The University’s proposal to introduce tuition fees for DPhil students beyond their third year has “struck a nerve” with postgraduates, according to the results of an OUSU consultation unveiled last week.
In the past, most DPhil students have only been required to pay for their first three years of study. Under the new proposal, doctoral students would foot the bill for any extra time it takes for them to finish.
OUSU Vice President for Graduates Sarah Hutchinson found that all but one of the postgraduate students she consulted over the past two months preferred the current policy.
“The proposal to increase the number of years DPhil students have to pay fees for has clearly struck a nerve with graduates – we’ve had more responses from graduates on this than on any other single issue this year,” Hutchinson said.
The students consulted said extending the fees would prevent some people from pursuing a doctoral degree, and damage DPhil students’ research by pressuring them to work faster and obtain new sources of funding.
Geraint Evans, a DPhil in Physics candidate, said: “The university is shifting the pressure of the recession onto those who cannot afford to pay it.
“Many DPhils require four years for completion, rather than the three they are often funded for. The idea that a student struggling to use the three years of funding to support herself for a necessary fourth year should have added financial pressure forced upon them is ridiculous.”
Officials have said the proposed fee scheme would reduce the financial pressures the University is facing by covering the costs of supervision and other services Oxford provides to DPhil students beyond the third year.
In response, Hutchinson has argued that it is unclear that DPhil students in their fourth year use significant university resources, and the University has yet to demonstrate that they make a loss under the current fee structure.
Hutchinson also dismissed the idea that fourth year fees would encourage students to complete their DPhils in a shorter period.
“There is no evidence that the absence of a fourth year encourages students to take their time, but there is substantial anecdotal evidence to suggest that students have difficulty accessing appropriate supervision,” Hutchinson wrote in a motion presented before OUSU Council on Wednesday, which cited her consultation with DPhil students.
The Social Sciences Division has been explicit in its support for the proposal to extend DPhil fee liability, citing income from the fees as one of its expected revenue sources in its Five-Year Strategic Plan.
The University’s Education Committee will combine the results from OUSU’s consultation with feedback from the University’s divisions and departments on the proposed fee scheme, and present it to the University before July.