In line with the preceding outline stage of this funding opportunity applications must:
- be centred within EPSRC’s research and training remit, but interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary CDTs extending more widely across the breadth of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) are welcome
- support at least 50 students across five cohorts over the duration of the funding period
- Include non-UKRI cash contributions at least equivalent to 20% of studentships costs.
These conditions were assessed at the outline stage, but due to the limited information that could be provided in the outlines, we reserve the right to reject applications if these conditions are not met when we see the detail in the full proposal.
Applications are required to demonstrate the specific need for doctoral training through the CDT mechanism which includes the following key features:
- a clear requirement for doctoral level education in their area
- the need for a cohort-based training approach
- the provision of both depth and breadth in the research training proposed is necessary to address the identified skills need
Beyond the minimum requirements, we expect many CDTs to seek further significant business or other leverage, and to be developed with business or other input from users of research.
This CDT investment will address key engineering and physical sciences needs, aligned to our three discovery and four mission-inspired strategic priorities, and to regional, national and global drivers and opportunities as detailed in the EPSRC strategic delivery plan 2022 to 2025.
All applications, irrespective of focus area selected must address at least one of the seven EPSRC strategic priorities, summarised as follows. They are described in more detail in EPSRC’s strategic delivery plan.
Applications may cover more than one strategic priority, but applicants will again need to select the most appropriate strategic priority in the supplementary information form. The three priorities addressing discovery research are:
- physical and mathematical sciences powerhouse
- frontiers in engineering and technology
- digital futures
The four priorities delivering mission-inspired research are:
- engineering net zero
- artificial intelligence, digitalisation and data: driving value and security
- transforming health and healthcare
- quantum technologies
At outline stage, we stated that proposals focused on the applications and implications of novel and existing artificial intelligence (AI) technologies were out of scope, and should instead have been submitted to the UKRI Centres for Doctoral Training in artificial intelligence funding opportunity. You will already have been informed if UKRI has moved a proposal between these funding opportunities, but this restriction on scope remains for this second stage.
The doctoral education delivered by the CDTs should provide:
- the support for five student cohorts, with an average cohort size of ten doctoral students per academic year, on a four-year doctorate or equivalent, with a critical mass of supervisors (around 20 to 40) of internationally recognised research excellence with a track record of doctoral supervision
- a cohort approach to doctoral education including peer-to-peer learning both within and across cohorts. This cohort approach to education should be provided throughout the lifetime of each student’s doctoral training programme. Students may also work as a cohort to address research challenges
- a diverse and inclusive research environment to support people in achieving world class research
- opportunities for significant, challenging, and original research projects leading to the award of a doctoral-level degree in accordance with a university’s standard regulations. Students should also expect that doctoral projects are designed or planned in such a way that, barring exceptional circumstances, they are able to submit their thesis within their four-year funded period or equivalent
- Universities are free to choose the type of research doctoral qualification that is offered to students, for example PhD or EngD. Centres may choose to offer all students the same type of qualification or a mixture
- a formal, assessable programme of taught coursework, which should develop and enhance, for example, technical disciplinary and interdisciplinary knowledge, as well as broadening skills including entrepreneurship, commercialisation, responsible innovation and environmental sustainability. EPSRC has no specific guidance on what constitutes a formal assessable programme, and research organisations can design these in line with their existing policies and practices
- an opportunity for students working as a cohort to build the ability to communicate and collaborate with a wide range of stakeholders. In appropriate areas this also could include clinicians, patients and the public. Particularly in areas such as AI, digitalisation and data, health technologies, engineering net zero and quantum technologies, we expect CDTs to introduce systems thinking to develop the expertise to support consideration of the technological, economic, social and environmental aspects of future solutions
- a significant commitment to and support for the training environment by the hosts and partners including appropriate co-creation and co-delivery of the centre
- opportunities for all students to gain experience beyond their doctoral projects
- mechanisms by which students funded through other routes can benefit from the training experience offered by the centre, and for the centre to reach out to the broader research community, user community and wider public
- appropriate user or employer engagement in the research and training
- a mandatory, primarily independent advisory board, to provide external challenge on CDT strategy, stakeholder engagement and delivery
We expect that many CDT applications will address more than one of these focus areas and that is welcome, but you will need to select the most appropriate focus area to be used in the assessment process.
Applications should be submitted into one of the three focus areas detailed as follows:
- meeting a user-need or supporting civic priorities
- delivering an EPSRC research priority
- supporting an innovative approach to CDT delivery
We expect that the choice of focus area will be the same as at the outline stage. Changes will only be permitted in exceptional circumstances and with the prior agreement of EPSRC. Exceptional circumstances could include:
- specific feedback from the outline stage panel
- significant changes in project partner involvement or contributions
Meeting a user-need or supporting civic priorities
Users refers to users of research, or to people skilled in research, in business or more widely in other organisations including government and the third sector. Examples (non-exhaustive) of users:
- public sector organisations, such as public sector research establishments and government at all levels, including devolved administrations
- third sector organisations
- the public
- other key stakeholders across the research and innovation landscape
Proposals addressing a civic priority should aim to deliver benefit to the civic stakeholders in the short and long term. These benefits may include, but are not restricted to:
- local and regional economic growth, skills development, job creation or retention
- increased private investment, including foreign direct investment, in a specific place
- cluster development including through knowledge diffusion, supply chain development, small and medium-sized enterprise growth, generation and growth of spin outs
- development of research, development and innovation infrastructures
Examples (non-exhaustive) of organisations considered to have a civic role are:
- enterprise, development or skills bodies (such as local enterprise partnerships or devolved equivalents)
- local authorities, councils or combined authorities
- growth, city, and regional deals
- devolved administrations and their agencies
- regional or local industrial bodies
- local NHS trusts
Centres must be co-developed and co-delivered with non-academic partners, as well as demonstrating significant co-investment by those stakeholders. In many applications for this focus area, we expect to see significant additional cash and added value in-kind contributions in the range of 40 to 50% of the CDT cost.
However, the level of cash and in-kind contributions and model of engagement should be appropriate to, for example, research and development intensity of the sector or size of the companies or other partners involved. We expect that collaboration with small and medium-sized enterprises may need a different approach to collaboration with major international companies. Further details are in the additional support and leverage section below.
Delivering an EPSRC research priority
The EPSRC strategic delivery plan 2022 to 2025 has seven scientific strategic priorities, outlined previously. These priorities have been developed to deliver against the UKRI strategy 2022 to 2027 to support research and innovation across our remit, and address government priorities.
Supporting an innovative approach to CDT delivery
This focus area provides an opportunity to design a new cohort-based approach to doctoral education. To encourage innovative approaches, we are not providing detailed examples. However, the approach may relate to the recruitment and support for a diverse student community, the research and training environment including integration into wider training initiatives, support for a diversity of career paths and support for entry and exit to doctoral work or alternative doctoral qualifications.
Up to £324 million funding is available for this funding opportunity. Once indexation is applied to successful awards, we expect this to support approximately 40 CDTs. At the full proposal stage accurate costings are required for applications. We are not applying the standard +/- 10% change in costs rule between outline and full proposal stages. However, we do not expect to see a significant change from the level of funds requested from EPSRC at the outline stage.
Additional funding may be available from AHRC, MRC and BBSRC for successful interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary CDTs with research in their remits and aligned with their strategic delivery plans. BBSRC is especially interested in funding CDTs in engineering biology. Funding may also be available from other research councils for interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary CDTs.
The Ministry of Defence is also offering to fully support a CDT seeking transformational developments and training in interdisciplinary research that will uniquely and profoundly take forward the Defence and Security of the UK in the 25-year timeframe.
The Ministry of Defence will review the published outline proposal summaries of the invited applicants and will indicate to EPSRC which proposals are potentially within their remit. We will contact those applicants separately to ask if they wish to opt in to be considered for this funding. Note: The Ministry of Defence funding will have additional security and eligibility requirements, summarised in the additional information section.
The following information about eligible costs and the assessment process applies equally regardless of whether a CDT will be funded by EPSRC, another UKRI council or the Ministry of Defence.
EPSRC’s contribution to eligible costs will be funded at 100%. Estates and indirect costs will not be funded on these awards.
The duration of the grant should be no more than 102 months (8.5 years) or the equivalent if students are part-time, to cover a maximum of five cohorts of four-year studentships and to include initial preparation time.
Costs that may be requested from EPSRC include:
- studentship costs (fees, stipends and appropriate research training support (RTSG)) for the equivalent of 40 students over five cohorts. This can be used flexibly but must support individual students at a minimum of 50% of their studentship costs. Examples of funding models can be found in the Additional Info section of this web page. Additional support must be provided from non-UKRI sources to achieve the minimum required student numbers (50 students). RTSG covers items for individual students such as travel, consumables, and facility access where this is linked to conducting the research of the project, or specialised training such as a summer school only being attended by a student due to their project.
- tuition fees and stipends. The stipends must be at least at the minimum rates published by UKRI. We will not cover additional college fees. Fees charged to UKRI cannot be higher than the fee charged by the university for home non-funded students on similar programmes. UKRI’s standard cap on international students applies to CDTs: a maximum of 30% of the individuals funded by UKRI per cohort can be international. For further details check the international eligibility implementation guidance (PDF, 195KB)
- stipend enhancement should be justified in the context of the area of research and training and UK skills need
- centre delivery, coordination (including between a centre and other parties if justified) and management staff costs can be requested. Costs associated with student supervision may not be included. Training which forms part of the centre’s cohort training package (for example a course taken by a whole cohort or offered as a module as part of a student’s training package) would be considered a centre delivery cost
- start-up costs will only be paid for new centres. Existing centres will already have the necessary infrastructure in place and will have carried out much of the preparatory work required for a successful CDT. Existing centres are those currently running and have infrastructure in place. This includes both the 2013 and 2018 CDTs. Existing centres are only able to claim start-up costs in exceptional circumstances where the applicants can justify the costs on the grounds that they could not benefit from the infrastructure or preparatory work of the existing CDT. Please contact EPSRC for specific requests
All costs (including stipends and fees) requested in applications should be calculated at October 2023 rates with no addition made to consider inflation over the length of the funding period. We will include all allowance for this indexation at the final funding stage.
In terms of students not receiving UKRI funding:
- incorporated students are CDT students receiving non-UKRI, leveraged funds. Centre delivery costs such as core training and CDT cohort activities may be incurred in relation to incorporated students and charged to the grant
- aligned students are those with an award that is not reliant on CDT funding, but who are nonetheless benefitting from CDT activities. This could include students receiving other UKRI funding, such as a doctoral training partnership. No costs associated with aligned students may be charged to the CDT grant; however where a central cost is incurred by the CDT and there is no added cost related to the aligned students, aligned students can benefit from this.
Equipment over £10,000 in value (including VAT) is not available through this funding opportunity. At the full proposal stage, smaller items of equipment (individually under £10,000) should be in the ‘Other Costs’ heading.
Where possible researchers are expected to make use of existing facilities and equipment, including those hosted at other universities.
Additional support and leverage
You are required to lebverage a minimum 20% cash contribution towards the total studentship costs (for a cohort of 50) from non-UKRI sources. This must include the equivalent of a minimum of ten students’ fees, stipend costs and RTSG for four years.
Leverage will normally be achieved through support from the applying organisations or collaborators and project partners.
Applications will be rejected if we judge that the minimum leverage requirements have not been met. Organisations must underwrite the minimum cash support needed, over and above the funding sought from EPSRC, to ensure that CDTs support at least the minimum 50 students over their lifetime, irrespective of the proposed source.
Additional cash and appropriate in-kind leverage appropriate to the CDT is expected in many cases and is particularly important for the user need or supporting civic priorities focus area.
Leverage can be used flexibly. This could be by providing full support for some studentships annually within a ten-student cohort or spreading the funding to partially support all the students in the cohort. It may also be ramped up over time, provided the average meets at least the minimum requirement.
Reviewers and panel members will be asked to form a judgement on the contextual value of both host organisation and project partner contributions, rather than on their monetary value alone, taking into account the research area, sector, organisations, and geographic areas. Our key focus is therefore on the value in terms of why contributions will make a significant difference to the CDT.
Following is a definitive list of what constitutes an eligible cash contribution from host organisations, project partners or other collaborators.
All or part of the pro rata, gross salary cost associated with researchers employed by universities and providing a significant direct contribution to the CDT (including investigators, teaching-only staff and non-academic staff). This does not include researchers whose role is primarily student supervision. The gross salaries of staff employed by non-academic partners are also eligible as long as they are providing a significant direct contribution to the CDT, again beyond supervision.
New software licences needed for the CDT and their maintenance cost for the duration of the grant. Software licences or intellectual property (IP) owned by a non-academic partner which are already accessible by the partners will apply at marginal cost, not at market rate.
New equipment, either at the host institution or produced by a non-academic partner
To be eligible, the equipment should be dedicated to the objectives of the CDT and use should be critical to deliver the activity.
The access doesn’t have to be restricted to CDT students, but EPSRC expect at least 50% of the time to be dedicated to the CDT. All equipment should be appropriately justified.
Equipment produced by a non-academic partner should only be at the cost of manufacture, not market rate.
Access to equipment and facilities
Access to specific equipment and facilities critical to delivering the CDT. If the facility is based at an academic or non-academic partner, the contribution will be at the internal rate, not market rate.
Facilities refurbishment can be an eligible research organisation cash contribution if the upgrade will increase the capability of the facilities and provide clear direct benefit to the CDT. This contribution must be justified in addition to any estate costs already factored in.
Business or other non-academic partner cash donation
Cash donations which will be provided to the partner universities, for the universities to manage in line with the CDT objectives.
Studentship costs – top-ups or fully-funded
Any contributions to student fees, stipends or RTSG, with two exceptions:
- research organisations cannot count college fees or waiving any difference between home and international fees
- where students will continue to be employed by a project partner during their doctoral study, and their salary is significantly higher than the stipend paid to other CDT students, only the value of the stipend paid to other CDT students will count as a cash contribution. The difference between the salary and the stipend level will count as an in-kind contribution.
Training provided by a non-academic partner for CDT students, at marginal cost, not at market rate.
Any contribution not listed previously but still contributing to the CDT would count as in-kind. Examples (non-exhaustive) of added-value in-kind contributions include:
- additional training for students
- staff time, travel or subsistence for staff not directly/significantly involved in the CDT
- new equipment not directly related to the CDT, or loan or use of existing equipment or facilities
- provision of data
We encourage user co-creation and engagement across the entirety of its doctoral training portfolio.
We encourage all forms of user engagement and contributions where this is beneficial to the research and training provision. This may include models such as funding studentships, industrial placements and co-created workshops.
The appropriateness of the support offered will vary depending on both the area, sectors, and type of partner (for example, business, public sector, third sector). This should be demonstrated and will be assessed based on the added value of the engagement.
Additional plans from successful centres
All CDTs are expected to implement and promote a culture and ethos of responsible research and innovation, equality, diversity and inclusion, environmental sustainability, trusted research and support for student wellbeing. CDTs should embed this thinking to the highest standard in all they do through the design and operation of their CDT. CDTs must also provide appropriate training for their students and, where not covered already, for other centre participants.
Successful applications will be required to develop detailed plans and processes for the following essential elements to ensure these can be embedded in your CDT:
- equality, diversity and inclusion
- responsible research and innovation
- trusted research
- environmental sustainability
- student support and wellbeing
These plans will not be assessed at this stage and are not required in the case for support. Instead, to reduce the burden of proposal development and assessment and to enable CDTs to work together in collaboration rather than in competition, we will ask the CDTs selected to be funded to work together with us and experts in the field to develop detailed plans for EPSRC approval.
You are encouraged to include an estimate of costs to deliver these plans. The EPSRC CDT full proposal stage supplementary information document in the additional info section at the bottom of this web page provides more details on these areas.
Investigators and supervision
The investigators named on the Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system application form should represent the core management team of the centre. We would generally expect no more than ten investigators to be named. A strong justification will need to be provided for a larger core management team.
Any requested funding for investigator time should reflect commitments to centre delivery and should not include individual student supervision related to research projects.
Applications will need to provide evidence of a suitable pool of potential supervisors, taking into account the interdisciplinary focus of the CDT.
Supervisors not part of the core management team should not be recorded on the Je-S application form.
We also welcome CDT proposals which include elements of international engagement where they add value to the proposed centre. Support requested might include travel, subsistence and consumable costs for UK-based students undertaking training or research visits to overseas centres of excellence (including student exchange programmes) or for leading researchers to visit the UK to contribute to the students’ training experience.
Where a formal, joint training partnership is proposed, the UK component must be able to stand on its own merits. Students registered at international institutions will not count towards the minimum cohorts, nor will the additional funding count towards the minimum additional support requirements of the funding opportunity.
Applicants planning to include international collaborators on their proposal should visit the National Protective Security Agency website guidance on getting the most out of international collaboration whilst protecting intellectual property, sensitive research and personal information.
Further information on EPSRC’s work around international engagement and partnerships can be found on our international funding pages.