Skip to main content


The Institute for Medical Humanities (IMH) respond to the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Consultation on a ‘New Deal’ for the future of Postgraduate Research (PGR).

Between February and May 2022, a cross-sector consultation was led by UKRI on plans for a ‘new deal’ for PGR following the UK government’s initial commitments to PGR developments in the UK Research and Development Roadmap (2020) and the Research and Development People and Culture Strategy (2021).

To maintain sustainability, openness, and attractiveness at a local and international level within the PGR sector, the UKRI aims to establish and deliver a ‘new deal’ for doctoral candidates, Higher Education Institutions, public, private and third sectors, as well as people, society and economics generally through a long-term programme holistically focusing on four inter-dependent, yet interacting, areas. These include: (1) models and access; (2) routes in, through and out; (3) rights and conditions; and (4) funding and financial support. Further information related to these areas of focus and the UKRI’s ‘new deal’ for PGR can be found on the UKRI website.

In response to the consultation, IMH collated and consolidated responses to 12 questions from a range of postgraduate students and members academic staff at career stages from Research Assistant to Professor. The questions posed explored topics such as the goals of contemporary PGR training; the four areas of focus listed above (including perceived challenges related to these); and factors that should be considered when developing the UKRI’s engagement plan for future work surrounding the ‘new deal’.

In particular, the IMH response identified a number of priority challenges in relation to the four areas of focus identified by UKRI – a selection of which are detailed below:


Models & Access

  • Support and models to diversify cohorts; for example, ‘mature’ or part-time students who may wish to work through their PhD or have caregiving responsibilities.
  • Exploring models which encourage a sense of academic community and well-being amongst students. For instance, in the provision of pastoral and professional support in addition to PhD supervision. This can be especially important for interdisciplinary PhD students, those undertaking PhDs online or remotely, and students whose research engages with ‘deeply distressing materials’ or ‘ethical issues’. This may take the form of forums of support, co-mentoring, networking etc.
  • Providing opportunities to develop skills and experience which are directly relevant to the job market, with support to communicate those relevant skills outside of academia and to identify areas of opportunity.
  • Creating realistic expectations: as well as preparation for the job market, realistic engagement is needed with the difficulty and significant sacrifice entailed in entering academia. The highly competitive job market makes getting academic jobs very challenging. In addition, many early career appointments are temporary; some are also part-time and not typically well paid. Short-term contracts and precarity lead to financial instability, are highly stressful and interfere significantly with other aspects of life.


Routes In, Through & Out

  • Attention needs to be given to the ethics of recruitment where there are so few job prospects in academia for graduates.
  • In addition to individual studentships, institutions need to place funding into facilities for PhD students such as office and communal spaces to allow them to form connections and relationships with peers throughout their PhD and ECR journeys.
  • Consider ways to prepare candidates for competition in non-academic careers by ensuring the PhD is not seen as making a job candidate ‘over-qualified’ for other careers.


Rights & Conditions

  • The mental/physical health and well-being of PGR students should be an immediate priority. These may be very considerably and detrimentally affected by the challenges and isolation of postgraduate studies and, particularly following completion of graduate studies, the stress created by financial challenges, conditions of precarity and instability, competition for jobs and the difficulties of short-term contracts and/or periods of unemployment.
  • There is a need for students to aware of their right to 10 days CPD a year under the Concordat.


Funding & Financial Support

  • Sustainability of financial support and the financial challenges facing universities, including the implications of current funding imbalances for PGRs.


The Institute's full consultation response can be read online on the UKRI website.