that the current policy favors PhD Funding students with access to independent financial resources, who may be able to self-fund extensions. This, they warn, could “entrench wider inequalities.” Furthermore, the letter highlights the negative impact on internationally collaborative research, a domain highly valued by UKRI. These projects, often requiring significant time for development and maintenance, are particularly vulnerable due to the lack of extension options.

The academics’ intervention coincides with reports in The Guardian featuring student experiences. These accounts speak of the multifaceted struggles faced by PhD Funding researchers trying to complete their projects on time. Family responsibilities, financial anxieties, and mental health pressures all contribute to the challenges they encounter.

UKRI, an umbrella organization encompassing seven research councils, acknowledges the disruptions caused by lockdowns and social distancing measures. They recognize the potential delays in accessing resources, laboratories, and the return to normal PhD Funding fieldwork routines. Their response has been to advise students to consult with supervisors regarding project adjustments. Additionally, they have allocated extra funding – £44 million in April followed by a further £19 million – supposedly catering to the needs of up to 12,000 students most affected by the pandemic.

However, the academics remain unconvinced. They believe the current measures fall short of adequately addressing the widespread disruption caused by the pandemic. The call for a more comprehensive support system, one that acknowledges the specific needs of a broader range of PhD researchers, continues to resonate within the academic community.

By Amishajhon

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