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BBSRC to change studentship competition

9 February 2005

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) has approved changes to how it awards postgraduate studentships that will make it easier for universities to plan for the future and to provide a stable and well-structured training environment for students.

From May 2005, BBSRC’s quota competition for studentships will be allocated every three years rather than every two years as at present and all the allocations will be provided in the form of a ‘Doctoral Training Account’ (DTA). The Quota DTA scheme will allow departments to co-fund studentships with other funders to aid multidisciplinary research and the DTA approach gives departments the freedom to create 3-year or 4-year studentships, tailored to the project and the student, taking advantage of the increase in studentship funding announced in the 2004 Spending Review.

The Quota DTA competition will continue to allocate studentships through a broad assessment of the training environment provided, and not narrowly on the levels of research income held by a department. BBSRC will, however, continue to indicate priority research training areas, and in future Quota DTA competitions there will be an increased emphasis on assessing whether departments have provided training in line with identified training needs.

In a further move, the annual project-based competition for studentships will be ended. Instead these studentships will be awarded through the Quota DTA scheme. In order to further ensure that BBSRC’s strategic training priorities are met, a pool of studentships will be kept for annual strategic deployment so that postgraduate training support can be focused on centres of research excellence.

These moves will mean that university departments and BBSRC-sponsored institutes will have a much more stable planning and recruitment horizon for their postgraduate training programmes in the biosciences. They will be better able to plan ahead knowing how many research students they will have each year. For students it will help to ensure they receive first-class supervision and training tailored to their specific needs.

Professor Julia Goodfellow, BBSRC Chief Executive, said, “With these changes to the way BBSRC allocates studentships we believe that universities, institutes and students will benefit. Individual departments are best placed and have the relevant expertise to determine the right training and projects for their students in view of current priority areas for training. The expanded and revised Doctoral Training Account scheme will help departments to plan their postgraduate training more effectively.”

Dr Ian Lyne, BBSRC Head of Postgraduate Training and Fellowships, said, “Despite the care taken in the allocation of studentships, an annual project-based competition was perceived to be something of a lottery by the academic community. We needed to find a way of directing studentship funding into key research priority areas, while giving universities and institutes a greater degree of stability and control.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

BBSRC currently spends £30M each year supporting postgraduate research in the biosciences. 200 studentships are currently allocated annually by means of an individual project-based competition; 340 studentships each year are currently allocated through the BBSRC’s quota competition.

The last quota competition was held in 2003, and allocated studentships for start in October 2004 and October 2005. The annual project-based competition was previously known as the ‘committee’ studentship competition and last year was held in a revised form as the ‘Strategic Research Studentship’ competition, which awarded studentships to start in October 2005.

The changes to the BBSRC studentship competition were approved by BBSRC Council at its meeting on February 1 2005. In keeping with BBSRC’s new governance structures, the changes were considered first by the Studentships and Fellowships Panel, before being endorsed by Strategy Board.

BBSRC moved to make these changes in order to respond quickly to the increased funding announced in the 2004 Spending Review to extend PhD studentships to an average of 3.5 years, the need to provide university departments and sponsored institutes with a stable recruitment and planning environment and because of a recognition that departments are well qualified to manage studentships.

The first expanded Doctoral Training Account competition will be held in May 2005 with the next in 2007 and thereafter every three years. Any academic department undertaking research which falls within BBSRC’s remit is able to apply to the competition. The promotion of multidisciplinary approaches to biological science is a key strategic objective for BBSRC.

The Doctoral Training Account scheme provides funding to a department for postgraduate research training in the form of a single grant and allows flexibility to the department to create studentships of different lengths, or offer increased stipends in areas with recruitment difficulties.

From 2005 the Doctoral Training Account scheme will enable departments to part fund students from other sources as well as their Doctoral Training Accounts. Other sources could include training account schemes from other Research Councils.

BBSRC has also recently announced the successful Strategic Research Studentships that are due to begin in October 2005. These are in priority areas for the council and attract and additional £2,000 to the annual stipend (£12,000 a year from October 2005).

About BBSRC

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £380 million in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors. http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk

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