£50,000 is an interesting sum for UK academics – it’s just about enough for a PhD studentship funded at RCUK rates and some consumables (potential issue with fees but not a major one). It’s probably about enough for a 1-year postdoctoral researcher or 18 months of a graduate research assistant. It might well be sufficient for teaching buy-out for a year’s sabbatical and expenses. It could also be a large number of summer studentships, all or part of a shiny bit of kit, or a means of accessing facilities at another institution.
So what would I do? A postdoc or research assistant would be more use to me really than a PhD studentship. A 12-18 month position to get some initial data on a couple of projects that would allow for initial publications and future funding applications. I’d shy away from a PhD studentship because despite the longer term benefits of training someone, I’d rather focus on the research. I have a few project ideas brewing and it would be really nice to get a dedicated person to tackle them rather than the piecemeal effort I make, balancing everything else.