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BBSRC announces changes to postgraduate training and fellowships

3 March 2011

Following a meeting of its Council and the publication of its Delivery Plan 2011-2015, BBSRC has confirmed a number of changes to its funding of postgraduate training and fellowships.

BBSRC has announced that following the completion of its current Masters Training Grants it will cease to fund full-time taught masters studentships. Programmes currently in receipt of BBSRC Masters Training Grants will be fully supported and will proceed with their intakes of students in autumn 2011 and 2012. Training at Masters level will continue to form part of many BBSRC funded four-year PhD programmes, and will also be funded in the context of supporting industry-relevant professional development (CPD) courses at postgraduate level.

BBSRC's decision to end the funding of stand-alone taught Masters programmes brings it into line with the other UK Research Councils.

BBSRC will also be providing a higher level of research support costs for its PhD students. All newly awarded doctoral training grants for studentships starting from October 2011 will now be awarded on the basis of the provision of £5,000 p.a. for students' experimental and consumable costs. The previous contribution of £1,000 was agreed to be no longer adequate to reflect the high-cost of modern bioscience training. BBSRC's major scheme to support PhD training in universities and institutes, the Quota competition, will also be revised and re-launched later this month. The revised scheme will invite institutions to work in partnership with the BBSRC and with each other to deliver high-quality PhD training in the biosciences to meet BBSRC's strategic aims. Further details will be announced shortly.

Dr Celia Caulcott, BBSRC Director of Innovation and Skills, said: "Although we have supported some excellent taught Masters courses we have to recognise the need to prioritise our funding to the delivery of the skilled research scientists that the UK research base and industry needs. UK institutions have been highly responsive to delivering masters-level training that is very competitive internationally and has high levels of student demand. In this context BBSRC can make a greater impact by prioritising our investment in PhD training.

"All BBSRC PhD studentships are funded on a four-year basis, which means many of our funded students are able to take advantage of significant taught elements in the first year.

"In moving to award all our PhD training grants with £5,000 per annum in research training support costs, we want to send the clear message that the quality of student training and experience is more important than the simple quantity of students that our funding can support. We have listened to the concerns raised by the academic community that the previous figure of £1,000 p.a. increasingly gave a misleading picture to other sponsors of the true costs of research training, and have decided to increase our investment in individual studentship awards, even though this will mean a small reduction in the overall number of students we will be awarding."

At its meeting on 8 February, BBSRC Council also agreed to maintain level funding for fellowships programmes, and to rationalise the number of fellowship schemes it operates. It will continue running the prestigious five-year David Phillips Fellowships for the most promising early career bioscientists but intends to create a new flexible award scheme to replace its other current fellowships. The new award scheme will seek to offer greater flexibility in developing the research and leadership skills of up-and-coming as well as established bioscientists, supporting both interdisciplinary developments in research, and movement between academic and user sectors. Further information will be announced later this year.

Dr Caulcott said: "In a tight funding environment, the decision to keep BBSRC's fellowship funding on a level basis demonstrates our commitment to investing in the research-leaders of tomorrow. BBSRC's role in funding postgraduate training and fellowships is to provide the bioscience research base and UK economy more generally with the best people, with the right skills. We have taken careful advice from our Bioscience Skills and Careers advisory panel, and I am confident that the changes we are making to our schemes ensure we can continue to do this and make the maximum use of our resources."

Professor Ottoline Leyser, Chair of the BBSRC Bioscience Skills and Careers Strategy Panel and Associate Director of the Sainsbury Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, said: "For many years BBSRC has taken a lead in promoting and supporting the highest standards in UK PhD training, and the changes which the Council is making to its postgraduate funding reflect the need to invest in the mechanisms and training environments that can best develop the researchers needed by academia, the economy and the wider society.

"I am personally delighted that BBSRC has protected its investment in the David Phillips fellowship scheme which has supported some of the UK's most outstanding new bioscience research leaders. This move demonstrates BBSRC's commitment to engaging with its research community. The decision was informed by a full evaluation of the David Phillips Fellowship scheme led by Professor Steve Yeaman at the University of Newcastle."


Further information

BBSRC has previously funded around 110 full-time Masters studentships per year through a competition every three years. The last competition was run in 2009 and awarded training grants to support three intakes of students in October 2010, 2011 and 2012.

BBSRC supports the development of industry-relevant Masters-level modules to support the continuing professional development of industry research scientists through its Modular Training for Industry (MTI) scheme, and has also launched a major new funding scheme, Advanced Training Partnerships, to support the uptake of new high-level skills in the Agriculture and food sectors.

BBSRC's Modular Training for Industry scheme:

BBSRC's Advanced Training Partnership scheme:

BBSRC funds PhD students by means of Doctoral Training Grants (DTGs) to Research Organisations. These grants include an element to support the student's experimental and consumables costs. The DTGs which have already been awarded use a figure of £1,000 p.a. for research training costs, and existing grants will not be supplemented. The increase only applies to new starting Doctoral Training Grants for October 2011. This covers the CASE awards made in the 2010 Industrial CASE competition (88 studentships), the Industrial CASE Partnership studentships starting in October 2011 (approximately 75 studentships), and the October 2011 studentships linked to BBSRC Industry Research Clubs (30 studentships). The increase does not apply to existing Doctoral Training Grants, for example, the current Quota DTGs.


BBSRC Media Office

tel: 01793 414694