Update on collective talent funding

From January 2024 all UKRI-funded doctoral training will be delivered through two types of awards as part of a new Doctoral Investment Framework.

UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) councils have a strong record of collaborating to support people.

However, we also offer a complex picture of the funding we offer, how to access it, and what we expect from those we fund.

As part of our transition to collective talent funding, announced in May 2022, we are working through our Collective Talent Funding programme to simplify and harmonise our talent focused investments.

This aims to:

  • make our talent funding easier to understand and manage
  • reduce bureaucracy
  • increase efficiency

This will enable us to deliver better against the UKRI strategy:

  • ensuring people in the research and innovation community, and UKRI, can make the best use of their time and resources
  • improving the support available to people and teams in disciplinary and interdisciplinary areas
  • improving the flow of people across disciplines and sectors in research and innovation

We started the programme by focusing on our doctoral funding and are ready to launch a Doctoral Investment Framework as a key part of our transition to clearer and collective funding.

Further work will be required to continue to evolve our new framework and collective talent funding more generally and more information on those next steps is provided below.

Read more about the programme in our blog: how UKRI will transition to collective talent funding.

A core offer

At the heart of our Doctoral Investment Framework is a core offer.

This will apply to all UKRI-funded students regardless of the council, award type, or funding exercise through which the investment was made.

We are developing and implementing our core offer in stages.

We will first set out a new statement of expectation outlining the key outcomes expected from all our doctoral investments early in the new year.

The statement of expectations will also cover the support and training experiences that all UKRI-funded students should be able to access.

These expectations will apply to all funding opportunities launched from January 2024, with the current statement of expectation retained for existing students and training grants and funding opportunities already open.

Harmonising and simplifying

We currently have nine different schemes, with associated funding rules, through which we support doctoral training.

Through our new investment framework we are framing our doctoral support around two types of awards.

This will ensure that we can create more consistency in the assessment and management of awards and across councils and individual funding opportunities.

Within the two types of doctoral awards there will be space to support innovative training approaches and strategic needs.

From January 2024, the two award types will replace the nine schemes we currently support, enabling us to retain their key features, building on our existing strengths and commonalities.

The new framework will not be retrospectively applied.

The award types may not represent a significant change for some communities and there will be similarities between the two award types and the awards already supported through our existing schemes.

An example of this will be found in similarities between Landscape Awards and Doctoral Training Partnerships and also between Focal Awards and Centres for Doctoral Training.

The new award types encapsulate more than one existing scheme, so we have deliberately not kept any existing names, which will help us support a shared understanding of UKRI’s doctoral offer.

Doctoral landscape awards

This type of UKRI doctoral investment will support the UK’s overall doctoral capability and capacity needs.

Key features include:

  • broad, flexible funding
  • overall awards and studentships shaped to fit the needs of the relevant disciplines or sectors
  • studentships tailored to meet the needs of the individual project, student, and supervisors or supervisors and project partners

Doctoral focal awards

This type of investment will provide support for areas that require a concentration of studentships in combination with a highly tailored training programme.

Key features include:

  • funding for research training in specific, tightly focused themes or challenges
  • training programmes still supporting some tailoring of opportunities to individual needs

Common features

The two types of awards available will complement the diversity of funding available to organisations to support postgraduate research, such as from research organisations and other funders, including quality-related funding.

Both types of investment will be capable of supporting collaborative, cohort, and interdisciplinary research training, helping to support a breadth of knowledge, peer support, career development, and routes for impact.

Both award types will ensure the development of talented people and a vibrant, diverse and internationally attractive research and innovation system.

The exact nature of training opportunities available to individual students will depend on UKRI’s objectives for particular doctoral investments and the needs of individual students, supervisors, projects, and other partners.

Individual funding opportunities

Under the new framework UKRI councils will retain the ability to launch funding opportunities and we expect to see more joint or UKRI-wide funding opportunities over time.

While all new doctoral funding will be issued under the new framework, council commitment plans vary.

Some are in a position to launch funding opportunities immediately while others will see their first use of the framework come later.

We will continue to support funding opportunities using competitions and allocations (formula-based approaches), with councils deciding what is most appropriate according to their strategic need.

As we adjust to using the new doctoral framework, there will be some initial differences in how the councils use the two award types which we expect we will be able to harmonise over time.

While we are simplifying our award types, we want to retain some flexibility at the funding opportunity level to enable us to tailor investments to meet strategic needs.

Those leading individual funding opportunities will be able to decide if some aspects will be allowed or expected, such as cohort training, and any specific eligibility requirements.

What this means

Applicants to and recipients of new awards will see the changes integrated into the assessment and assurance processes used to consider applications and manage investments.

Current expectations will be retained for existing awards and grant holders and their partners can continue to use the agreed branding

However, future communications will reflect how their grants fit within the new framework.

Students will still not apply to UKRI for doctoral funding, continuing to access studentships through the recruitment processes of the organisations who hold UKRI doctoral investments.

As this work will simplify funding for universities, reducing the number of different schemes supporting doctoral study, it will, in future, make it easier to provide a consistent level of support to doctoral students.

Other work may have a more direct impact for current students, as set out in our response to the new deal on postgraduate research call for input.

As we are moving away from a focus on schemes, we expect that investments currently supported through specific collaborative schemes will fit within the new framework.

We will provide more detail on this in the new year.

Collective talent budget

Our ongoing Collective Talent Funding programme continues to take a wide view of the types of talent-focused investment needed to support councils in addressing UKRI and council strategies.

The programme does not determine how councils will use the infrastructure or the level of investment that they will commit through it.

As we plan for the next spending review, the future size and use of UKRI’s collective talent funding budget will remain a collaborative effort with a collective decision from the councils.

Each council will retain its ability to balance the level of investments in talent or research for their disciplines.

The councils will work together to also determine the level of support for collective investment in areas that need interdisciplinary capacity.

Providing consistent talent offers

Professor Ottoline Leyser, UKRI Chief Executive, said:

Our new framework for investment in doctoral training shows significant progress in our journey towards collective talent funding.

It will strengthen our ability to provide consistent talent offers that are still responsive to the needs of individuals and disciplines, while continuing to support interdisciplinary research and skills development.

It will also help strengthen the crucial link between career diversity and excellent research and innovation, better enabling people to follow their ideas across disciplines and sectors.

This work is a testament to the huge collaborative effort underway between UKRI’s councils and the research community on this and the wider and ongoing Collective Talent Funding Programme, about which you will hear more in the coming months.

Next steps

Stage one of our core offer will be complete in the new year, with our new statement of expectation published following final student engagement to ensure the language is fully accessible.

Stage two of our core offer will form part of our planning for the next spending review, focusing on providing greater parity of support for research and wider professional training, while still recognising the wider variation in discipline-related costs.

Through both stages, we are working to ensure that we can address the commitments we have made in our response to the new deal for postgraduate research call for input.

Through the Collective Talent Funding programme more broadly we are starting to consider our approaches to supporting fellowships and expect to provide updates on that area of work later next year.

We will continue to work through the UKRI councils to help individual communities understand how the changes impact them and there will be opportunities to engage with us over the coming months.

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