Doctoral School

PGR Open Forums

An opportunity for postgraduate researchers to hear from and ask questions of the University Executive. View recordings and answers to questions from previous events.

11 June 2020

Questions and answers

Funding and extensions

Regarding Sussex’s commitment to match the UKRI funding, please can you release a public statement to that effect?

The University has worked closely with our UKRI Doctoral Training Partnership consortium partners. Of these, the most pressing matters concerned the AHRC CHASE consortium and the ESRC SENSS consortium. Those groups of Universities have collectively agreed to provide institutional funding to ‘match’ fund UKRI scholarship extensions. Following these consortia-level agreements, Sussex has agreed to make available match-funding to top-up all Sussex UKRI scholarship extensions.

You say that you cannot equal funding for University-funded students in line with UKRI, which is 6 months. However, CHASE are funding for 3 months. Why can the University not match this? Or at the very least, consider other possibilities? E.g. how much would it cost a month for final-year PGR students?

UKRI have offered funding for their portion of scholarship extensions of up to 6 months. The cost of repeating this scheme for all PGRs at Sussex due to submit before 31 March 2020 is estimated to be in the region of £3m. In the current extremely challenging and uncertain climate our UEG have decided to make available a Hardship Fund of £175k, available to all PGRs who do not have access to a scholarship extension. This will run until 31 March 2021, and will be kept under review. In addition, a PGR scholarship extension fund of £75k will be made available, to support those in receipt of a Sussex-funded PGR scholarship due to end before 31 March 2021.

Will university scholarship amounts (e.g. the Chancellor’s International Scholarship) for new Doctoral Researchers remain the same next year?

Yes. The value of any PGR Scholarship managed by Sussex (including the Chancellor’s International Scholarship, although it should be noted that this scheme has not run for new starters in recent years) will remain at the levels stated within offers. This includes any allocation of Research Training Support Grants. New scholarships will in large remain at these levels, consistent with UKRI recommendations.

Reprofiling research takes time so will necessarily increase timeline. How can a PhD student be expected to still complete within the same timeline when they have had to do this additional work?

We understand and acknowledge the difficulties faced by our postgraduate research community. The potential to re-profile a research project may take time, and for some it may not be possible at all. Where additional time is required beyond the standard 4-year maximum period of registration, PGRs can apply for extensions to study. This may not be required for many PGRs, but where Covid-19 – or any other circumstances outside of your control – have occurred, the University will extend the standard 4-year maximum period to allow for additional periods of study.

I started in September last year and have been granted funding for 3.25 years from the university itself. Will the 'normal' funding from Sussex be affected, e.g. shortened?

No. The terms and conditions of existing PGR scholarships cannot be changed.

Will there be any support (financial) to previously UKRI-funded students who are now in pre-submission (pre-coronavirus) and having to self-fund for even longer now?

PGRs who have been previously funded via UKRI, and are not eligible now for a UKRI funding extension, are eligible to apply to the new PGR Hardship Fund.

What financial support is there available to students who have had to intermit during lockdown and are returning to work with no funding?

PGRs returning to study following an intermission are able to apply to the PGR Hardship Fund.

Has funding for existing students been ringfenced for the duration of the student's PhD? Or is it just sorted out one year at a time?

The end date of the PGR Hardship Fund which will run until 31 March 2021, and will be kept under review.

Are those planning on submitting their thesis after March 2021 able to receive an extension, and will there be funds available for this additional period if funded by the research councils?

Extensions to registration can be applied for by any PGR, regardless of pre/post 31 March 2021.

Extensions to UKRI-funded scholarships where a submission date is beyond 31 March 2021 are currently under consideration by UKRI itself. Once the UKRI releases clarification of any scholarship extensions for those beyond 31 March 2021, the University and its partners will consider the issue afresh, against the financial climate at that time.

What support will be available in 2- or 3-years’ time for those PGRs equally impacted right now, whose needs will not be apparent by March 2021?

The PGR Hardship Fund will be kept under review and revisited at the end of March 2021.

What assurances can you give about doctoral researchers’ access to funding for conferences next year via the Doctoral Overseas Conference grant scheme, and access to RTSGs?

Research Training Support Grants that are stated within scholarship offer letters cannot be changed for future years.

The Doctoral Overseas Conference scheme will be subject to review, alongside the setting of all University budgets for 2020/21, although the DOC has recently re-opened to fund registration at the increasing number of conferences that are planned online.

Will UKRI students have their bank statements checked to get their extensions?

No.

Costings and calculations

Your costings for supporting doctoral researchers as detailed in the most recent minutes of Senate seem very high, and we have seen some inaccurate figures being circulated by members of UEG. Would you be willing to share the calculations that informed the Senate response?

Here are the calculations we are working from that cover the broad cost of scholarships – and they will be variable:

  • Living stipend circa £1,250 per month
  • Fees – variable, from £500 per year for Continuation, £4,407 ft Home/EU fees, £18,500 International standard fees, £22,500 International lab-based fees
  • Estimated 285 Sussex PGRs due to submit their thesis before 31 March 2021 (this number will change regularly, as PGRs submit/extend or change circumstances).

Please can the University share their financial assessment that indicates they cannot provide funded extensions to school funded students in their final years for 3 months (in line with CHASE)?

The costs associated with scholarship extensions, per individual, are provided above. We estimate that 78 PGRs would fall into this category, where they are not funded by UKRI, and sponsored in part or whole by Sussex. The University Executive Group has agreed to look at the needs of all PGRs at Sussex, whether funded by UKRI, by Sussex or those who are self-funding. To support the whole cohort of PGRs, we have launched two schemes of £175k for PGR hardship, and £75k for Sussex-funded scholarship extensions.

Could you please share the figures and calculations that have been done to estimate an extension for non-UKRI scholarships

Please see answers above.

The figure of 1,200 doctoral researchers being funded by the University seems unrealistic; in the Business School there are maximum 15 students funded by the School. How can they be 1,200 across the University?

This is a misunderstanding. We have circa 1,200 PGRs currently at Sussex, of all different funding types.

Hardship fund

Is there a limit to how much a particular PGR student can claim from the hardship fund?

The maximum award payable by the fund will usually be £3,500.

One of the questions asked in the currently available application form for the Hardship fund is: "What you have done to address your financial difficulties yourself?" Given that this question is not appropriate in the current situation, will it be removed from the application form?

To ensure the most appropriate use of University finances, particularly in the uncertain current financial climate, applicants to the Hardship Fund (PGR or otherwise) will be asked to confirm that any other avenues to secure financial support, or to earn income, have been pursued. This approach applies to the distribution of all student hardship monies in the University, whether the student is an undergraduate, a postgraduate taught student, or a postgraduate research student.

Is the expectation that PhD students will only be able to apply for hardship fund if they are not able to find work? Having to find work will take time away from studies and necessarily delay the PhD.

Applicants to the Hardship Fund are asked to explore, to a reasonable extent, any other opportunities to secure income before seeking hardship funding. Obviously, the current climate post-Covid-19 is relevant here, and it is understood that working opportunities may be limited.

Doctoral research community

Will new PhD students continued to be actively recruited (including the appropriate budget) over the coming years, to ensure a vibrant PhD community?

Yes. PGRs play an essential role in the research and teaching endeavours of the University. The University is committed to recruiting PGRs for September and in the future.

Doctoral tutoring

How will you ensure that doctoral students will have work enabling them to complete their studies?

Doctoral Tutoring opportunities will be made available, based on the volume of students we have at Sussex to teach. We are investigating opportunities suggested at the PGR forum which may replicate the educational experience of teaching, such as DT work shadowing. Beyond Doctoral Tutoring, wider opportunities to teach (e.g. via The Brilliant Club) are also encouraged.

Kelly Coate recently announced that the next academic year will comprise both online and small group face-to-face teaching. Given the University’s view that the work of doctoral tutors is ‘non-business critical’, who will be providing this small group teaching?

We will have a significant student body that will need teaching in 2020/21 and Doctoral Tutors will be employed to help with that teaching. We will know more when we understand our student intake for September 2020.

Will there be the same proportion of DT positions based on student numbers as in the current academic year?

The proportion of DTs will currently vary by subject and the demographic of Faculty in any one area. There is not a prescribed ratio of DTs to students, and Schools are required to manage teaching amongst other costs within their devolved budgets.

Is there a good reason to not guarantee DT teaching should be kept proportionate to student numbers?

Yes. Students learn in a variety of ways and this is far more complex than just matching staff to students. It’s about matching the right staff to students, depending on our intake and what students want to learn. Some learning requires more smaller group learning – other forms of learning can be in larger groups. We need to respond to and be led by what our students need.

Doctoral Tutors’ contracts in the Business School were not extended, resulting in a situation where tutors are marking exams (the deadlines of which were extended due to the Covid 19 outbreak) with their contracts having expired on 6 June. This situation is simply not acceptable. I am personally marking without a contract at the moment. Will the doctoral school commit to get all Schools to extend Doctoral Tutors’ contracts?

Prior to June, the Business School collated all Fixed Term Contracts and liaised with Heads of Department and teaching leads about contract extensions. HR was also involved in this process. We ask that the person who submitted this question contact Professor Steven McGuire, Dean of the Business School, so this can be looked into. There are processes in place to prevent this from happening.

Campus

When will the Library, cafés and our offices be opened up?

The University’s first and overwhelming priority is the safety of our staff and our students and we need to be guided by health and safety considerations and the latest Government advice. The Library is now running a Click and Collect service and is making plans for some study to be carried out inside. The main campus canteen Eat Central has been open for many weeks and more facilities will be open soon. Some labs have been open since the beginning of June.

International students

As an international student, I'm wondering if there will be online or in-person teaching in 2020/21. What will the consequences be for visas and accommodation?

We understand that international students will have many questions about the next academic year and how you should prepare for staying in or returning to the UK.

Our first and overwhelming priority is the safety of our staff and our students and we need to be guided by health and safety considerations and the latest Government advice. We anticipate that we will need to take a blended approach, with a mix of campus-based learning experiences and remote approaches running in parallel.

We are planning on-campus classroom and laboratory-based teaching, including small group work, seminars and tutorials. Please be assured, we will ensure that there is plenty of space to adhere to social distancing rules.

The University recognises that everybody needs clarity on the next academic year as a matter of urgency and we will provide further guidance on this as soon as we possibly can.

Support services

Why won't Sussex commit to hiring more therapists/counsellors at this time? Six sessions of therapy are simply not enough and waiting times of eight weeks are not acceptable?

The mental health of all our students, including Doctoral Researchers, remains a priority. The Counselling Service, the Student Life Centre and the Student Support Unit are currently running online services. This includes online booking for counselling appointments and online workshop groups. The University has been working to prioritise the students in most need – and the demands on the service have grown considerably. However, we have been able to cut waiting times this year. Obviously Covid-19 has put additional pressures on the services. The University does put more money towards these services that many other institutions in the sector, although of course we would always want to do more.

Doctoral School

E: doctoralschool@sussex.ac.uk
T: 00 44 (0)1273 87 7767