To ask the Secretary of State for Education, if he will take steps to ensure that PhD researchers whose research has been affected by the covid-19 outbreak will receive the funding extensions needed to finish their research.
24 May 2021
This is a difficult and uncertain time for students. We are working with the sector to make sure all reasonable efforts are being made to enable students to continue their studies.
English students eligible for the doctoral degree loan can access one loan up to the maximum amount that was available when they started their course. There is no discretion within the regulations to increase the entitlement where a student extends their study, but those who have not accessed the maximum amount can apply for an additional amount of loan. If a student has withdrawn from their PhD due to compelling personal reasons, they may nonetheless be eligible for a further loan for a second full course. Withdrawal as a result of reasons connected to COVID-19 is usually considered a compelling personal reason.
UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) fund around 25% of the total PhD population in the UK. They have made several interventions to support PhD students who have been disrupted by the COVID-19 outbreak and the subsequent national restrictions.
In terms of financial support, UKRI will have provided over £60 million of financial support to UKRI-funded students most impacted by COVID-19. This support was announced over two phases in April and November 2020. UKRI continued to monitor the situation and, in February 2021, any unspent funds were reallocated to support those students who needed it most. This included, but was not limited to, students with projects where adaptations may not be possible, and students with a disability, long-term illness, who are neurodivergent, or have caring responsibilities.
On 24 March 2021, UKRI announced that 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 and by 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 2022/23 starts.
Research England will also be delivering around £11 million of block grant funding to English universities as a contribution to their support for their postgraduate research communities, including to students not funded by UKRI.
We also recognise that in these exceptional circumstances some students may face financial hardship. The department has worked with the Office for Students to clarify that providers are able to use existing funds, worth around £256 million for academic year 2020/21, towards hardship support. The government is making a further £15 million of additional student hardship funding available for academic year 2020/21. In total, we have made an additional £85 million of funding available for student hardship.
Providers have flexibility in how they distribute the funding to students, in a way that best prioritises those in greatest need. The funding could be distributed to a wide population of students, including postgraduates (whether taught or research-based) and international students.