I am tabling this statement for the benefit of Honourable and Right Honourable Members, to bring to their attention the support that the Government is providing to United Kingdom Research and Innovation (UKRI) funded doctoral students to address the challenges related to COVID-19 restrictions. This is an update to the statement laid on the 22nd February, which contained an administrative error.
When lockdown began last year, UKRI communicated immediately that PhD studentships should not be suspended ensuring students could continue to receive their stipends. In April 2020, £44m of urgent funding was announced for up to 6-month extensions for PhD students in their final year who could not complete their studies as originally planned due to COVID-19 restrictions. This was taken up by 77% of eligible students.
In November 2020, a further £19.1m was allocated to Research Organisations hosting UKRI funded students. This enabled those organisations to target additional support to those UKRI funded students who needed it most including those whose study had been impacted by caring responsibilities or health reasons, and those in their final year.
These two phases of funding amount to over £60m of funding and will provide support to approximately 10,000 students.
Since the introduction of the current restrictions in January, the Government has continued to monitor the impact on the research sector. I asked UKRI to explore what else could be done to help and I can now confirm that we will be providing additional support to UKRI funded PhD students.
£7m unused from the April allocation for course extensions will now be made available to allocate extensions, based on need, to those students still to complete their studies. Additionally, UKRI are exploring options to increase flexibility for grant holding organisations to allocate existing funding for training and cohort development activity to fund extensions.
Research England will also be delivering around £11m of block grant funding to English universities as a contribution to their support for their postgraduate research communities, including to students funded by universities themselves and to self-financed students.
By the end of this phase of support funding, UKRI will have provided additional support, including extensions, to around half of all their funded students who were studying at the start of the first lockdown extension. This support has been targeted at those most in need and with equality, diversity and inclusion considered throughout.
Ensuring that the research sector in the UK has the people and skills it needs is crucial to realising Government’s ambition to cement our status as a science superpower. We will continue to monitor this situation closely, to ensure that we are able to consider additional support if necessary.
This statement has also been made in the House of Lords