I’m sure that anyone reading this knows that student budgets can be tight, no matter your institutional location, subject, or level of study.
Much support is available for postgraduates, but saying that makes the situation seem more optimistic than it actually is. This support is extremely competitive, and the amount of money awarded can be tiny – certainly not enough to make postgraduate study a viable option. Additionally, the application process for available support is much less structured than it is for undergraduate students, at least if you’re eligible for Student Finance. The worst part is that we’re expected to live and work as though we’re fully funded even if nothing has been awarded.
Our relatively more precarious financial situation makes it difficult or impossible to pay for any expenses beyond tuition fees, accommodation, and essential things like food. Yet, we’re still expected to conduct fieldwork and attend conferences, with no guarantee of successful applications for grants from our colleges and faculties. Even people with full-time, well-paid jobs find this funding difficult, making it insurmountable for a student budget, whether you’re a DPhil or not.
As you may have guessed already, the severity of the current COVID-19 lockdown impact on DPhils depends on the amount of funding received. Furthermore, access to libraries was taken away a week before the lockdown actually started, meaning that a month of work could be lost before Trinity Term starts. This wouldn’t be quite so stressful if faculties communicated more about the potential provisions for financial support during this hiccup in our theses. The amount of contact from faculties and their associated librarians has varied so far, but the central University has not commented on the financial hardships that DPhils are being thrown into. We seem to be expected to just keep calm and carry on with our research, even though we’re as bereft of resources and certainty as students on taught courses.
The University is currently carrying out a consultation through the Oxford University Student Union to decide the non-traditional form of assessment for next term’s taught students. However, while it is essential that assessments are finalised as soon as possible (which I can vouch for, having seen the administration involved with organising exams), there is, again, no discussion of the financial ramifications caused. From what I have personally gathered, money and accommodation is as important, if not a greater concern, for students currently.
For taught postgraduates, solutions that are coming down the grapevine include the opportunity to convert an MSt to an MPhil. This would certainly make up for lost time, but at the cost of extra fees and accommodation charges that students can’t necessarily afford. DPhils are being encouraged to apply for extensions, but again, that doesn’t factor in the cost which is beyond our budgets – it’s not like we can factor global Armageddon into our budgets at the best of times, never mind when we’re in the middle of it.
Right now, I’m sure that the University has as much idea about the situation as its students do, but a serious conversation about the financial and academic needs of postgraduates is needed to put minds at ease. It will allow for concentration to prepare for exams in a format never-before-seen, or to continue with our research as best as we can. Otherwise, we will be left with huge financial uncertainties on top of our precarious academic situation. There are only so many things that students can – and should – deal with, when there is supposedly an entire University looking out for us.