UKRI stipends aren’t going up by as much as we thought

So this is awkward.

Jim is an Associate Editor at Wonkhe

Yesterday we said here that UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) had announced a YOY increase to the PhD stipend of 6.3 per cent – and would reduce the number of new studentships that start in 2023-24 and 2024-25 to pay for it.

But today, UKRI’s website says something else.

Now the site describes what amounts to a 5.3 per cent increase, and the reference to a reduction in the number of new studentships has been expunged.

We were alerted to this by a whole host of correspondents who told us that what we said yesterday was indeed what UKRI had announced privately to the sector in late March.

But then apparently in a further (“in confidence”) email on 20 April, it revised the stipend increase down from 6.3 per cent to 5.3 per cent – and said that there would no longer be a reduction in recruitment for 2023-24.

We don’t know why, but that sequence of events makes it look like the sector, faced with a choice between a higher inflationary increase and a reduction in the number of studentships, privately lobbied for more studentships and less stipend each to pay for them.

This would be easier to justify if the increase (or indeed the level the stipend was being increased to) was anchored in some kind of assessment of the cost of living – either bespoke or an external reference point like the national living wage.

As it is, the only explanation we can think of is that (some in) the sector have traded away individual PhD student finances to protect volume – with no way of justifying doing so.

We did ask UKRI for an explanation, but all we were told was that some “outdated” information had been published initially yesterday. And if there’s another explanation, we’d both love to hear it and be happy to publish it.

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