Stipends for PhD students are typically less than two-fifths of the median starting salary for a graduate, according to figures from the research councils and the Association of Graduate Recruiters.
Many students are distracted from their work by the need to earn cash to supplement their income. Although universities can help by paying students to demonstrate and teach, this relationship is an exploitative one, says one student who warns: "PhDs are fast becoming a plaything for the rich."
Funding for a PhD normally ends after three years but many PhD students take four years to write up their work.
This means that from October, many of the students who started in 1995 will either end up claiming benefits while completing their PhD or trying to write up while holding down a full-time job.
The research councils are now aiming to ensure that at least 70 per cent of PhD students submit their theses within four years of starting them and 85 per cent within five years.