To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, what assessment he has made of the effect of UK Research and Innovation's decision to withdraw extra grants for PhD students whose research has been affected by covid-19 on (a) those students and (b) long term research environment in the UK.
UKRI have acted to support PhD students during the pandemic. In March, UKRI worked to ensure that all the students it funds would continue to receive their maintenance stipend during the lockdown and would not have to suspend their studies; UKRI-funded students in receipt of a costed extension will continue to receive this stipend during their extension period. In April it was announced that UKRI-funded PhD students in the final year, whose studies have been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic would be provided with additional support.
A review of the initial UKRI COVID-19 extension policy was published, bringing together evidence from students, grant holders and university management teams. On the 11th November, UKRI provided a further £19.1 million of funding, which particularly aims to support students who have recently gone into their final year of study (funding end date before or on 30 September 2021) and those with ongoing support needs. Students with ongoing support needs include disabled students, students with a long-term illness, those who are neurodivergent or those with caring responsibilities.
Combined, these two interventions have meant that UKRI has made over £60 million of financial support available to students most impacted by the pandemic. It is estimated that this funding is available for up to 12,000 students (over half of the students that UKRI funds). We are encouraging all PhD students to discuss with their supervisors how projects can be adjusted to complete their doctoral education within their funded period. We will continue to monitor how the pandemic is affecting PhD students and the wider research system.
In regard to the long term research environment, all UKRI funded PhD students are guaranteed their funding within their funded period. The support noted above should ensure the vast majority of students are able to complete their studies on time, or later with support, and able to embark on the next step of their research career.