Working in partnership
Proposals are encouraged to represent a consortia of academic organisations to optimise the breadth and depth of training available to students.
Partnerships are also encouraged to:
- include smaller institutions, with what might be discipline-specific centres of excellence
- consider the strengths of regional partners to build connections in local communities and to support them to deliver the ESRC objectives.
Proposals including what might be discipline-specific centres of excellence will be recognised through the allocation process (see the ‘number of awards and funding available’ section).
Whether an individual research organisation or a consortium, partnerships must show:
- a clear vision and strategy for how they will work to deliver their goals
- how they will grow and mature collaborations over the funding period.
- justify the partnership’s structure
- make a clear case for the size of the partnership, and the added value each partner brings to the delivery of training and to the doctoral candidate experience.
ESRC acknowledges that it may take time for a new collaborative arrangement to fully evolve and for partnerships to be consolidated. All would be expected to provide demonstrable evidence that they can deliver their goals.
We expect the proposed Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) to be a key part of their institution’s strategy. Applicants should demonstrate how the DTP will link into and access wider institutional resources to achieve their goals, such as:
- other research council doctoral training provision
- careers service
- knowledge exchange facilities.
Letters of support are required from each participating research organisation.
Non-academic organisations, such as those from industry, charities and public sector research establishments, may also form part of consortia bids, in agreement with the lead research organisation submitting the proposal. They would be expected to contribute resources (cash or in kind) for the delivery of training and access for studentships. The DTP must demonstrate the added value of their inclusion.
Content and delivery of training
ESRC expects partnerships to provide an excellent postgraduate training environment and deliver leading edge social science research training which is student centred and responsive to their prior experience and subject area.
The ESRC postgraduate training and development guidelines 2022 detail how partnerships will be expected to provide conceptual, general, specialist and research in practice training.
Applicants are expected to demonstrate how they will meet these requirements and the quality of the research environment they can provide.
Conceptual, general and specialist research training
Partnerships should set out how they will meet our expectations for core conceptual, general and specialist research training.
This should include:
- an overview of their existing strengths
- where there is a need to develop their training offer
- how the Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) will do this.
This can include working in partnership with other providers outside the DTP.
The ESRC postgraduate training and development guidelines 2022 stress the importance of avoiding a one-size-fits-all approach that will require structural and cultural change within research organisations. Both elements should be addressed in the bid.
To support innovation in both the content and delivery of training to ensure a flexible and leading edge training offer, partnerships can bid for funding of up to £150,000 to support the development of new training content and delivery approaches.
This funding will be available for a period of three years from October 2023, a year ahead of the first cohort of students starting, to provide time to develop and test the new training.
The funding can be used to fund:
- staff time
- development of materials
- delivery infrastructure.
We are keen to facilitate the sharing of knowledge and development of partnerships across DTPs to deliver high quality training. To support this ambition, DTPs will need to identify a training lead for this work who will form part of a ESRC co-ordinated DTP training network.
While the overall approach to developing the training should be included in the case for support, the detailed justification of resources should be provided as an attachment on the proposal.
In annex 1 of the case for support, partnerships should evidence the quality of the research environment they will provide for students at a disciplinary or subject area level. This should include:
- Research Excellence Framework (REF) metrics (output, environment and impact)
- supervisory capacity
- completion rates
- major grant funding or centres of excellence
- other indicators they believe demonstrate the quality of the research environment.
They should also provide examples which demonstrate the quality of their specialist training offer.
Research organisations are advised to play to their research strengths where they have world class expertise and infrastructures to develop expertise in their doctoral students. Where they are seeking to use the DTP to grow capacity in new research areas, they must detail their rationale.
ESRC wants to support a vibrant specialist training offer for all students. As part of their bid, partnerships should indicate where they will be able to make specialist training available beyond their DTP. We anticipate at least three per year.
Research in practice
In their applications, DTPs will need to set out how they will embed research in practice as a core component of the doctoral experience for all ESRC funded students.
Research in practice should comprise of a suite of options aimed at developing students’ skills in a number of core areas relating to employability:
- ability to apply research skills in different research contexts
- ability to collaborate across sectoral and disciplinary boundaries
- communication with impact, developing networks, entrepreneurship and leadership skills
- ability to proactively engage in their own personal development and career direction.
Partnerships are expected to describe how they will ensure all students have access to high quality, innovative and experientially-based professional development opportunities throughout the doctoral experience which develop transferable skills and provide opportunities to apply knowledge in different contexts (more detail provided in the ESRC postgraduate training and development guidelines 2022).
DTPs are encouraged to work in partnership with other training providers outside the DTP to develop and deliver opportunities and also consider opportunities for student-led activities.
Students will be expected to participate in a range of opportunities, tailored through the development needs analysis according to their previous experience, goals and development needs.
As part of research in practice, our ambition is that all students have the opportunity to complete a placement in academia, policy, business or third sector organisations. This will give them the practical opportunity to develop their transferrable skills and apply their research skills in different contexts.
Funding to undertake a three-month placement has been embedded within the standard PhD model, with all studentships having access to three and a half years of funding and £1,000 allocated to support the additional costs of undertaking a placement (for example, travel and subsistence). Those who do not take part in a placement will receive funding for three and a quarter years.
ESRC will also contribute up to £40,000 per DTP per year to the cost of administering research in practice. This will be provided from October 2023 to allow successful DTPs to establish structures and processes to develop these opportunities. These costs should be requested in the justification of resources additional document.
In their bid, applicants should provide evidence on how they will deliver research in practice, particularly how they will scale their placement offer and encourage students and supervisors to view them as a core and valuable part of their doctoral training. They should demonstrate how they will draw on connections they already have including ESRC Impact Acceleration Accounts and how funding will be used to develop new connections.
Our ambition is for all students to have the opportunity to undertake placements. By the time of the DTP mid-term review in autumn 2026, partnerships will need to demonstrate that they have the infrastructure, range and volume of opportunities to enable them to deliver this.
We are not mandating placements but do expect by the time of the mid-term review that DTPs can demonstrate the majority of students in the first two cohorts will be undertaking a placement as part of their studentship.
Applicants should also detail how they will link up the research in practice element with the development needs analysis (DNA) process. How will the DTP identify the needs of the students and ensure the suite of options available is suitable?
Capacity building in priority areas
The ESRC review of the PhD in the social sciences highlighted the continuing need for us to develop capacity in data skills and advanced quantitative methods (AQM) training and the importance of supporting interdisciplinary research which spans research council boundaries.
Partnerships are encouraged to demonstrate their strengths and how they will work to support studentships in these areas. More information can be found in the additional document appendix A – ESRC strategic steers (PDF, 116KB).
To recognise the partnership’s strength, studentships will be ring fenced as part of the allocation process (see section on number of awards and funding available).
Collaborative studentships with non-academic organisations are an important part of DTPs offering direct benefit to students and host organisations and providing important co-funding.
With the increased emphasis on providing research in practice placements, we do not want to lose the benefits collaborative studentships bring. We are therefore setting a target that at least 15% of the studentships we fund should be collaborative with non-academic organisations in the public, private or civil society sector.
Collaborative studentships can also include a placement as part of the opportunity. While co-funding is encouraged, it is not required.
In their bid, partnerships should indicate their commitment to meeting the target and how they will achieve it. Failure to meet the target may lead to a reduced number of studentships allocated after the mid-term review.
We are keen to support researchers to develop the capability to operate in a global context. Therefore, we will continue to provide support for overseas fieldwork for doctoral students and provide extensions to allow time for difficult language training.
We will also provide funding for overseas institutional visits (OIVs) of up to three months to undertake specialist research training and to develop collaborative links.
Applicants are encouraged to highlight the international aspects of their training provision in their proposals, drawing particular attention to aspects which develop the cultural and methodological skills required for working with international partners.
Development needs analysis
Development needs analysis (DNA) is fundamental to achieving more flexible and responsive doctoral training. Students should benefit from a tailored DNA experience that allows for specific training needs, learning outcomes and research in practice elements to be clearly defined.
At the outset of the PhD, the DNA will be used to inform the structure of funding that is appropriate for each student, taking account of prior knowledge and experience and at a minimum we expect this to be reviewed annually.
In their bid, applicants must describe the processes they will put in place to meet our expectations for development needs assessments (full details can be found in the ESRC postgraduate training and development guidelines 2022), including how they will engage with supervisors to ensure that they are aware of the different training opportunities.
The applicants will also need to explain how they will ensure consistency in the approach used across the partnership and how these processes will enable them to obtain an overarching view of training needs across the DTP.
DTPs will be required to report to ESRC on development needs and emerging gaps in provision through their annual report and ESRC will undertake assurance checks on a sample of DNA forms.
In response to the ESRC review of the PhD in the social sciences, ESRC commissioned a review of the existing literature and landscape of doctoral training needs analysis to identify best practice and areas for potential development and innovation.
The aim was to inform this opportunity and provide a resource for applicants and support innovation in practice. DTPs and students provided important input to the review and moving forward, we want to work collaboratively with our network of DTPs to share practice and learnings.
Applicants should therefore consider how they will evaluate and share changes to their approach. DTPs will be able to use the flexibility of their grant to support the development of their approach to development needs analysis.
Effective supervision is critical to the success of a DTP, and details of our expectations regarding supervisory practice and policy can be found in the ESRC postgraduate training and development guidelines 2022. Applicants are required to describe the formal systems which are in place for:
- monitoring the performance of supervisors
- identifying their training and professional development needs
- ensuring that these needs are met.
Ensuring that supervisors are engaged with the DTP is essential to ensure that the student gets the most out of their ESRC studentship and the range of opportunities available to them. Applicants must set out a clear strategy for communicating with supervisors and ensuring that they are fully engaged with the aims and objectives of the DTP.
Applicants should also provide details on the professional development opportunities that will be available to supervisors and how they will encourage members of staff, including early career researchers, to join the supervisory teams.
ESRC is working with the UK Council for Graduate Education and the other research councils to explore existing best practice and how UKRI can further support high quality supervision as part of the New Deal for Postgraduate Research Programme.
We will continue to work with the DTP Network (and broader sector) once commissioned to share practice and support high quality supervision.
Equality, diversity and inclusion
ESRC is committed to increasing the diversity of our student population and ensuring that we provide an inclusive and supportive environment for all.
DTPs are asked to set out their strategy for equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) to support the participation of doctoral candidates from all backgrounds, as well as details of the support systems in place to protect and promote students’ physical and mental health and wellbeing.
The strategy must consider EDI broadly, recognising the full range of protected characteristics and the socio-economic backgrounds of students.
It should include the embedding of EDI principles at all levels and in all aspects of research and training practice in the DTP, including the selection and management of doctoral candidates and cohorts.
As part of their holistic strategy, DTPs should set out their approach to how they will make entry requirements more inclusive with greater focus on assessing potential. UKRI does support the use of positive action measures to encourage and support the participation of under-represented groups where there is clear evidence of under-representation and that it constitutes a proportionate response.
All institutions within the partnership must have procedures in place that allow them to capture EDI data on all applicants, for each stage of the recruitment process, from the outset of the DTP.
We want to collect socio-economic data based on the measures set out by the Social Mobility Commission and this will be built into the annual reporting template issued to partnerships.
Costs to support the development of internal systems to collect EDI and socio-economic data could be sought from the flexibility within the training grant.
Applicants must describe their strategy and actions in a dedicated EDI plan, as a two-page annex to the case for support (annex 2) submitted as part of the proposal.
Delivery, management and governance
Partnerships will be expected to describe the governance arrangements that will enable effective decision-making and engagement with all relevant stakeholders (including students) to deliver their objectives.
This should include how they will structure their training to ensure it is both responsive to the needs of the disciplines whilst facilitating opportunities for interdisciplinary engagement and ensure students benefit from being part of a cohort beyond their immediate department.
DTPs will be expected to respond in an agile manner to new training needs and need to ensure that the arrangements for sharing best practice amongst the partners is clearly set out. Partnerships must ensure ESRC receives value for money in the delivery of PhD training.
We expect the DTP to contribute to the institutional strategies for social science and as such governance arrangements should be embedded within, and reporting to, relevant institutional structures.
Clear communication plans must be in place to disseminate information across all partners in the DTP.
Full formal partnership agreements would need to be in place from October 2023. This should include a clear complaints and appeals process for the DTP.
Applicants will need to describe how the DTP will be managed and what support will be provided by the research organisations. A governance board must be in place, which provides robust oversight of the partnership and monitors progress against deliverables. Applicants will need to explain the suitability of the Director and the senior management team.
For consortia proposals, the Director needs to be from the research organisation that will manage the DTP on behalf of partners.
Based on experience at a minimum, research organisations need to provide the following resourcing:
- a professorial (in exceptional cases senior) level DTP Director post (more than 20% FTE for single institution DTPs, more than 30% FTE for consortia institution DTPs)
- a Deputy Director
- an identified training lead
- an experienced senior level DTP Manager and a DTP Administrator (with administrators or points of contact based at each partner institution for consortia DTPs)
- Management Board commitment and support for finance and knowledge exchange
- other support will depend on the individual institutional configuration.
We expect that the Director will remain in place for the duration of the DTP and if they step down, then ESRC will be required to approve their replacement. Applicants should describe their approach to succession planning. The Director will be required to attend DTP Director meetings twice a year.
Internal allocation of studentships
The allocation of studentships will be devolved to the DTPs. To ensure an applicant’s potential is the primary criterion, we expect the majority of studentships to be allocated through a fair and transparent open competition, not based on internal quotas. As such, applicants must set out how they will run the allocation process, including how they will approach steered studentships.
Applicants wishing to build capacity in particular strategic areas or to strengthen partnerships can request that a small proportion of the studentships are ring fenced. DTPs will have the opportunity to update these ring fenced areas through the annual reporting process.
Monitoring progress and capturing impact
The monitoring of DTPs progress towards goals and evidence of impact are important.
Partnerships will be expected to describe:
- what success looks like for their doctoral candidates
- how the DTP will deliver this
- what evidence they will capture to measure progress and show impact towards their goals, and the process of capturing the data.
We acknowledge that it may not be possible for applicants to have all requirements in place at the point of application and that it can take time for new arrangements and processes to fully evolve. Applicants should therefore include details on how their offering for students will be developed over the life-course of the award.
ESRC wishes to continue a high level of engagement with successful partnerships in order to support research organisations in their postgraduate work. This will include the research organisations being able to seek advice on issues which may emerge in their management of the DTP, as well as enable ESRC to provide guidance on emerging skills issues and policy developments. This will take the form of the annual partnership visit and good practice sharing events.
All DTPs will be subject to a mid-term review in autumn 2026. The review will assess the progress DTPs have made in delivering their objectives and allow us to consider whether any adjustments are required to awards in response to the changing research landscape (for example, to address emerging research priorities and to increase our DTPs connectivity and alignment to other UKRI doctoral training investments as part of the commitment UKRI has made to increased collective working on talent).
Awards will be for five consecutive cohorts of students starting in October 2024. The first three cohorts are guaranteed. The final two cohorts will be dependent on the outcomes of the mid-term review.
In submitting a proposal to become a ESRC DTP, the research organisations involved thereby agree to comply with monitoring arrangements established by ESRC, and to work in partnership with ESRC to support its priorities for PhD training.
Number of awards and funding available
It is anticipated that up to 16 DTPs will be awarded.
Funding is available to support up to 500 studentships per year, for five consecutive cohorts (the first being 2024 to 2025 and the final cohort commencing in 2028 to 2029. Awards will be made in the form of a single profiled training grant. The normal flexibility of UKRI training grants will apply.
150 of the 500 studentships available per year will be allocated strategically by ESRC to reward strength in our priority areas and the extent to which they are inclusive partnerships. The remaining 350 studentships will be allocated responsively, across up to 16 DTPs and applicants are invited to set out as part of their bid how many students they can support.
We want to ensure that all DTPs have a viable cohort of ESRC funded students and that they have the supervisory capacity and infrastructure required to support the number of students requested. Currently, the overall allocation of studentships across the DTPs ranges between 28 to 45.
In determining the final allocation for each DTP, the commissioning panel will consider the following areas:
- the quality of training provided across the core and subject specific areas as well as the broader training being offered
- whether the partnership has the supervisory capacity and infrastructure required to support the number of students requested
- inclusive partnerships: DTPs incorporating partner institutions that offer excellence in social science training and research
- strengths in data skills, advanced quantitative methods (AQM) and interdisciplinary research.
As part of a separate annex in the case for support (annex 3), applicants must justify why they are asking for the specific cohort size and how they will support the cohort. Whilst co-funding of studentships is not a requirement of funding, applicants should provide details of co-funding arrangements if relevant. They will also need to set out how they will allocate the studentships in a fair, open and transparent way within the partnership.
The value of a studentship is calculated based on the following elements. DTPs will be expected to award studentships of varying durations that reflect a student’s prior experience and skills required to complete their PhD, up to a maximum of four and a half years.
UKRI sets minimum stipend levels annually. The latest rate (for academic year 2022 to 2023) is £16,062.
UKRI sets minimum fees levels annually. The latest rate (for academic year 2022 to 2023) is £4,596.
Research Training Support Grant (RTSG) calculation
£940 per student per year.
Overseas fieldwork calculation
£450 per student per year.
Student and cohort development calculation
£3,330 per student which includes £1,000 to support placement activities.
London allowance calculation
£2,000 per student per year for those studying at a London institution.