Last Wednesday, UKRI announced that following the results of a July survey investigating the impact of COVID-19 on PhD students, there will be no guaranteed funded extensions for students whose research has been disrupted.
Many members of Peer Review Colleges or Advisory Councils of UKRI research councils, staff responsible for PhD programmes, and supervisors of UKRI-funded research projects have already expressed their concern at this decision made by UKRI by signing and sharing this open letter.
It would be encouraging to see academic colleagues across Royal Holloway showing their support by signing and sharing this letter. As of 10am yesterday morning, 773 PhD supervisors, UKRI Peer Review College members, and directors of PhD programmes have signed their names.
Additional funding is being made available on a very limited case by case basis that will prioritise students with a PhD submission date before September 2021, as well as students with additional needs (e.g. those with disabilities or care duties), though this funding is not guaranteed. This will leave thousands of PhD researchers, including many at Royal Holloway, with no additional support to mitigate against the disruption caused to research by COVID-19.
This decision was made despite a review published by UKRI showing that 77% of non-final year PhD students stated that they will require an average of 5.1 months additional time to mitigate against the disruption caused by the pandemic (including laboratory closures, cancellation of fieldwork, and reduced access to many other specialist resources). The formal advice we have now been given is to speak to our supervisors and redesign our research projects.
Over the past 8 months, with the aid of their supervisors, PhD students have already made significant adaptations to address this issue as best they can. But there will inevitably be students whose adaptations will be insufficient to let them complete in the given timescale. If postgraduate researchers are unable to complete our research projects in the allotted time without a funded extension, many of us will be faced with trying to complete projects unfunded whilst seeking employment. This will be damaging to all PhD students but will disproportionately impact students from poorer backgrounds, students with disabilities, and students with care duties.
This decision will also significantly harm staff responsible for supervising UKRI-funded doctoral candidates. It places the burden on these colleagues to create individualised adjustments to each research project in order to mitigate against the significant disruption and loss of time experienced by PhD students.
A concerned NERC-funded Royal Holloway PhD student
Comms adds: many institutions are using the UKRI guidance as the benchmark for how to treat their own internally-funded PhD students, so the UKRI decision may also have significant implications for students they do not fund.