The Faculty of English on Sidgwick SiteMichael Behrend

The Faculty of English has “sincerely” apologised for accidentally sending an email thread to graduate students, in which members of the Faculty discussed the eligibility criteria of the Faculty’s hardship fund.

The email thread, which was circulated on Friday, discussed whether the Faculty’s hardship fund would cover computers and travel or relocation expenses. The conversation was between members of the Graduate Funding Committee, which included the Chair of the Faculty.

The email also discussed the situation of an individual student, including naming the student. In response to accidentally circulating this personal information, the Faculty “apologise for the unwitting breach of privacy in discussing a particular student’s case in an email”.

In the email thread, members discussed the wording of an email about funding which was to be sent to all postgraduate English students. One member said “we don’t want to suggest that we could support *any* travel or relocation expenses…” and “are we really offering to buy people computers?”, in relation to the question: “Wouldn’t a stolen computer be covered by insurance and not really related to the virus outbreak?”. There was also discussion about removing details in parentheses, which specified particular items that funding might cover.

The two funds discussed were the Essential Research Equipment Fund, which provides PhD and MPhil students with up to £200 for equipment essential to their research, and the Hardship Fund, which gives up to £300 to MPhil and PhD students experiencing ‘acute hardship’ arising from ‘unforeseen circumstances’.

The Faculty of English told Varsity that the email chain was part of a discussion of a wider Faculty initiative to respond to the issues which students may encounter as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The initiative is two-fold: to accept applications for hardship funding on a rolling basis and to increase the amount which could be accessed by students.


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The Faculty explained that computers had been mentioned because of the existing terms of their eligibility criteria for the Essential Research Equipment Fund: “We were discussing whether we should add computers and software to the list of what expenses ‘might include’; the question was whether naming particular items would really help us to identify the most serious forms of student need.”

“We decided that there would be many other kinds of research expense (not just ‘equipment’) that we also wanted to cover. Rather than list everything possible, we decided simply to use the phrase ‘every valid research expense’.”

Where the emails had shown conversations about the wording of eligibility to the Hardship Fund, the Faculty said they were discussing whether they needed “to spell out what the ‘unforeseen circumstances’ were”. However, the existing criteria were not changed because the mention of ‘acute hardship’ was felt to be sufficient.

Despite wanting “to be able to recompense every student for the money they’ve had to spend in recent weeks”, the Faculty told Varsity they had “limited” funds, and said: “We realise that many students have needs that we are not in a position to meet, and in our email to the postgraduates, we also drew their attention (with a web link) to the University’s Hardship Fund”.

The email, however, still encouraged postgraduate students to apply to the Faculty’s fund, saying “we will consider each application on a case by case basis and we may, in some cases, be able to go beyond the amounts currently advertised.”

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