Rules for PhD funding relaxed for those affected by the pandemic

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UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has today confirmed further action to support doctoral students affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Following a consultation with research organisations announced in February, training grant holders will now be given further flexibility to support extensions for UKRI-funded PhD students most in need.

Training grant holders can now support extensions by:

  • using their training and cohort development funding
  • reducing investment in recruitment by up to 10% of the new studentships committed to in 2021/22. This reduction can be implemented over 2021/22 and 22/23 starts.

The changes are set out in UKRI’s policy statement on further action to support doctoral students affected by COVID-19.

Supporting doctoral students

Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, Chief Executive of UKRI, wrote an open letter in February explaining the organisation’s approach is supporting doctoral students.

UKRI committed more than £60 million to PhD students whose research has been impacted by COVID-19. This support was announced over two phases in April and November 2020.

Last month, a further £11 million was allocated in block funding to English universities via Research England.

Not all the phase one allocation was needed. Following a consultation with grant holders, the remaining £7 million will be allocated by Research Councils to target doctoral students on grants that have limited flexibility to fund extensions.

UKRI has also reviewed its eligibility criteria for extensions and updated its policy to ensure that those most in need can access support.

Training grant holders can offer extensions to all UKRI-funded students whose research has been impacted by the pandemic and who are unable adjust their projects to complete on time.

With the ongoing disruption and unpredictability of the pandemic, training grant holders will have the flexibility to consider, in exceptional circumstances, further requests from students who had an earlier request turned down or who have already received an extension under phase one or phase two.

Greater flexibility

Science, Research and Innovation Minister Amanda Solloway said:

It is a top priority of mine that we continue supporting the country’s PhD students who, like the wider UK research community, have faced significant pressures as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I’m delighted that we are empowering grant holders with the necessary flexibility to provide funding extensions to our most in need PhD students so that they can continue carrying out world class research, as we build back better from the pandemic.

Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, Chief Executive of UKRI, said:

PhD students are facing huge challenges, and we are working closely with research organisations to support them in these difficult circumstances. We have given grant holders greater flexibility to allocate UKRI funding from training and cohort development budgets, and to reduce future recruitment to support extensions for current doctoral students.

Given our limited resources, we are endeavouring to make the best use of the funding available to support students and the wider research and innovation community through the pandemic.

We are grateful to the whole community for helping us to develop and implement policy at this very stressful time.

Further information

Support so far

Phase One (April 2020)

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

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

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 (November 2020)

UKRI allocated £19 million of additional funding across approximately 100 research organisations.

This is enabling 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.

Further action (February 2021)

UKRI is moving £7 million not allocated by grant holders from the phase one programme to enable additional extensions to students earlier in their studies, based on need.

A further £11 million of block grant funding is being delivered to English institutions via Research England to support doctoral students, including those not funded by UKRI. Agencies in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have also previously made additional funding available to universities to help mitigate against pandemic disruption

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