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University of Copenhagen expects to spend DKK 40 million on PhDs delayed by corona crisis

Research — »No-one will be rejected with reference to there being no finance available at UCPH,« says deputy director. A strong statement according to the chairman of associate professors and professors at the Faculty of Health.

DKK 40 million. This is what the University of Copenhagen (UCPH) estimates it will cost to help its own PhD students who have had their research projects ruined by the pandemic.

The number can be seen in an ‘financial weather forecast’ which the Board of the University received at the beginning of April. It also states that the DKK 40 million would cover two months salary compensation for the affected PhD students. However, the university does not know exactly how many students have been affected.

»These are back-of-an-envelope sums, if you can put it that way,« says deputy director for Research and Innovation at the University of Copenhagen, Kim Brinckmann. »40 million is half way between calculations from the Danish Universities group and the Akademikerne trade union’s estimates. That the two calculations are far from each other, says something about how much uncertainty there is about the price of Covid-19-related PhD delays.«

While the price may be uncertain, it is clear that the corona shutdowns have made it more difficult for many PhD students to carry out their projects and planned research collaborations.

The University of Copenhagen will not compensate delayed PhD students by disbursing money according to a general distribution formula.

Insurance scheme for PhD students

»We insist on every single delay case being dealt with separately. They are different,« says Kim Brinckmann.

The university does however guarantee that there will be enough money.

»The money comes from the same UCPH cash box,« says Kim Brinckmann. »If they reach the conclusion that an academically justified delay has taken place, then UCPH must pay. As the decision to allocate money to cover the costs of a delayed PhD programme are taken locally, the money should also be found locally, for example at a department. But if too many delays lead to problems for the department, they will be able to take it up to the dean level and, if necessary, to the rector. There is an insurance scheme built into the system, and so no-one will be rejected with reference to there being no finance available at UCPH.«

Not every delayed PhD can expect to get funding. The delays must be due to academic, professional issues like lack of access to laboratory facilities in a decisive phase of the project, according to Brinckmann.

»But there is also a small option of help if particular social circumstances apply, for example if a PhD student has had major challenges with children being sent home from schools and daycare.«

The final cost may amount to well over DKK 40 million. Kim Brinckmann says that the University of Copenhagen will not get a clear picture of it before the last case has been processed.

Why is it difficult?

»It can depend on how far you are in your PhD programme, and how hard you are hit if you, for example, cannot change your research setting or get access to a field study. All sorts of solutions have been found, for example online courses with foreign research groups rather than an on-location stay,« says Brinckmann.

»We have also reached out to external sources [foundations, ed.] to find out whether they can help finance specific delays. We have been met with a great deal of understanding, but also different outcomes of course.«

When will you have finished processing the cases?

»We are still doing the processing at the faculties and at the graduate schools. Many of our PhD students are back on campus. But the world is still affected by Covid-19, so this can still influence a PhD project, even though we hope that the situation will soon be normalised. At a time like this, it will, for example still probably be difficult to do certain international journeys for study right now, with India as a sad example.«

Researcher chairman: A strong statement

The University of Copenhagen got DKK 5.8 million from a one-off government funding pool for PhDs in 2020. Money that has been distributed to the faculties, according to Kim Brinckmann.

The funding was partly a result of stubborn political pressure from interest groups like APPA – the Associate professor and Professor Association at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Copenhagen.

There are around 3,200 PhD researchers (2020 numbers) enrolled at the University of Copenhagen, half of them are salaried by the university. APPA has a lot at stake, because the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences has around 1,700 PhD students enrolled, of which approximately half are employed by the university and who can potentially apply for compensation. The remainder can be, say, employed at hospitals while being enrolled as a PhD student at UCPH.

According to APPA’s own estimate (based on a calculation that half of 1,568 employed PhD students at the university need compensation for three months’ delay), the bill for the delays will be DKK 76.4 million, i.e. almost twice the university’s expectations.

The chairman of APPA, Professor Thomas Mandrup-Poulsen, calls the DKK 40 million memo — and the assurances from the University of Copenhagen that there is money to cover the delays — »a strong statement«.

»This means that the university should now openly announce what the financial framework is and what the procedure is for applying for the individual PhD students and research heads, including the final deadline for submitting applications,« says Thomas Mandrup-Poulsen. »It’s now about getting the applications in with a description of why the specific project is delayed.«