I'm in a very strange situation. I have been accepted to a PhD program in the UK which was supposed to be financed by an external company (this was arranged by the advisor). I've already accepted and met my conditional offer and stipend but the external company withdrew their support and I (implicitly) understand from my advisor that without funding he will not be able to take me on.

From what I understand the accepted offer and stipend are considered contractually binding and that the lack of finding is not "my problem" anymore. Is that so? and if so, can I and should I really insist that my advisor take me on regardless of finding new funding sources?


  • I have discussed this with him already; he is actively looking for positions for me elsewhere.
  • My contract does not say anything like "contingent on availability of funds."

Edit: My goal was never to litigate the matter or get some compensation out of it but to find a way to do the PhD program. As many said in the comments it is not realistic to force such a relationship even if "i am in the right". He is already doing his best to find a solution and I will work with him to that end. I guess that if it fails I will simply move on.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation (mostly answers in comments) has been moved to chat. Please read this FAQ before posting another comment.
    – cag51
    Commented Sep 11, 2020 at 3:36

3 Answers 3


Your offer is made by the University, not your advisor. Someone in admissions probably messed it up, but fwiw this is neither your, nor your advisor's problem. As soon as University gave you an offer, and you met the conditions, it's legally binding.

Many other answers are written under assumption that PhD is an employment and hence "probationary period" or "redundancy" can be applied. This is not correct. In the UK, PhD is considered "training", not employment. The University's offer for you is their promise to provide you with a particular service. Even if the industry partner goes bust (which is not impossible), the University is still under obligation to fulfil their side of the deal. If the University absolutely can not serve you (e.g. the only qualified professor has just left, the lab building collapsed, their license is revoken), they must find another suitable program for you and pay your tuition fees and relocation.

These obligations are not merely ethical, but can be and often are enforced. The relevant regulator in the UK is the Office for Students. Obviously, I am not a lawyer, so I can't give you any legally reliable advice. But I believe you are right and OfS will be able to support you if the University disagrees with your arguments in this case.

  • I think this is the right answer. From the university's perspective, the simplest solution is for the OP to agree to quietly disappear. A starting point of "sorry, there's no money, kthxbye" is intended to encourage this. Pushing back some may be effective in getting attention from people high enough up to have spare money. I do not think going as far as actually suing the university is likely to be worth the cost in time, money and goodwill, but making noises about doing so may help generate some progress.
    – avid
    Commented Sep 10, 2020 at 22:11
  • 1
    This is probably good advice. But it would be wise to consider the possibility that there is more to the story. Perhaps Admissions verified that there was a funding contract between the university and the company, but the advisor deliberately did something that caused the contract with the company to be terminated. In this case enforcing the PhD student's contract would very likely would be the advisor's problem because administration would be mad at the advisor. Commented Sep 11, 2020 at 0:29
  • 1
    @AnonymousPhysicist For each grant, including PhD external funding, Unis in the UK charge their share, called "overheads". The overheads can be as large as half of all funding. These money are researcher's contribution to infrastructure, including labs, toilets, cleaners and - importantly - lawyers. Unis charge researchers to pay professional staff to ensure contracts with funders are rock-solid. Probably, someone in Finance approved the post before money were secured (this should not have happened), because they lacked some important piece of training. Uni should only blame itself for it. Commented Sep 11, 2020 at 8:13

It's one of my nightmares as PI for this to happen. I would try to work with the professor to find a solution. Another professor might have an opening or the school might have some funded PhD positions.

You don't want to go into a PhD position by force. The relationship will be toxic from the beginning. Concerning the contract, I would be very surprised if the university doesn't have an exit clause or a loophole. Universities usually have a big legal department and good experience in building loopholes. It could be something in terms "Position was to work with company X. Since the project didn't go through, the position is redundant". I've heard some pretty creative loopholes over the years.

  • 1
    The PhD is not considered work in the UK, hence a PhD post can't be declared redundant. Students have actually somewhat better protection than staff in the UK (unlike US and some other countries). The relations between Unis and students are heavily regulated and Unis can be fined severely for trying to trick their students in legal matters (not that it does not happen though). Commented Sep 10, 2020 at 16:58

Talk to a lawyer.

This is a dispute regarding a broken contract, which is a legal matter that nobody here is capable of answering - even if someone here was a lawyer, they wouldn't be able to give you legal advice without taking you on a client due to legal ethics. However, a lawyer specializing in UK employment law should be able to advise you on the possible courses of action.

Note that I’m not counselling you to sue, but merely to speak to a lawyer, since they would be able to tell you what your options are.

  • 1
    But Academia is a small world, and this might break bridges... Commented Sep 10, 2020 at 5:26
  • 3
    Not just that academia is a small world, but you are unlikely to have a productive PhD if your supervisor really doesn't want you to be there. Commented Sep 10, 2020 at 11:47
  • 5
    @IanSudbery Although I argued differently above, as advocatus diaboli, it should be clarified that it may be that the supervisor is still happy to supervise if the student merely sues the uni. Just to distinguish the possibilities. Commented Sep 10, 2020 at 11:50
  • 1
    Talking to a lawyer here is a really, really bad idea.
    – Arno
    Commented Sep 10, 2020 at 13:25
  • 3
    @TheoreticalMinimum A lawsuit is a headache for everyone. Even if they ultimately sympathize with the student, the department head is going to catch flack for it from the dean and that's all going to trickle down to the professor who they will see as responsible for the whole mess. If the suit is successful, someone will still have to find the money in a pile someplace, probably from a pile that was intended to go to somewhere else, so they also have to deal with the people affected by that.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Sep 10, 2020 at 14:10

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .