By Keziah Smith
United Kingdom Research and Innovation (UKRI) has awarded the University additional funds to support a second wave of extension funding for PhD students as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and the recent lockdown. This will support students who started their thesis prior to March 21st 2020, with end dates from April 1st 2021.
The University has also agreed to provide funded extensions on the same basis as UKRI to support the studentships it funds.
It is hoped that this second round of extensions will “support as many researchers as possible” who have had their research hindered by the pandemic, and who could not adapt their projects sufficiently to be able to complete them in their funded period.
Researchers who have not previously received a funded extension and fall into one of the priority groups (those with funding end dates between April 1st and September 30th 2021, and those who started before March 2020, with additional support needs), can apply for the first round of the scheme, with the deadline for applications being January 27th 2021.
A second round will be opened in February for researchers who require an extension who fall outside of the priority groups.
On December 1st 2020, students funded by one UKRI doctoral training partnership were sent an email, informing them that “there has been a major national policy change, whereby the process will be taken away from DTPs and instead invested in individual universities, who have been awarded extra grants from UKRI to facilitate extensions on a ‘needs-priority’ basis.”
Simon Appleton, from Durham’s Academic Support Office, later confirmed in an email to an inquiring student that the University “will receive a block grant of around £250,000 to allocate according to UKRI guidelines and priority groups.”
This recent settlement is a significant departure from UKRI’s earlier statements, where, in November, they outlined their allocation of “a further £19 million, in addition to the £44 million provided earlier in the year.” Within this response, they detailed how there are “finite funds available,” and decisions taken now will impact students in later years. Many students were merely encouraged to adapt their research to the current facilities available and to adjust their PhDs to suit the time scale.
This prompted the Directors of the AHRC partnerships (the Humanities branch of UKRI) to compose a letter formally opposing UKRI policy and expressing concerns that the extra funds detailed above are inadequate. They wrote, “while it is sensible in principle to adapt research projects to prevailing conditions, we are aware that everyone will already have been undertaking such work to the extent that it is possible, and so we have made clear how disappointed we were with the tone as well as the content of the announcement.”
However, PhD student Sam Bailey, told Palatinate that UKRI’s recent decision “is by no means a solution to all our problems.”
“I really believe that it should have been a blanket extension right from the off rather than a situation where students are made to compete for a limited pot of money. Every PhD student’s research has been negatively impacted and therefore everyone should receive an extension of at least six months.”
UKRI has recognised the need for extra support for PhD researchers, as their survey ‘Review of Extensions for Students Impacted by Covid-19,’ showed that 92% of final year doctoral students require an extension of, on average, 4.6 months, and 77% of non-final year students call for an extension of an average of 5.1 months.
One PhD student in the Humanities department told Palatinate, “I’m glad to hear that UKRI is finally being logical […] this constant uncertainty has been a nightmare.” They added: “it is completely unacceptable to expect us to handle the same workload as normal without the resources. This uncertainty has also had a huge impact on my and other students’ mental health.”
Sam Bailey, who benefited from the first round of extensions, said: “had I not been granted a six-month extension, I would not have finished my PhD on time and would currently be using my own savings to fund its completion. At one point before I received this extension I was seriously considering suspending my studies indefinitely because I felt so unsupported by my funders.”
Image: Mark Norton