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Hundreds of academics have signed a letter calling on the UK’s biggest funder of PhDs to reverse its decision not to give thousands of researchers any extra time or funding to complete their degrees, despite the impact of the pandemic.
In the letter, 770 academics said support would protect research and teaching that would be “needed as the UK and the world recovers from this crisis”.
UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), which supports up to a quarter of all doctoral students in the UK and has annual budget of about £400m, has said that “new and early-stage” doctoral students must modify projects to ensure they can be completed within their funded period.
The letter, signed by many academic leaders, welcomed UKRI’s initial response to Covid-19 pandemic and its recognition that those in the middle years of their research and nearing the end of gathering their primary data were more likely to be seriously affected than those beginning their research. But, the academics said, they were “gravely concerned” that a review released on 11 November “has failed all PhD students, but particularly this cohort”. The report, they added, noted that 77% of those not in the final year were in need of an extension.
“The recommendations also place additional burdens on those most affected to document their disruption, including disabled students, students with caring responsibilities and those with other protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010,” the letter said.
“Wider inequalities will become entrenched because extended time frames are only available to those with access to independent financial resources. Internationally collaborative research, particularly north-south collaboration, is highly valued by UKRI, and yet these projects that take time to develop and sustain will be disproportionately affected.”
The intervention came as students spoke to the Guardian about how they were struggling to complete their research on time, often alongside family responsibilities and budget worries and sometimes with mental health pressures.
UKRI, which brings together seven research councils, including the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, has said it was aware that many research projects had been disrupted by lockdown and social distancing, and that it may take time for access to resources and laboratories and for field work to return to normal.
It advised students it was funding to speak to their supervisors about how to adjust their project. It had provided an extra £44m for extensions in April, and a subsequent £19m, meaning extra financial support had been made available for up to 12,000 students most affected by the pandemic.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Leading UK academics ask PhD funding body to rethink refusal of extra time | Research funding