Supporting doctoral students

If you are thinking about applying for a doctorate we can help you to get the most out of your studies. UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) supports doctoral students with:

  • funding to cover fees and living costs, known as studentships
  • other training and development opportunities that complement your doctoral programme

We provide UK universities with grants, awarded through a competitive process, to cover the fees and living costs of postgraduate students. Each place a university offers as a result of this funding is called a studentship.

UKRI does not provide doctoral funding directly to students. You will need to apply for a studentship through the research organisation, normally a university, where you want to study. UKRI-funded studentships are offered by many research organisations in the UK.

Read more about getting funding for studentships.

What UKRI is doing in skills and talent

We continue to implement our delivery plans as part of the wider UKRI strategy and the government’s Research and Development People and Culture Strategy.

As part of these strategies, we have launched a programme to develop a ‘new deal for postgraduate research’ and are transitioning to collective talent funding.

New deal for postgraduate research

The new deal for postgraduate research (PGR) aims to ensure that PGR in the UK remains open and attractive to a wide range of candidates both from the UK and abroad.

PGR should be sustainable and deliver the highly skilled researchers the UK and global societies need.

Collective talent funding

In May 2022 we announced, as part of our budget allocation, that we will transition to working in a collective manner across £2 billion of talent initiatives, covering studentships and fellowships, building on our strong track record in working across research council remits.

This will allow us to harmonise further our talent investments to reduce bureaucracy.

This will make it more efficient and easier to work across disciplines and across the research and innovation system, including the private, public and third sectors.

Read our budget allocation explainer and blog outlining the transition to collective talent funding.

In our most recent update on collective talent funding we announced that from January 2024, all UKRI-funded doctoral training will be delivered through two types of awards. Focal and landscape awards as part of our new doctoral training investment framework. This replaces the nine different schemes through which we currently support doctoral training.

In addition to these award types, we have a core offer at the heart of the framework. The core offer will apply to all UKRI-funded students regardless of council, award type, or funding exercise through which the investment was made. It will cover our expectations for their training experience and the support we will provide.

A core offer

We are developing and implementing our core offer in stages. As a first step, we have a new statement of expectations which will apply to all funding opportunities launched from January 2024.

The previous statement of expectations will be retained for existing students and training grants and for funding opportunities that opened in 2023.

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

Doctoral focal award

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

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

The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) launched the first focal award opportunity in November 2023 and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) is developing plans to launch an opportunity in early 2024.

We are currently developing our plans for future investment in this type of award beyond the current Spending Review period. We will share more details once they are available.

Doctoral landscape award

This type of UKRI doctoral investment will support the UK’s overall doctoral capability and capacity needs. They will provide broad flexible doctoral funding, supporting talented people in excellent research environments across UKRI’s research portfolio.

Features of the doctoral landscape award include:

  • investments that will be shaped to fit the needs of disciplines and sectors
  • supporting doctoral students in excellent research environments, learning about and carrying out high quality research to achieve their doctorate
  • supporting students to develop a breadth of knowledge and skills for a wide variety of academic and non-academic careers
  • providing tailored support for students according to their previous research, technical and other relevant experience and knowledge, doctoral research project and career aspirations
  • supporting breadth and diversity in research and ensure that, as a community, we are rapidly responsive to new and emerging research ideas and areas
  • providing flexibility for students, supervisors and non-academic co-funders to choose the specific focus of studentships within a broadly defined research area
  • providing opportunities for a variety of engagement with non-academic partners ranging from workshops and visits to partially or fully funded doctoral studentships and shared supervision
  • supporting and leading change to enhance both doctoral support, diversity of doctoral students and the research and innovation landscape in general

The landscape award brings together a number of doctoral training schemes helping to simplify and harmonise our doctoral offer. In doing so we have been careful to maintain the flexibility to adapt the award to our research and innovation communities. For example, we will retain the ability to include flexible funding tailored to meet particular needs at the council, individual grant and studentship level while ensuring that all UKRI students have access to a core offer. We will also support both competitive and allocated routes for funding our landscape awards.

Examples of flexibilities you will see in landscape award funding opportunities this year are:

  • NERC and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Concil (BBSRC) will ask for cohort-based opportunities for students to deepen and acquire skills and experience, and BBSRC will continue their professional internships for PhD students
  • The Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) doctoral landscape award will include opportunities to award funding for long term attachments for students to work at international research facilities such as CERN where this is essential for the training programme
  • AHRC will provide funding to support regional diversity and provide funding for cohort-based development and collaborative opportunities enabling students to network and prepare for their future careers work at a regional level
  • The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) will provide flexibility to support career path development including support for vacation internships to help attract people into doctoral studies and for postdoctoral funding to support exploitation of research outcomes

We continue to develop and consolidate our approaches to supporting landscape awards. Each council has a different investment cycle and so any transition to greater collective working will need to take place over a number of years.

Here is the approach that each council is taking.

AHRC

AHRC is finalising details of an algorithm-based funding and assurance process that will support studentships starting from October 2026. An update will be provided in spring 2024.

BBSRC

BBSRC doctoral landscape awards will be available through a competitive funding route. Awards will be made as block grants to single or multi-institutional partnerships, led by an academic research organisation, to maintain the breadth and diversity of our research base. Jointly with NERC, BBSRC launched a funding opportunity for landscape awards in January 2024 to support students starting from October 2025.

EPSRC

EPSRC will fund two sets of doctoral landscape awards, one university-led and one business led. Following algorithm-based funding and assurance processes, these investments will support students to start from October 2025. EPSRC is engaging with its communities about how they can make the most of the opportunities that the landscape awards provide.

Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)

ESRC announced in November 2023 that it was investing in 15 doctoral training partnerships (DTPs) spanning 89 institutions across the whole of the UK. These will support five years of PhD studentship intake beginning in October 2024 and will cover the breadth of social sciences, as well as areas of interdisciplinary research. Given this recent investment, ESRC has no further investment plans for doctoral landscape awards at this time.

Medical Research Council (MRC)

MRC announced in July 2021 that it was awarding 17 new DTPs to support high quality doctoral training programmes that take a student-centred approach, focusing on scientific excellence, positive research culture and wider training opportunities. These existing investments are expected to recruit students for up to five intake years (2022 to 2026) and MRC does not currently plan to invest in new doctoral landscape awards in the immediate future.

NERC

NERC doctoral landscape awards will be available through a competitive funding route. Awards will be made as block grants to single or multi-institutional partnerships, led by an academic research organisation, to maintain the breadth and diversity of our research base. Jointly with BBSRC, NERC launched a funding opportunity for landscape awards in January 2024 to support students starting from October 2025.

STFC

STFC is currently developing plans to evolve our algorithm-based funding and assurance processes that will result in awards ready to support students to start from October 2025.

Next steps

We continue to transition towards simpler and more harmonised support for doctoral training.

For our landscape awards, AHRC, EPSRC and STFC are discussing the details of their landscape awards with their non-academic and university partners to identify opportunities to harmonise the approach to doctoral landscape funding awarded through an algorithm. We expect to be able to share more details in the spring.

As part of our planning for the next spending review, we will be working on stage two of our core offer, focusing on providing greater parity of support. We will also be considering our plans for focal awards.

If you have any questions or would like to engage with us on this area, please email: talent@ukri.org

Last updated: 30 January 2024

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