I am a PhD student at a UK university and the project is a collaboration between the University and an industrial partner. My question is when the laptop is bought using the extra money allocated for training etc., who owns the laptop?

  • 3
    it is likely a case specific thing. Did you check the conditions on the funding? Although, I have heard people buying high end computers with funding and keeping them. – Boaty Mcboatface Dec 2 at 16:50

If it isn't specified in the collaboration contract, ask the funding agency for clarification - this may be determined on a case-to-case basis.

Single data point: I had funding as PhD student via a sholarship that also had an expenses budget.

  • When I bought stuff that was in between consumables and small instruments (to be precise, VUV-quality CaF2 slides). At reimbursement, the funding agency stipulated that they should become property of the institute.
  • In contrast, there was no such stipulation for some books I bought from the same budget.
  • 3
    +1. For $n = 2$, my fellowship said computers belonged to the fellow. One day, university IT decided to stick a property tag on my workstation bought with my fellowship. I emailed IT and cc'd my program coordinator who let the university know they were in the wrong and the computer clearly belonged to me. – Richard Erickson Dec 2 at 17:19

As other answers suggest, the identity of the owner may vary. However, I will venture a common-sense guess for the benefit of future readers:

  • If the laptop was not provided with the industrial partner, not bought by it for you, then it's probably not intended to be owned-by-them.
  • From my limited experience (not in the UK), Ph.D. candidates don't get to keep laptops they are bought for use during their Ph.D; they hand them in what they leave the university/research institute.

so with no additional information I would assume it is the university's.

But really, in your specific case - just ask whoever gave you the laptop.

  • throwaway comment, sorry, but I just wanted to say that I've seen you on this forum for over six years and I just realized that your username is a transliteration of "אין פה כלום". I'm feeling rather silly right now. – eykanal Dec 9 at 4:27
  • @eykanal: It's not like I was expecting this to be acknowledged or anything... – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Dec 9 at 7:26
  • Nah, nothing on you, just a slow realization for me. The name makes a lot more sense now. – eykanal Dec 9 at 13:01

I don't think there's a global rule for this. Institutions could have their standard rules for this, but then enter in an agreement with a particular industrial partner to do it differently for that project, for example. Likewise, it could be different for small and large sums of money, or for items very specific to the project that would be hard to re-purpose, or generic things like a laptop.

So whenever a nontrivial amount of money or work is involved, always get agreements in writing. That way everyone knows what to expect.

If you already have the laptop but don't have in writing what happens to it, make sure you get it in writing. Don't count on keeping the laptop until you do.

It's entirely possible you get to keep the laptop, if it's a long-running project. It's probably not the same standard model the company uses, so if they took it back, supporting it would be more work. Also, companies write off laptops after some years. As a piece of equipment that's exposed to travel wear and tear, it ages faster than a desktop machine. After a certain amount of years, the hardware will be dated and prone to defects so keeping it is not economical. The same business logic applies to the university, although they may be more used to supporting a diverse array of research laptops.

Given these reasons you should not be too shy to suggest that you get to keep the laptop and make it "your problem".


With UK universities, the most common rule would be that it belonged to the University. Research costs on a UKRI studentship are paid to the university to cover the costs of your research. This money to supposed to be spent on enabling you to complete your research and training, but it is the university's money, not yours. Laptops are an interesting one, because in theory, unless you have special requirements, UKRI research funds are not supposed to be used to buy ordinary computers.

Now that's what happens with UKRI. Things might be a little different for a research contract with a industrial partner, but my expectation is that the industrial partner will have a contract with the university to provide the research - once again, note that the contract is between the funder and the university, not the student.

That said, many universities have schemes that allow you to buy computing off them when you leave if they are over a certain number of years old at a nominal cost.

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