Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Centre for doctoral training in sustainable UK marine management

Apply for funding to deliver a new centre for doctoral training (CDT) in sustainable management of UK marine resources.

You can apply if you are employed by an organisation eligible for NERC funding.

Organisations that are not eligible for funding may act as collaborative partners.

The CDT funded through this call will train a cohort of students with the skills and transdisciplinary approaches to support decision-making in the management of UK marine resources.

NERC funding is available to support 24 notional studentships across three annual intakes.

Who can apply

This opportunity is open to applicants based at organisations eligible for NERC research grant funding. This includes:

  • UK higher education institutions (HEIs)
  • approved research institutes
  • independent research organisations (IROs)
  • public sector research establishments (PSREs).

Find full details of:

Organisations that are not eligible for NERC research grant funding may act as collaborative partners. Information regarding the nature of this collaboration must be included within the proposal.

PSREs wishing to be involved in an application are required to choose whether they wish to do so either as a hosting partner or a CASE (formerly known as ‘collaborative awards in science and engineering’) partner.

An organisation cannot perform both roles within one application. Marine Scotland Science is a PSRE and, as NERC’s partner for this funding opportunity, will be acting as a programme-level CASE partner.

Learn about CASE studentships.

Each CDT must include an accredited higher education PhD awarding body.

Hosting partners

These are organisations that:

  • are eligible for NERC funding
  • will provide the principal base (host) for students during the tenure of the award.

The proposal should identify one of the hosting partners as the administrative lead partner (the administrative lead does not have to be a higher education PhD award-making body).

Identification of the administrative lead should not be interpreted as recognition of a dominant partner which will host the majority of studentships.

Collaborative partners

These are organisations that are one of the following:

  • not eligible for NERC funding
  • eligible for NERC funding but will not provide the principal base (host) for students during the award.

Collaborative partners provide additional benefits to the students’ experience, such as:

  • real-world experience
  • training
  • equipment
  • facilities
  • understanding
  • opportunity.

What we're looking for

CDT priority area scope

NERC is seeking to invest in a centre for doctoral training (CDT) in sustainable management of UK marine resources. There is NERC funding for a notional eight studentships a year (with three years of new student intake that’s 24 studentships in total), in partnership with government partners:

  • Defra
  • Marine Scotland Science
  • Welsh Government.

An expectation is that this funding will be used to leverage additional investment (either cash or in-kind support) from further multiple stakeholders.

You can read more about the background to this funding opportunity in ‘additional information’.

Training remit

Training provided by the CDT should be:

With the need for this CDT to contribute towards building a strong community of UK marine transdisciplinary researchers, training should also be at the interface between environmental sciences and other disciplines (particularly, economics and social sciences), where the solutions to many major marine research and innovation challenges exist.

Training delivered by this CDT must align with the areas specifically outlined in this call but may build on existing training infrastructure where applicable, and engagement with other relevant research council CDTs and Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTPs) and their end-user networks is strongly encouraged.

The CDT will focus training on further developing, and strengthening, nascent transdisciplinary approaches to support decision-making in the management of UK marine resources, including methodologies in natural capital accounting, social and behavioural science, and economic approaches.

Training will help to transform understanding of how the various components of the UK marine natural capital, and the services that they underpin, are vital to the economy and to society throughout the UK.

This will enable more comprehensive evaluation of the trade-off potential under different management scenarios, which integrates robust analysis of the human, community and societal factors that can enable or counteract these.

Natural scientists need an understanding of social, behavioural and economic disciplines, including public health, their research approaches, perspectives and empirical methods, while social and behavioural scientists, economists and public health experts need an understanding of marine ecology and ecosystems and the different empirical and modelling approaches of natural scientists.

Given this, the skills training that students from different disciplines would benefit from include a combination of these example areas:

  • natural capital and ecosystem services
  • valuation
  • public and stakeholder engagement, including interviewing without bias
  • societal change dynamics such as media influence and principles of behaviour and community change
  • statistical analysis focused on social and economic science such as survey analysis and econometrics
  • macro and micro economics (including economic modelling)
  • value chain analysis
  • marine biodiversity, ecology and ecosystems (coast to deep sea)
  • marine biogeochemistry
  • ecosystem modelling
  • anthropogenic impacts on marine ecosystems, including climate change
  • blue economy
  • governance and policy
  • public health
  • green and blue financing
  • monitoring and evaluation.

Proposals must outline a coherent training programme through which students will both undertake individual research projects and receive cohort-level training, in cross-cutting skills relevant to the areas above.

Individual student research projects need to be transdisciplinary with a focus that is at least 50% NERC remit, and through the wider training programme, all students must be exposed to a transdisciplinary training experience.

In this way students will be exposed to techniques, perspectives and context from other relevant disciplines.

The training programme should focus work on challenges facing the UK marine environment, working closely with the UK-wide stakeholders – particularly NERC’s partners at the programme level (Defra, Marine Scotland Science and Welsh Government) with whom early post-award engagement to co-develop the focus of the work of their funded CASE studentships is expected.

The training programme should also seek to take advantage of opportunities to build upon, and collaborate with, the aligned sustainable management of UK marine resources (SMMR) research programme.

As such, post-award the CDT will be expected to engage with the SMMR programme so that it can take advantage of these opportunities, and so applicants should not engage with the SMMR programme during the development of proposals.

Other training requirements

In addition to the research training remit identified above, there are a number of transferable professional, technical and personal development training requirements that must be delivered by the CDT funded through this call.

Access for all CDT students to placements, internships or other relevant work experience opportunities (this includes UKRI Policy Internships).

This does not mean that all students must complete a placement, but that these opportunities must be available to all, and training programmes should be designed with the flexibility to enable students to undertake such work experience opportunities if they wish to do so.

Explicit careers training and continuous professional development relevant to both academic and non-academic career trajectories. Careers training must take place suitably early in students’ training to enable it to inform their choice of training opportunities.

Strong end-user involvement with all levels of CDT training.

Dedicated professional skills, and innovation or translation training available to all CDT students.

Access for all students to appropriate data skills training.

Opportunities to network across DTP, CDT and research council cohorts and gain multidisciplinary perspectives.

Training need analysis (TNA) or equivalent for all students at the outset of training, and the opportunity to discuss individual training requirements throughout their PhD.

Discussion of training needs and available opportunities should take place in discussion with end-users as appropriate and be placed within the context of potential future careers.

Clear guidance and training on mental health awareness as part of CDT induction process for staff and students outlining how to access support for mental health issues encountered during the PhD.

It is important to show how this will be implemented and managed by the CDT across hosting partner institutions.

Call requirements

Research capacity

Applicants must provide evidence within their proposals that they offer sufficient high-quality research capacity to deliver training in the areas specified in the remit of the priority area.

The focus of the CDT should be research and training that is focused on the UK marine environment. To ensure broad geographic coverage and relevance, applicants should demonstrate through their academic and non-academic partnerships an ability to undertake work across the UK.

While research capacity is an important aspect of a successful CDT, the assessment process will balance this against the full assessment criteria for the call.

Collaboration with end-users and non-HEI partners

Collaboration with a variety of partners is vital for delivery of excellent multidisciplinary training and for framing research questions to ensure production of research outputs with real-world applications of direct relevance and use to the environmental science community as a whole.

Collaboration with end-users and other non-HEI partners must therefore form a significant part of the CDT’s training programme, at both the design and delivery stage, and successful proposals will demonstrate clearly how students will benefit from engagement with multiple types of organisations, on both an individual and a cohort level, via a variety of mechanisms.

In outlining their approach to engaging with stakeholders, proposals must evidence a track record of collaborative working and describe a coherent strategy for engaging with multiple stakeholders.

An expectation of the CDT is that NERC funding will be used to leverage additional investment (either cash or in-kind support) from multiple stakeholders, in addition to that provided by NERC’s partners at the programme level (Defra, Marine Scotland Science and Welsh Government).

Applicants must ensure that they build close collaboration with NERC’s partners at the programme level (Defra, Marine Scotland Science and Welsh Government) through their funding of CASE studentships.

In addition, applicants should look to ensure that a number of additional studentships offered by the CDT are also CASE and ‘collaborative’ studentships, and applicants must embed collaboration with end-users through mechanisms in addition to CASE (for example placements, training courses or site visits) within their wider training programme.

Applicants must demonstrate clearly within their proposals how this will be achieved.

CASE studentships

The CDT must ensure that a number of the studentships are delivered as formal CASE studentships with a broad range of eligible partners that are in addition to those committed by the programme-level partners.

It is important that these requirements are adhered to, and compliance will therefore be monitored via reporting processes. Applicants must demonstrate in their proposals the mechanisms they will use to ensure the CASE conversion requirement is met.

CASE studentships must be delivered in collaboration with non-academic partners from industry, business, public and the third or civil sectors. Organisations eligible to receive NERC research funding will not be eligible to act as a CASE partner. This includes research institutes and independent research organisations (IROs).

Check eligible research institutes and independent research organisations (IROs).

As an exception to the above, public sector research establishments (PSREs) are eligible to act as CASE partners for NERC studentships. As already noted, PSREs wishing to be involved in an application are required to choose whether they wish to do so as either a hosting partner or a CASE partner.

NERC has developed this funding opportunity in close collaboration with NERC’s partners at the programme level (Defra, Marine Scotland Science and Welsh Government) who have committed to acting as CASE partners with the CDT that is funded through this call.

They anticipate that they will provide up to £200,000 of CASE partner funding, which for planning purposes is likely to equate to support and funding contributions towards around 15 CASE studentships.

Following the announcement of the award, NERC will facilitate links between the successful applicants and these partner organisations.

These organisations are partnering with NERC at the programme level and so applicants are not required to engage with them at the application stage and should not seek individual letters of support.

In addition to the CASE partners listed, applicants are strongly encouraged to pursue further collaborations with a broad range of other eligible organisations.

Collaborative (non-CASE) studentships

In addition to CASE studentships, any number of CDT studentships may be ‘collaborative’ (in other words have no formal partnership requirements or project partners not eligible to be CASE partners).

These collaborative studentships will also be monitored and recorded through reporting processes and will be formally recognised by NERC as a success metric as part of its ongoing monitoring of CDT performance. Proposals must describe how such collaborative relationships will be developed and maintained, and the benefits they will provide to students’ training.


The CDT must have strong leadership and management. It should have both a lead operational manager and steering committee or management board.

The steering committee or management board should be comprised of all hosting CDT partners and must also have representation from relevant end-user organisations, including NERC’s partners at the programme level.

It will have overall responsibility for the effective governance of the CDT and its relationship with NERC and provide a strategic needs framework to aid the prioritisation and development of PhD projects.

The CDT must demonstrate that robust and transparent governance arrangements will be in place from the outset of the CDT, which may include the development of formal partnership agreements, communication plans and systems for monitoring the CDT’s overall progress and success.

NERC strongly encourages applicants to incorporate CDT students into the management and running of activities within the CDT. Where appropriate, formal partnership agreements must be in place ahead of the start of the first student cohort.

The CDT must also commit adequate support for appropriate administrative resource, and proposals must be explicit about how administrative structures will be managed and funded.

Equality, diversity and inclusion

In line with UKRI’s commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI), NERC must ensure that it supports the most talented students whatever their background and regardless of where and when they undertook their first degree.

To ensure that this happens, we require:

  • EDI principles to be embedded at all levels and in all aspects of research and training practice in the CDT
  • selection processes to be open and transparent, and enable the potential of the candidate to be assessed whether they are applying on a full- or part-time basis, whether they have prior research training or not, and regardless of their demographic
  • all studentships to be available on a full or part-time basis and the availability of part-time awards to be clearly set out when advertising funding opportunities
  • opportunities for NERC-funded studentships to be actively publicised both within and beyond the host research organisations
  • support to be made available to all students and supervisors to protect their physical and mental health and wellbeing – there must be clarity across hosting partners on the steps to be taken by a student to access appropriate support
  • careers training and continuous professional development that emphasises the full range of potential career pathways open to students of the CDT.

NERC expects applicants to think imaginatively and demonstrate in their proposals their strategy for EDI to enable wide participation and promote postgraduate research to a diverse base of talented graduate students. In particular, consideration should be given to training programme flexibility and the ability to address individual students’ needs.

The successful CDT’s strategies and commitments in this area will be reviewed regularly as part of NERC’s reporting and monitoring programme and NERC will seek to collect information on characteristics of the student population accordingly from the successful CDT.

Read about UKRI’s work on equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI).


NERC will award eight notional studentships a year for three years.

A notional studentship consists of sufficient funds to meet the annual research council minimum stipend and fee levels, plus additional research and management costs as outlined below, for four full years of PhD study.

It is expected that individual students will undertake training over a variety of timeframes (between three and four years as appropriate, depending on the discipline, project and the student’s experience and knowledge).

The indicative funding per notional studentship is provided below. The student stipend and fees are indicative estimates only, based on the 2021 to 2022 research council minima multiplied by four, and excluding London allowance (at the time of award, stipend and fees will be indexed to accommodate rises in the minimum stipend and fees levels over the lifetime of the award).

The research training support grant (RTSG) and management costs are fixed:

Student stipend £62,436
Fees £18,000
Research training support grant £11,000
Management costs £1,500
Total £92,936

CDTs will have flexibility in how they use the funding awarded (subject to the normal UKRI terms and conditions of training grants), as long as the minimum numbers of students are supported each year (the minimum being the number of notional studentships allocated by NERC).

Read about meeting UKRI terms and conditions for funding.

Given the flexibility in use of funding, it will be possible for CDT to use the training grant to support more than the minimum number of students each year.

This could be achieved by having students undertake training over a variety of timeframes and by co-funding students from other sources. Students must be funded at least 50% by a NERC training grant to be classed as a NERC student.

It is strongly recommended that, wherever possible, co-funding from non-research council sources is used to part-fund NERC students (rather than wholly fund individual students) so that all CDT students have equal access to the opportunities available to research council-funded students and can be registered on Je-S for reporting purposes.

In situations where it is not possible to part-fund students, the CDT must ensure suitable measures are in place to ensure those students’ training experiences are comparable to NERC students’, and all relevant data are provided to NERC outside Je-S.

Implementation and delivery

The CDT award will provide funding for three years of new student intake. This is six years of funding in total, from the start of academic year 2022 to 2023.

Legacy and impact

CDTs are supported with the intention of developing a legacy of training excellence from a directed NERC investment. Proposals must demonstrate consideration of the legacy and impacts of the CDT beyond the lifetime of NERC investment.

Data management

It is NERC policy to increase the visibility and awareness of environmental data and to improve their management as a resource.

The CDT funded through this call should therefore ensure that relevant NERC Environmental Data Centres are aware of significant datasets generated, or to be compiled, under the award so that their long-term stewardship can be planned.

Read about NERC environmental data centres.

NERC facilities

Funding for NERC services and facilities cannot be requested as part of a training grant proposal. Students wishing to use NERC services and facilities must fund the costs of doing so using RTSG funds or gain access to facilities through other routes.

Anyone wishing to use a NERC service or facility must contact the facility to seek agreement that they can provide the service required.

Read about NERC’s facilities, ships, aircraft and stations.

Reporting requirements and monitoring

There will be mandatory annual reporting requirements for the CDT, in addition to the standard studentships information captured through the Je-S studentship details functionality.

This information will be used by NERC to report on the success of our training investments to government and other partners.

Information provided will also be used to provide assurance that the CDT is being managed appropriately and is progressing in accordance with its original funding proposal, the NERC training strategy, and the aims and expectations outlined in this funding opportunity.

This additional reporting will take the form of an annual return.

Indicative reporting headings include:

  • information regarding student recruitment (including demographics of unsuccessful applicants)
  • information regarding the CDT student population, including those funded by alternative sources to the CDT award
  • CASE studentships and other collaborative partner engagement
  • information regarding partners’ in-kind investment and co-funding
  • cohort-level training activities
  • cross-CDT and DTP training activities
  • CDT-level success stories and impacts (individual student research outputs will be captured through Researchfish).

In addition to annual reports, NERC will conduct regular institutional visits to the CDT. The CDT will also be expected to respond to other reporting requirements when requested.

How to apply

Notification of intent

A notification of intent to submit a full application must be submitted by 30 June 2021 16:00.

Tell us the organisations that are expected to be involved as hosting and collaborative partners, and include a title and abstract of your planned work. The abstract will not be assessed, but NERC will use the information to plan the proposal assessment.

Full Je-S proposals submitted without a prior notification of intent will be rejected.

Full proposals

Closing date: 4 August 2021, 16:00

You must apply using the Joint Electronic Submission system (Je-S). When applying select:

  • council: NERC
  • document type: studentship proposal
  • scheme: doctoral training
  • call: CDT August 2021

The CDT call will close on Je-S at 16:00 on 4 August 2021 and it will not be possible to submit to the call after this time.

Applicants should leave enough time for their proposal to pass through their organisation’s Je-S submission route before this date. Any proposal that is incomplete, or does not meet NERC’s eligibility criteria, will be office rejected and will not be considered.

All proposals must use the application and case for support form, which is available to download from the supporting documents section below.

The case for support section of the form must not exceed 14 pages of A4 in single-spaced typescript of minimum font size 11 point (Arial or other sans serif typeface of equivalent size to Arial 11), with margins of at least 2cm.

Please note that Arial narrow, Calibri and Times New Roman are not allowable font types and any proposal which has used either of these font types within their submission will be rejected.

References and footnotes should also be at least 11 point font and should be in the same font type as the rest of the document. Headers and footers should not be used for references or information relating to the scientific case. Applicants referring to websites should note that referees may choose not to use them.

Please note that on submission to council all non PDF documents are converted to PDF. The use of non-standard fonts may result in errors or font conversion, which could affect the overall length of the document.

Additionally where non-standard fonts are present, and even if the converted PDF document may look unaffected in the Je-S system, when it is imported into the Research Councils Grants System some information may be removed.

We therefore recommend that where a document contains any non-standard fonts (scientific notation, diagrams and so on), the document should be converted to PDF prior to attaching it to the proposal.

Applicants will need to provide details under the following headings:

  • research excellence
  • training excellence
  • multidisciplinary training environment
  • partnership operational management.

Applicants must provide evidence of any financial or in-kind commitment agreed by partners (this does not include NERC’s partners at the programme level). This may take the form of a statement in the case for support or a signed letter of support (up to 2 sides of A4 per organisation).

Only letters of support outlining agreed commitments (financial or in-kind) to the CDT will be accepted – no other attachments will be accepted.

A single proposal should be submitted by the administrative lead partner.

How we will assess your application

Proposals will be assessed by an assessment panel, consisting of independent experts in postgraduate training provision and the research areas of the call.

Proposals will be assessed against the following equally weighted criteria:

  • research excellence
  • training excellence
  • multidisciplinary training environment
  • partnership operational management.

The full assessment criteria and scoring definitions to be used by the assessment panel are available to download from the supporting documents section below.

The assessment process includes an applicant presentation and interview with the assessment panel. NERC will try to provide early notice of an invitation to attend, but applicants should note that the assessment panel meeting is currently planned for the week commencing 27 September 2021.

Following the panel meeting, feedback for all proposals will be provided.

Contact details

For further information about this funding opportunity please contact the NERC talent and skills team:

Additional info

About this funding opportunity

There is growing reliance on the seas for resources. It is estimated that the UK marine economy is worth about £47 billion gross value added per annum, with strong growth predicted in sectors such as offshore renewables and aquaculture.

At the same time, the UK marine environment is under increasing pressure from stressors such as warming, acidification, overfishing and pollution. Furthermore, UK coastal environments are at increasing risk from sea-level rise and severe weather events, and a reduction in the natural protection afforded by, for example, beaches and seagrass beds.

This is a transformative period for the UK marine landscape, with opportunities and challenges arising from changing international governance, the drive to increase economic activity, and changing climate. Healthy oceans and seas promote economic, social and environmental prosperity, and support coastal communities, jobs, livelihoods, health and wellbeing, and food security.

To fully capitalise on these opportunities, it is necessary to develop transparent and public accounting of the benefits, goods and services that the seas around the UK provide. It is also necessary to understand the dynamics and impact of potential adaptations and interventions in response to the opportunities and challenges outlined above.

Critically, this requires a step-change in the capability of the UK’s transdisciplinary marine community and in collaborative working to break down barriers between academic disciplines, and between science and policy.

The recently funded sustainable management of UK marine resources (SMMR) programme will make a significant contribution towards these step-changes.

Read about the sustainable management of UK marine resources programme.

It is however acknowledged by the SMMR’s partners (NERC, ESRC, Defra and Marine Scotland) that over the next decade there will need to be a pipeline of transdisciplinary training and research activities delivered in partnership if the UK is to realise the required step-changes and make strong headway in tackling the transdisciplinary research challenges that face the UK marine environment.

Likewise, this CDT will contribute significantly towards this need through the training of a new cohort of forward-looking marine transdisciplinary researchers and, ultimately, building a stronger community of UK marine transdisciplinary researchers.

Importantly, it will also break down barriers between science and policy via close working with NERC’s partners of this CDT (Defra, Marine Scotland Science and Welsh Government), and other non-academic partnerships, for example:

  • other policy makers
  • government agencies
  • industry.

This will ensure that acquired knowledge is applied to deliver ‘real world’ systemic solutions based on the strongest evidence.

The CDT should also look to take advantage of the opportunity to build on the understanding of the strong UK community of non-marine academics that have been working on terrestrial systems and transfer some of the understanding, innovation, skills and techniques over to marine systems.

NERC has developed this funding opportunity in collaboration with Defra, Marine Scotland Science and Welsh Government, who all share the vision for a new CDT in this priority area. These organisations are partnering with NERC at the programme level and are committed to work closely to co-develop and co-supervise CASE studentship projects with the CDT funded through this call.

Background to NERC CDTs

NERC is developing a portfolio of CDTs to complement the Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTP) scheme.

CDTs support strategically targeted, directed PhD studentships aimed at addressing specific research and skills gaps identified by NERC, our partners and the wider community. CDTs are supported with the intention of developing a legacy of training excellence from an initial, directed NERC investment.

Supporting documents

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