Further action to support doctoral students affected by COVID-19

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UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has announced further action to support PhD students whose studies are being affected by COVID-19.

Funding that was not used for extensions for students in their final year will now be available for UKRI-funded students in other years.

UKRI is also consulting on giving grant holders greater flexibility, so that they can fund further extensions for its funded students if this is required.

Today, Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser has written an open letter explaining how this, together with £11 million in new block grants to English universities, is supporting doctoral students.

Funding for the students who need it most

In April 2020, £44 million of urgent funding was made available to cover up to six month extensions for doctoral student stipends and university fees for UKRI-funded students in their final year.

UKRI’s training grant holders were asked to allocate this phase one funding on a case-by-case basis to students who needed additional time to complete their studies because of the pandemic.

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.

Not all students eligible for phase one funding needed support. UKRI has today confirmed the case-by-case approached has freed up £7 million to enable additional extensions to students earlier in their studies, based on need.

New funding and flexibility within grants

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

This will support the work those organisations are undertaking to help their postgraduate research communities, including those not funded with UKRI studentships.

UKRI has also written to training grant holders exploring options to increase the flexibility to use training and cohort development funding to fund extensions.

It is also consulting training grant holders on providing flexibility to reduce recruitment in 2021/22. This would release funding for extensions for current students, and on whether to extend eligibility for extensions.

UKRI intends to set out further guidance after this consultation, in the early spring.

Science, Research and Innovation Minister Amanda Solloway said:

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.

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.

Further information

Support so far

Phase one

In April 2020 UKRI announced its policy to support UKRI-funded students we fund through the lockdown period and beyond.

This included additional funding to cover extensions of up to six months for doctoral students in the final year of their programme, whose training was disrupted by COVID-19.

For students not in their final year, flexibility was given to grant holders to assess their needs on a case-by-case basis and use underspend in the grant to meet the cost of any extension required.

Phase two

To help contribute further to the support required for those students most in need, UKRI is awarding £19 million of additional funding across around 100 research organisations.

This will enable support for extensions for its funded doctoral students who are unable to mitigate the delays and impact of COVID-19 on their research project, for personal or work-related reasons, on a needs-priority basis.

UKRI has also written to research organisations and its 300 training grant holders seeking views on giving them flexibility in current training budgets to fund further extensions.

New allocation for phase two

The organisation is moving £7 million not required by students from the phase one programme to enable additional extensions to students earlier in their studies, based on need.

It will be delivering an additional £11 million of block grant funding to English institutions via Research England to support doctoral students, including those not funded by UKRI.

Plus, following our consultation, training grant holders (mostly universities) could have the flexibility to use training and cohort development funding , and to reduce student recruitment in 2021/22 to fund further extensions.

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