The UKRI stipend for doctoral students will rise to £18,622 for 2023/2024. This is up by 5.3* per cent compared to last year. This has been mentioned elsewhere on Wonkhe but let’s dig through the call for input related to this decision.
Through February to May 2022 UKRI received 422 responses across the research and innovation community. 27 per cent of these responses were submitted by organisations or groups, of which 58 per cent of these were HEIs, and 73 per cent were submitted by individuals including 194 students. These responses relate not only to the funding of PGR students but their whole experiences.
It is striking that there is a broad consensus that there is an underfunding of PGR students. The responses compiled by Pye Tate consulting shows that there was consensus that the UKRI stipend needs to be more generous and take greater account for student circumstances including those with disabilities and caring responsibilities. Respondents also advocated for greater support for international students.
The accompanying report by Advance HE on equality, diversity, and inclusion notes makes the recommendation that
UKRI to consider using the positive action provisions of the Equality Act 2010 to introduce grants that can be targeted at underrepresented and disadvantaged groups and can be targeted in relation to disability, gender reassignment, race, religion, sex (childcare and caring responsibilities) and sexual orientation.
Interestingly, the Advance HE report also makes the case that UKRI should make steps to understand whether institutions are enrolling PhD students in receipt of UKRI stipends on their pensions schemes. This would be an interesting dataset to have as it would allow a better appreciation of how long-term financial support is being managed, not just immediate funding.
The Pye Tate report also highlights the need to make routes to funding more transparent and accessible as a major theme. This concerns both clarity on how funding can be obtained and the development of more varied routes to funding including for part-time and distance students. The report also shows support for more routes for support including formal networks run by students or institutions themselves.
Respondents, and particularly students themselves, were deeply interested in their futures. Respondents want to see a greater focus on career development through steps like the provision of training. They also want to see more facilitated collaboration with employers. The Advance HE report makes the case that there should be equivalence, where possible, between full-time and part-time experience including in access to support.
Although we have yet to receive UKRI’s response it is likely that it will involve further and ongoing engagement with the sector. The analysis of responses leaves open the question whether PGRs should be treated as staff or students. This is a debate without an easy or quick answer.
In total, the responses highlight issues the sector is familiar with but draws into sharp relief the sometimes difficult conditions PGRs are working under. The starkest finding is perhaps the high levels of consensus on the need to increase funding for PGR students, and to improve the accessibility of the whole system.
*This originally stated that the increase was 6.3 per cent owing to the initial copy provided on the UKRI website. A full discussion on the figures can be found here: https://wonkhe.com/wonk-corner/ukri-stipends-arent-going-up-by-as-much-as-we-thought/