The significant increase in the cost of living is a problem facing all of us, but in particular our postgraduate research members who face mounting financial pressures whilst trying to concentrate on their studies.
Evidence is building that this cost of living crisis will contribute to the UK’s existing mental health crisis, and cause further financial anxiety in our student body. Mounting inflation also further entrenches social inequalities, holding people back from fully enjoying their university experience, or stopping people from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds from applying to university in the first place.
UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) set and distribute financial support in the form of stipends to cover government funding for particular research PhD programmes. On 14 June it announced that it would consult with the sector on financial support for postgraduate research students (PGRs) due to the increasing cost of living.
UKRI-supported students currently receive at least a minimum stipend. Typically, the minimum stipend is revised in line with a measure of inflation annually, with the rate applied reflecting the rate of inflation for the prior year running October to September. In line with this approach, the minimum stipend is due to increase by 2.9% at the beginning of the 2022 to 2023 academic year. But inflation in the UK is currently running at 9.0% and expected to increase to nearer 11% later this year.
The fixed amount of stipend currently available to these PGR students won’t cover the increasing cost of living with the current levels of inflation.
If the stipends don’t increase to match the current level of inflation, this means a real terms funding cut for these postgraduate students, leaving thousands of students worse off than in previous years.
While the UKRI review is to be welcomed, it’s clear that the increase on the stipend for PGRs must be in line with current cost of living, if we are to avoid distress, anxiety and risks to student wellbeing. Keeping students financially supported throughout their studies is paramount to academic success and good mental health.