Calls grow for more universities to match UK Research and Innovation’s 10 per cent increase
At least two universities have agreed to match UK Research and Innovation’s stipend increase for PhD students in light of the cost of living crisis, Research Professional News can reveal.
Postgraduate researchers across the UK have raised increasing concerns about the crisis, which is fuelled by high inflation and low wage growth. On 2 September, UKRI announced that it was increasing its minimum student stipend to £17,668—a 10 per cent hike on the previously announced level for the 2022-23 academic year.
But UKRI only funds around one in four PhD students in the UK, with many others funded by their universities.
Some universities were quick to follow suit, including the University of Leicester and Coventry University.
While many are yet to declare their intentions, some boosted their support even before UKRI did. Sheffield Hallam University was among the first to increase its support for PhD students when on 4 July it announced that it was increasing the minimum stipend to “the take-home equivalent rate of the Real Living Wage”.
The university said it would adjust the stipend in line with the level set by the Living Wage Foundation, which is currently £9.90 per hour across the UK and £11.05 in London.
UKRI’s recent announcement provided a new impetus for stipend rises at other funders.
Philip Baker, pro vice-chancellor for research and enterprise at Leicester, told Research Professional News: “We have matched UKRI’s minimum stipend increase of 10 per cent to help our postgraduate researchers with the challenges presented by the rising cost of living. This increase reflects our commitment to ensure that postgraduate research remains sustainable.”
However, he added that the institution recognised that many of its postgraduate researchers were self-funded and would not benefit from the increase. “To assist those individuals, the university will be increasing its support for them over the coming weeks and months.”
Coventry also confirmed to Research Professional News that it had “moved quickly to reassure our postgraduate researchers on Coventry University studentships that their stipends would be increased to this new rate with effect from 1 October 2022”.
“Coventry University is committed to supporting our postgraduate researchers and will continue to keep in line with any increases in UKRI stipend rates,” a spokesperson for the institution said.
Calls for other universities to follow suit
Meanwhile, calls are mounting from students at other universities for their institutions to do the same.
Mary Katherine Newman, a second-year PhD student in Latin American literature at the University of Oxford, who is funded by her college, said it was “disheartening to receive what amounts to a real-time pay cut for no apparent reason”.
“It is scary thinking about the next couple of years as I make substantially less than my peers yet am expected to produce the same standard of academic work, service and teaching as they do.
“Now, another task has been added to our workload as we have to fight to be paid equally. I hope that my college will work with us to ensure that we also receive a rise equal to that of UKRI, but I know in the meantime that the mental stress of the uncertainty of this outcome on me and my similarly funded colleagues is extreme.”
A spokesperson for the University of Oxford, contacted by Research Professional News, said that no-one was available to respond.
A PhD student at Manchester Metropolitan University, also funded by their institution, said they brought it up with the university a few months ago.
“I was told at the time that, as I’m funded through a university studentship and not UKRI, my stipend will not be increasing, and has indeed not even gone up with the regular inflation rate over the past few years,” said the student, who did not want to be identified.
“I’ve again sent an email after the announcement on Friday expressing my concerns and am currently awaiting a response.”
They added: “To be honest, I’m expecting the same ‘computer says no’ response that I got when I raised these concerns last time. I feel like no-one actually wants to listen with compassion, and [they] feel like it’s okay to dismiss or ignore me.
“UKRI-funded students are set to earn over £2,500 more than me over the next year. It’s unfair, it’s unjust and I feel helpless to do anything about it.”
A spokesperson for the university said: “We regularly review our PhD stipends, fees and project costs and are consulting with partner universities and other sponsor organisations to ensure that all of our postgraduate researchers continue to be appropriately supported.
“Along with all other UK institutions, we will also review the implications of the UKRI announcement on stipends for PhD students partly or wholly funded by them.”
When asked whether universities would be increasing their support for PhD students, a spokesperson for Universities UK said it welcomed the extra funding allocated by UKRI.
“Universities are already taking steps to support postgraduate students in need during the cost of living crisis by increasing grants and loans available as well as through more long-term strategic relief,” they said.
“However, we need more support from government to work together with universities on this, and have just published proposals, which include the importance of support for postgraduate students.”
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