Financial support often insufficient for PhD researchers, say education leaders

The funding provided to PhD students is often not enough to cover the completion of a doctorate, the leaders of Europe’s top doctoral association have claimed at a conference hosted by The University of Manchester.

The European University Association’s Council for Doctoral Education (EUA-CDE) launched its new vision on doctoral education at the conference, and noted that while completing a doctorate typically takes at least four years in most European countries, funding for students is often limited to only three years.

The new agenda for doctoral research is embodied in ten principles or ‘Ways Forward’ set out in a document called Building the Foundations of Research – a Vision for the Future of Doctoral Education in Europe.

Research in 2019 found that only 51% of universities said doctoral students completed their studies within 3-4 years, and more than a quarter said the average completion time was five years or more. There is also an ongoing debate about the role of doctoral candidates who are part-time – either due to parenting obligations or additional work responsibilities – and the increased time pressure in doctoral education caused by tight timelines.

The organisation is calling for the duration of funding to be based on a realistic assumption of the duration of a doctorate.

Luke Georghiou, The University of Manchester’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor and chair of the council’s steering committee, said there was increasing concern about the availability of funding during the latter stages of a PhD.

Without sufficient attention to this problem, he said that universities could find it increasingly hard to recruit high-calibre PhD students – “There is a problem looming – in most countries, there is a tradition of people accepting low incomes while they do their doctorates, but there is a limit to what they will take.”

In its workshops and sessions, the meeting also examined future trends and the diversity of the doctoral candidate population.

EUA-CDE Annual Meetings have become the largest and most comprehensive gatherings of academic leaders, senior academics, doctoral education professionals, postdoctoral researchers, doctoral candidates and other stakeholders working on doctoral education and research training. They are open to anyone with responsibilities and interest in this field.

“I am delighted that our university has been able to host this event” said Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, President and Vice-Chancellor of The University of Manchester. “During these times of change, challenge and opportunity, the meeting provides the ideal opportunity for higher education leaders in Europe to meet, reflect and engage in discussions.”

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