The fight for funded extensions

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An update from Nick, your VP Postgraduate Students

This is currently a huge issue across the University, and I fully appreciate the questions and uncertainty surrounding what’s going on. I will try and briefly outline the current (and likely near-future) University position from what I’m privy to, and some relevant questions answered in the last few PGR Rep College Forums.

If you want to get in touch, you can email me at VPPostgraduate@cardiff.ac.uk

Get in touch

Un-funded Extensions (Internal University Deadline Extension):

The University moved early on to streamline the extension application process, creating a ‘light touch’ application form for a 3-month extension that requires sign-off from your Supervisor.

Some students have asked about automatic extensions without the need to submit forms. The University discussed this at the start, but the streamlined application process being signed off by your Supervisor stops the need for it going up the chain, as well as ensuring the ability to flag up things that haven't been discussed with the students by the School – it doesn’t require gathering of evidence (like medical).

Can you get a further 3 months if required?

Yes, this would be signed off in the same way. It would be 3 months to begin with, but you could apply for 6 months if you felt you needed to. The way it’s been streamlined, a 3 month request could take as little as 24h to sign off.

UKRI-Funded Extensions

UKRI funding finishing between 1 March 2020 and 31 March 2021

You will have all seen that if you fall into the category of being UKRI funded and your funding ending between 1 March 2020 and 31 March 2021, the University (or training grant holder, this could sit with another HE institution) should have already been in touch to work out the specifics with you. The UKRI has publically announced these students are eligible for an up-to 6 months extension to funding. They have also said,

“Funding for longer extensions beyond six months, if critical for completion, should be treated in a similar way to other extensions for students with funded period from 1 April 2021 onwards, i.e. considered on a case-by-case basis.”

UKRI funding finishing from 1 April 2021 onwards

The UKRI’s statement says:

“Extensions for these students may be granted on a case-by-case basis. Extensions can be approved by the training grant holder when students whose work has been affected by the pandemic, for example, they are unable to work, or their progress is impeded by closure of their research organisations/COVID-19 restrictions and/or caring responsibilities. However, it may be appropriate to delay formal decisions on what length of extension is appropriate until the full impact is better known.”

“We expect a light touch process for deciding case-by-case extensions with up to one page detailing the length and reasons for the extension for each student.”

Which puts the responsibility on the University to collate the evidence in order to justify awarding UKRI funded extensions, and the University’s response to this has been to standardise the Progress Monitoring form across all Schools (previously there had been 24 different varieties of the same thing). The Deans have been trying to emphasise the importance of using this way to formally record the impacts you are facing/have faced on your research as you progress over the coming years, as this provides a basis for any future extension evidence.

I’ve had students contact me regarding some University staff members saying it’s unlikely that non-final year students will easily receive these funded extensions, but that’s not something I’ve heard in the discussions I’m in. I think it’s hard to predict how long these impacts will last, and with research (particularly lab-based) likely to be the first activity to restart when the University re-opens, we’re likely to have impacts lasting longer for some of you than for others. What I have seen though, is University recognition that some students will not be as impacted as others will. For example, some first year PhD students may have the potential to absorb any current COVID-19 impact to their progress over the next few years, however this is by no means an expectation, and the case by case extensions should still apply to those who are eligible (later in your studies).

I’ve been told another national survey will be sent out to estimate the number of students that will require funding to give the opportunity for other funding bodies to see figures. This survey has not been released yet but is estimated to be out in June at the earliest.

Part UKRI-Funded

e.g. 50% UKRI and 50% charity/University funded

This is where it gets a bit more complicated, purely as UKRI only has the authority to fund their portion of any extension funding.

With many charities taking a hit from donations and with charity shops closed, my expectation would be that it’s unlikely for funding to be extended from the 3rd sector (at least in the immediate future).

In terms of industry, I honestly don’t know. I’m not involved in any discussions in the sector but would assume it will just fall to individual circumstances.

The University has been scoping potential funding routes for those students it funds/part-funds but nothing has yet been formally approved. Because of the current funding pressures the HE sector will be facing over the coming years from lost research and fee revenue, and the recent refusing of a university sector bailout, it’s extremely unlikely blanket funded extensions will be offered by Universities. My expectation is that there will be resource made available on a case-by-case basis, with the possibility of that resource being means tested (but like I said, nothing has been formally agreed).

It’s worth noting though, that I have heard that Research Councils are lobbying the Treasury to underwrite these other funds, which to me seems like the only alternative under the current funding situations.

Next steps

Take part in this student-run survey that aims to give PhD students in the UK an opportunity to provide information and clarification on the impact of COVID-19 on their studies. Having student voices heard in this debate is so, so important and will help lobby for funding protections from a different angle.

Complete the survey

If you require imminent financial support, the Hardship Fund is available for PGRs too – including those of you in your writing up year. You can also apply to this fund for equipment you might need (e.g. you don’t have a suitable laptop at home to type and run required software on as your desktop is in the University) – this funding is means tested.

I appreciate that that isn’t an extensive coverage of all of you, and doesn’t cover information for those of you that self-fund. If there are concerns or questions you have that your supervisor and DPGR can’t help you with, then please get in touch, or feed these into your Reps for our next College PGR Rep Forums.

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