The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council is planning to revolutionise its masters-level training programme with the introduction of new "training packages".
The EPSRC supports about 1,500 masters students each year. But according to Richard Brook, the council's chief executive, the range of courses has remained largely unchanged for many years. About a quarter of the courses receiving EPSRC support have done so at the same level for more than 25 years.
The council is now proposing to run down its current support and replace it with training packages. Universities could use these to develop new masters courses in collaboration with industry or users in new areas, across multidisciplinary themes and where skills are needed most.
A consultation paper has been sent to all universities. It proposes that universities submit bids for training packages. The money could be used to fund start-up costs of new MSc courses, as well as students' fees and stipends. Courses would be expected to be self-financing within five years, although in exceptional circumstances, says the paper, this may be extended for a two years.
Training package proposals would need to demonstrate the crucial nature of EPSRC support.
"Discussion papers are being sent to universities," Professor Brook said. The current funding for masters courses would not be switched off suddenly, he said, but he hoped to phase the training packages in from 1999.