In May 2022, UKRI announced its transition to collective talent funding across talent initiatives. Following this, in November 2023 the UKRI Doctoral Investment Framework was launched. This frames doctoral support around two types of award – doctoral landscape awards and doctoral focal awards.
Doctoral landscape awards provide:
- broad, flexible funding to support talented doctoral students to contribute to a vibrant, internationally attractive and world-leading research and innovation system
- breadth and diversity in the research supported and to ensure that as a community we are rapidly responsive to new and emerging research ideas and areas
- opportunities for a variety of engagement with non-academic partners
With a view to better attracting, developing, and retaining talented people and teams,
and to reduce the bureaucracy involved in accessing and managing funding, BBSRC and NERC have come together to deliver this funding opportunity.
This funding opportunity replaces our Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) awards.
You have the choice of designing a programme that meets only BBSRC or only NERC disciplinary needs, or one which meets both research council needs. Such a joint award will train students in BBSRC and NERC disciplinary needs but:
- reduces bureaucracy for applicants through the opportunity to make one bid rather than two separate bids to BBSRC and NERC
- reduces bureaucracy for successful training grant holders by having one management and administration process
Therefore, your application may be made through the following routes:
- BBSRC only
- NERC only
We are looking for innovative and inclusive doctoral programmes designed to train students to undertake research and gain the core skills needed for a diversity of careers.
You will be expected to deliver leading edge, frontier research and innovation training across the remit of the associated research council.
Your application must demonstrate that the doctoral landscape training programme offers a scientifically excellent training environment and sufficient high quality research capacity to deliver training across all the areas of the proposed programme. We welcome applications describing innovative models of doctoral training with non-academic partners, including the co-creation of projects and additional training elements designed to meet the objectives of the programme.
This funding opportunity has been designed to meet the following objectives:
- deliver world-class doctoral research, training and development within dynamic and supportive research and innovation environments
- provide individual and cohort-based opportunities for students to deepen and acquire skills and experience
- prepare students to follow a diversity of career paths
- advance current understanding, generate new knowledge, and develop the breadth of expertise for future economic and societal impact
- support a diverse doctoral community, which includes addressing areas of underrepresentation (for example protected characteristics, types of professions, career stage and porosity within the research and innovation system)
- address existing and potential future skills gaps to develop a suitable breadth of researchers
- enhance collaboration and knowledge exchange within and between academia and other sectors for the benefit of the students, collaborative partners, award holders and, if applicable, and wider society
Applications must outline a coherent training programme which demonstrates how students will both undertake individual research projects and receive cohort-level training.
Training delivered by these doctoral landscape awards may build on existing infrastructure where applicable, and engagement with other relevant research council Centres for Doctoral Training and Doctoral Training Partnerships and their end-user networks is encouraged.
BBSRC and NERC doctoral landscape awards should provide PhD training in areas of research relevant to each council’s remit and priority research areas. See BBSRC’s Strategic Delivery Plan and the Forward Look for UK Bioscience report along with NERC’s remit and NERC’s Delivery Plan for more details. We encourage interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary doctoral training programmes and advise against single discipline or narrowly focused applications. Applications may additionally include training at the interface between BBSRC’s or NERC’s remit and other disciplines, where major research challenges exist.
Doctoral landscape award applications must be able to demonstrate high quality provision across the breadth of the science relevant to the research council they are associated with. There is no expectation that a single application, whether it is a single research council or a BBSRC-NERC application, will cover the whole of either research council’s remit. However, both research councils reserve the right to manage the balance of the overall studentship portfolio to ensure broad coverage of their respective remits.
Alignment with UKRI Core Offer
The UKRI Core Offer sets out the expectations for all UKRI studentships, including support and student experience, research skills and methods and professional and career development. This information has been used to define the assessment criteria for this funding opportunity; see the section ‘how we will assess your application’ for further details. All applications must clearly state how the requirements outlined within the UKRI Core Offer will be delivered as part of their application.
Funding opportunity specific training requirements
In addition to the expectations set out within the UKRI Core Offer, there are specific training requirements for this funding opportunity. These are:
- access for all students to placements, internships or other relevant work experience opportunities (including UKRI policy internships)
- for BBSRC-funded students: all students must undertake a minimum three-month placement, either through the Professional Internships for PhD students (PIPS) component or through a CASE studentship
- for NERC-funded students: not all students must complete a placement, however placement opportunities must be made available to all students, and training programmes should be designed with flexibility to enable students to undertake these opportunities if they wish
- support capacity building and development of digital and data skills in the biosciences and environmental sciences
- develop commercialisation and entrepreneurial skills across the student cohort
Your application must clearly state how the funding opportunity specific requirements will be delivered as part of your application.
Applications are encouraged to represent a consortium of academic and non-academic organisations, which might include industry, charities, and public sector organisations. There is no stipulation regarding size or geographical spread of consortia.
All partners need to demonstrate that there is significant added value from their inclusion within the partnership. This may include (but is not limited to) financial commitments to underwrite a number of studentships or CASE conversions, a commitment to provision of access to facilities, or training that cannot be otherwise provided by an eligible institution or strategic links to an important stakeholder or user.
Partnerships must show a clear and joint strategy for delivering their vision and fostering the growth and maturation of collaborations over the funding period. Successful applications should demonstrate how students will benefit from engaging with various organisations, both individually and as part of a cohort, utilising diverse mechanisms. Applications must also justify their structure, providing a clear case for the partnership’s size.
CASE studentships and collaborative studentships
CASE studentships are delivered in collaboration with non-academic partners and meet the following requirements:
- over the lifetime of the award, a minimum of 25% of the total notional studentships within the landscape award must be CASE studentships
- BBSRC and NERC will review the successful applicants’ CASE compliance throughout the lifetime of the grant via reporting processes and reserve the right to use the outcomes to adjust future studentship cohort allocations
- the CASE partner or partners must host the student for between three and eighteen months during their PhD. This placement does not need to occur in one single continuous period
- CASE partners must provide co-supervision
The CASE partners are also encouraged to make a financial contribution to the project including:
- any costs incurred by the student when visiting and working within their establishment
- the costs of necessary material
- facilities not possessed by the research organisation that are integral to the CASE studentship
CASE partner eligibility:
- organisations eligible for funding from any UKRI Council (excluding Innovate UK) cannot act as a CASE partner
- international CASE partners are eligible provided they are a non-academic organisation. The training grant holder must evidence that the CASE criteria has been met and that the placement provides an opportunity for the student to gain skills that could not be provided by a UK-based partner. The student must be fully supported by the landscape award partnership and CASE partner throughout the placement period
You must demonstrate within your application the mechanisms you will use to ensure the CASE conversion requirement is met.
As an exception to the above, public sector research establishments (PSREs) are eligible to act as a CASE partner for BBSRC and NERC studentships. 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 partner.
Further information about CASE studentships is available:
In addition to CASE studentships, any number of studentships may be ‘collaborative’ (for example, no formal partnership requirements). Partners that do not meet the requirements for CASE are considered a collaborative (non-CASE) partner. These collaborative studentships are monitored through reporting process and will be formally recognised as a success metric as part of the ongoing monitoring of the awards.
Management and governance
Partnerships will be expected to describe the governance arrangements that will enable effective decision-making and engagement with all relevant stakeholders to achieve the vision.
The applications must commit to providing sufficient support for appropriate administrative resources. Applications should explicitly outline how administrative structures will be managed and funded. Funds may be allocated for programme management including administration and placement support.
Equality, diversity and inclusion
Equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) is a core feature of this funding opportunity. In line with UKRI’s principles on EDI, we want to work with our partners to shape a dynamic, diverse, and inclusive system of research and innovation that is an integral part of society. In particular, your doctoral landscape programme should work to provide everyone involved with an opportunity to participate in, and benefit from, the award.
Applicants must demonstrate how their EDI strategy will embed the core principles of EDI at all levels and across all aspects of the doctoral programme, including:
- increasing PhD access, including recruitment
- working practices, including individualised student support
- wellbeing support, including mental health
- monitoring and evaluation, including a baseline and plans for improvement
We would expect your EDI strategy to describe how your doctoral programme is accessible to a diverse range of people and needs, and how you will be removing barriers to participation across your doctoral programme and associated processes. Your application should demonstrate how you will create and maintain a positive, inclusive, and supportive environment for all students and staff.
You should refer to equality, diversity and inclusion at UKRI, BBSRC’s equality, diversity and inclusion action plan and NERC’s diversity and inclusion action plan, with a focus on embedding and implementing the good practice principles in recruitment and training at a doctoral level. As a mandatory requirement, the EDI strategies, activities and commitments stated by successful applicants will be regularly reviewed by their respective research council, including, but not limited to, information on characteristics of current and prospective student cohorts. These data will be collected on at least a yearly basis via annual reports and we will reserve the right to access these data if and when appropriate across the lifetime of the award. See the UKRI data collection policy for more information.
Legacy and impact
Landscape awards are supported with the intention of developing a legacy of training excellence. Applications must demonstrate consideration of the legacy and impacts of the doctoral training programme beyond the lifetime of UKRI investment.
Reporting requirements and monitoring
The monitoring of progress towards the vision and objectives as well as evidencing of impact are important components of these programmes. This information will be used by BBSRC and NERC to review the success of our training investments. Information provided will also be used to provide assurance that the landscape awards are being managed appropriately and are progressing in accordance with the original funding application. This will be conducted in various ways, including:
- mandatory annual reports
- a mid-term review of progress
- hosting a regular partnership visit by UKRI staff
Successful applicants will be expected to respond to other reporting requirements when requested.
BBSRC-NERC will describe the key information required from landscape awards in annual reports. This will include diversity statistics for doctoral candidate recruitment, CASE studentships and other collaborative partner engagement, financial leveraging, training, and development activities offered, and examples of doctoral candidate achievements.
Partnerships are expected to describe their approach to monitoring and evaluation, outlining their success measures and baselines and a continuous improvement process built in within their applications.
BBSRC-NERC will oversee and engage with successful applicants to support the delivery of excellent doctoral training.
The doctoral landscape training programme will include a Flexible Fund to be split across successful applicants. BBSRC and NERC will each award £500,000 per cohort intake for the programme (for the first five consecutive years). Where joint BBSRC-NERC applications are made, funds will be allocated proportionally.
The Flexible Fund can be used to support a range of activities, including support for skills development, network building, or addressing EDI challenges (see relevant EDI sections). Some examples of how these funds can be used is provided in the Flexible Fund question section, detailed below.
The Flexible Fund will be awarded on an annual basis as an additional funding stream, and the exact proportion of this fund will be determined by the notional number of students per training programme per year.
Funding opportunity specific funding
BBSRC and NERC will invest in doctoral landscape awards via this funding opportunity. You are asked to state how many students you wish to support via this award, where payment will be on a notional studentship basis. We reserve the right to adjust these numbers to meet the requirements of the funding opportunity.
- NERC awards:
- NERC will support notional studentships between three and a half to four years in length. If the full four years of funding is sought, a placement of a minimum of three months should be included and accommodated for within this timeframe
- NERC will award 185 studentships per year across five cohorts, with a minimum of 10 and a maximum of 15 studentships p.a. per landscape award
- BBSRC awards:
- BBSRC will support notional studentships for four years in length, during which each student will also undertake a three-month Professional Internships for PhD Students (PIPS) placement
- BBSRC will award 280 students per year across five cohorts with a minimum of 10 and no set maximum of studentships p.a. per landscape award
- Joint BBSRC-NERC awards:
- will support a combination of notional studentships for BBSRC and notional studentships for NERC using the models summarised in the preceding bullets
- each application must have a minimum of 10 students per cohort. You can apply for up to 15 NERC studentships per cohort and there is no cap on the number of BBSRC studentships which can be requested
- for example, if 10 studentships are awarded in total, containing three NERC and seven BBSRC studentships, successful applicants would receive funding for three notional NERC studentships and seven notional BBSRC studentships. Requests for each type of studentship will need to be indicated as part of the application
A notional studentship consists of sufficient funds to meet the annual UKRI minimum stipend and fee levels, plus additional research, placement and management costs. Awards will be supplemented with London allowance where eligible.
The indicative funding per notional studentship for each research council is provided below. The student stipend and fees are indicative estimates only, based on the 2023 to 2024 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).
Research Training Support Grant (RTSG): £20,000
Programme Management: £2,000
Total: £ 115,336
Research Training Support Grant (RTSG): £11,000
Programme Management: £2,000
Additionally, all landscape awards will receive a flexible fund share. BBSRC and NERC will each award £500,000 per cohort intake for the programme (for the first five consecutive years). Where joint BBSRC-NERC applications are made, funds will be allocated proportionally.
The programme management header above can be used as a contribution towards placements, conferences, and administrative costs. A contribution towards operational management costs has been included within the above indicative funding calculation in recognition of the need to manage the partnership. BBSRC and NERC acknowledge that this does not reflect the full cost of landscape doctoral training programme administrative structures. In line with the requirements in the management section, adequate funds must therefore be committed by you from either flexibility within the training grant, leveraged support, or a combination of sources.
If successful you will have flexibility in how you use the funding awarded and we encourage flexibility and virement between headings, subject to the standard UKRI terms and conditions of training grants. Be aware that the minimum numbers of students will still need to be supported each year, with the minimum number of notional studentships allocated by each research council, respectively.
Given the flexibility in use of funding, it will be possible for you to use the training grant to support more than the minimum number of students each year. For example, this could be achieved by having students undertake training over a variety of timeframes and by co-funding students from other sources.
To be classed as a student of a particular research council, students must be funded at least 50% by that research council’s training grant (for example, to be classed as a BBSRC student, that student must be funded at least 50% by BBSRC). We support co-funding to be used from non-research council sources to part-fund additional doctoral landscape training programme students. The details of these students can be registered for reporting purposes.
You may use funding to leverage additional investment (either as cash or in-kind support) from multiple stakeholders, however, there is no formal requirement from either research council for match-funded studentships or cash leverage for this funding opportunity.
BBSRC: £180 Million across five cohort intakes
NERC: £108 Million across five cohort intakes
Services and facilities (NERC only)
Funding for NERC services and facilities cannot be requested as part of a training grant application. Students wishing to use NERC services and facilities must fund the costs of doing so using research training support grant (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.
Data management (NERC only)
It is NERC policy to increase the visibility and awareness of environment data and to improve their management as a resource.
The landscape awards funded through this funding opportunity 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.
For details of data centres, see the NERC Environmental Data Service.
Through our funding processes, we seek to make a positive contribution to society and the environment. This is not just through research outputs and outcomes but through the way in which research is conducted and facilities managed.
All doctoral landscape awards are to adopt responsible research practices as set out in UKRI responsible innovation.