The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council is hoping that the “overwhelming” quality of applications to run centres for doctoral training will convince the government to release extra funding for them.
David Willetts, the universities and science minister, announced a £350 million investment in 72 new CDTs at a launch event at the BT Tower in London last week.
The centres, which partner with industry in specific strategic technologies, were first rolled out en masse in 2009.
The new centres, which are spread across 24 universities – of which about a third were also funded in the first four-year cycle – have leveraged £250 million from nearly 1,000 industry partners.
Paul Golby, EPSRC chair, said that judging the 500 bids had required the research council’s largest-ever peer-review exercise.
He said University of Sheffield vice-chancellor Sir Keith Burnett, who chaired the panel that made the final selections, had been “overwhelmed” by the quality of the applications.
Dr Golby added that the CDT model was being imitated across the world and he lamented the EPSRC’s inability to fund many high-quality bids, particularly in light of the strong interest from industry in co-funding them.
“It would be crazy to leave that money on the table if we can work out a way to fund more,” he said.
David Delpy, EPSRC chief executive, said he planned to ask industry partners to increase their investment in the announced centres to release some extra EPSRC resources. He hoped that this would allow him to announce up to 20 additional CDTs in January.
But that would still leave between 40 and 60 “really good” applications unfunded. Hence, he had also submitted a bid to the government for extra funds.
“Another 60 centres would bring in £400 million in leveraged funding,” he pointed out.
Dr Golby joked that he hoped Mr Willetts would “go away and talk to [chancellor] George Osborne”.
But both he and Professor Delpy insisted that the EPSRC would not raid its budget for standard PhD funding, which is allocated to universities based on their grant income and accounts for more than 50 per cent of its total PhD spend.
“I don’t want to distort the landscape totally by putting [too much] money into specific areas,” Professor Delpy said.
“CDTs allow us to tackle national strategic priorities, but there are also local, regional and individual academic priorities and we want to give universities the flexibility to manage those.”