The recent announcement by the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) governmental body is a slap in the face for all Postgraduate students. They have announced they will not provide further funded extensions for students who will finish their research after 30th September 2021. Whilst this may be welcome for students in that situation, the vast majority of postgraduate students have been left by the wayside.

UKRI announced in their report that they would effectively not be funding first and second year PGRs and only doing so on a case-by-case basis. After seven months of research on the effects of the pandemic and lockdown on PGRs research, the main gist of the policy is: rewrite and amend without additional time. However, moving research online is not always possible. Crucially, amending requires time – and that is a resource that PGRs are notoriously short of.

A survey run by @PandemicPGRs, a campaigning group, shows that 92% of projects have been affected by the closures of labs, archives, no access to resources and mental health support, and the shutdown of face-to-face research since March. Without additional time and money, this means that the majority of PGRs will have to pay out of their own pocket for the most crucial years of their research or are forced to work overtime to fit a 3.5 year project into 2.5 or less years. The case-by-case approach means that PGRs who may receive funding will have to prove their eligibility – adding burden on already marginalised groups.

The policy is an abandonment of the 1st and 2nd years, but also severely impacts those who may have taken placements or had their end date pushed back for mental health reasons. Importantly, it will have impacts beyond UKRI funded researchers – most universities take their policy clues from that body. The extensions of institutionally funded projects as well as of hardship funds for self funded researchers could be put in jeopardy, too.

This report highlights how unequal the education system really is as those students from working class backgrounds are forced to decide whether they can afford to get an education or will have to drop out. This same inequality was already evident after the A-levels fiasco which affected those who have now, if they were lucky, been permitted to enter the university they wanted to. The UKRI report and the A-Level inequality clearly shows that it’s one rule for them and another for us. The education system entirely benefits those in the top 1%.

The marketisation of education must be stopped, which pits students and staff against each other, and instead replaced with a system of free education for all, regardless of your background, with its institutions run democratically by and in the interests of both staff and students.

The NUS, as the democratically elected body of students, and the student unions locally, should be working alongside UCU to coordinate a plan to take on the profiteering bosses of our university and educational institutions who have trapped students in overpriced accommodation, withdrawn their funding and continually attacked the working conditions of staff – including PGR students. It is only when students and workers unite together that we can win! Their fight is our fight!

UCU is organising a meeting for all UCU PGR students (UCU is free to join for PGRs), you register to participate and find out more information here.

by Luke Boulby and Elena Simon

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