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Russell Group to match UKRI stipend boost for PhDs

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Research-intensive universities to increase postgraduate research stipends as part of wider support for struggling students

All 24 Russell Group universities have now committed to matching the UK Research and Innovation PhD stipend uplift, as well as to support further measures for students struggling to make ends meet during the cost-of-living crisis.

On 9 November, the group of research-intensive UK institutions confirmed that its members had agreed to match the national funding agency’s promise to increase its minimum student stipend by 10 per cent for the 2022-23 academic year—to £17,668.

According to the Russell Group, this represents a “further multimillion-pound commitment, to help PhD students deal with rising costs”.

In addition to this uplift, the group said its universities had also taken a range of other measures to help students with day-to-day living costs, including providing subsidised food, extending access to campus facilities and looking for ways to extend campus employment opportunities.

“Our members are concerned about growing financial pressures on students, and the impact this will have on their studies and wider mental health and wellbeing,” said Russell Group chief executive Tim Bradshaw.

“Universities are stepping up support where possible, committing millions of pounds of additional financial assistance, as well as exploring a wide range of other measures to ease the burden on students.”

Free hot showers

Additional cost-of-living measures announced by the group include keeping study and social spaces open longer, so students can keep warm if they are struggling to heat their homes, and offering free hot showers, free tea and coffee, and access to microwaves.

Members of the group are also reviewing and reducing any “hidden” course or service costs, providing free access to non-perishable goods, and reducing costs of activities or sports and transport discounts.

In addition, the Russell Group said institutions were helping students to manage their finances and extending on-campus job roles and promotion of other employment opportunities near campus where possible.

However, the group also acknowledged that more help was needed and called on the government to extend hardship funding to those in need. For example, the group said the government could increase maintenance loans in line with inflation to provide “swift support for students” and consider the reintroduction of maintenance grants in the longer term.

“Before problems escalate over the winter, we hope the government will extend its own support for students, including through additional hardship funding,” said Bradshaw.

The support package was welcomed by Alex Kirby-Reynolds and Ellie Munro, co-leads of the University and College Union’s Postgraduate Researchers as Staff campaign, who have been campaigning for more support for PhD students.

“Matching the UKRI stipend uplift for internally funded PGRs is the very least Russell Group universities must do, and we are pleased that all members of the group appear to have committed to doing so,” they told Research Professional News.

“We would like confirmation that the uplift does apply to all stipends, including those with Covid-19 extensions. They also need to consider the welfare of unfunded and international PGRs by removing barriers to accessing hardship funds, making universal grants following the model of the University of Westminster, and waiving fees.”

Research Professional News has approached the Russell Group for comment.

A Department for Education spokesperson told Research Professional News: “We understand global inflationary pressures are squeezing household finances and people are worried about covering the basics.

“To support students with living costs, we have increased maintenance loans every year, meaning disadvantaged students now have access to the highest ever amounts in cash terms.

“Students who are worried about making ends meet should speak to their university about the support they can access. This year universities can boost their hardship funds by drawing on up to £261m we have made available through the Office for Students.”

A version of this article also appeared in Research Fortnight