UK graduate students call for more support as cost of living crisis deepens | Students

Graduate students say the rising cost of living has pushed stipends below living wages, leaving some struggling to pay rent and forcing them to seek second jobs in bars and supermarkets.

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the UK’s largest funder, supporting around 105,000 postgraduate research students, has pledged to increase student stipends by 2.9% for the next year university. But students say it could push them into poverty and are asking for more support to cope with the rising cost of living.

UCL-based Emma Francis and Hannah Franklin coordinated a letter on behalf of all London-based PhD students funded by the Medical Research Council, part of UKRI. “The current level of financial support provided by UKRI to PhD students is insufficient and unsustainable and creates a big diversity problem,” Franklin said. “They organize an exclusive community, not offering equal opportunities to all.”

UKRI increases stipends according to the inflation rate of the previous academic year (2.9% from October 2020 to September 2021). On this basis, full-time MRC-funded doctoral students outside London will receive £16,062 a year and students in the capital £18,062. With inflation above 9%, the allowance is £1,104 less than the living wage in London once income tax and National Insurance exemptions are taken into account, the letter says.

A second open letter to UKRI this week was signed by more than 5,000 graduate students.

James Hazzard, a PhD student at Imperial College London, said he worked in pubs and put in more than 300 hours of tutoring and teaching during his PhD to pay the bills.

“Universities are exploiting the fact that they pay us insufficient stipends by encouraging us to enroll in casual jobs, with no real right to employment,” he said. “It’s taken a toll on my free time, energy, productivity and mental health. If I get sick, like when I caught Covid-19 earlier this year, I don’t get sick pay.

Rebecca Matthews, a PhD in developmental psychology at the University of Reading who is on maternity leave, is unsure if she can afford to resume her research in October.

“The cost of daycare for three days is almost equal to the amount I get for a full-time doctoral stipend,” she said. “On top of that, I have comprehensive care for my eldest son to consider, and fuel costs for the two-hour drive to and from college.”

Tax-free allowances affect parents’ access to subsidized childcare, and Matthews said she was not eligible for 30 hours of free childcare because the allowance was not considered a salary. “It really feels like a mom penalty,” Matthews said.

Kathleen Hill, a doctoral student at the University of Coventry, said it was increasingly difficult to find accommodation and she had to skip prescription medication and postpone the dental visit because she lacked ‘silver.

“I’m not able to get a rental that’s more than 2.5 or three times my income,” she said. With very few rooms available in this price range, she fears she’ll have to surf the couch or be forced into renting unsafe, unregulated accommodation.

“We all know that, financially, a Ph.D. a stipend will not be a good choice,” she said. “Many of us have taken pay cuts and made sacrifices to be able to pursue topics that are close to our hearts and that we believe can have a real impact.”

Others described working shifts at Tesco to supplement their income and waking up at 4 a.m. to do doctoral work before office work.

UKRI said it is given the issue of providing greater financial support and will give more details this summer. A spokesperson said: “We recognize that the rising cost of living is affecting postgraduate researchers. As such, we are actively discussing with other industry bodies to see if we could provide additional support. We will communicate any decision resulting from these discussions as soon as possible. »

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