ESRC shifts funds to research

March 10, 2000

Social science students wanting to take a stand-alone masters course will no longer receive support from the Economic and Social Research Council, it was announced this week.

The ESRC board has decided it wants to concentrate on investing in postgraduate training directed towards research.

It is to introduce between 300 and 400 "1 plus 3" awards, giving support for a research training masters year, followed automatically by a three-year PhD award, so long as students complete the masters year satisfactorily and offer an acceptable research proposal.

About 150 to 250 students will still be able to receive funding for three-year-only PhD courses if they have already undertaken a masters degree.

From October 2001, the council is also to support about 30 postdoctorate fellows who have just completed their PhDs. It will provide funding, on the research salary scale, for up to one year to allow them to develop their research, produce publications that would increase their chance of a university appointment, disseminate their research findings or improve their research skills through extra training.

Bob Burgess, chair of the ESRC's training board, said the council wanted to assure social scientists that they could develop a strong career and to emphasise the links between masters training, doctoral work, postdoctoral study and a career in academia.

"I hope it will result in more effective use of resources in terms of investment in students who intend to work in the higher education community and in research posts in the social sciences," he said.

In addition, the ESRC wants to introduce more flexibility by recognising both professional doctorates, which have a strong vocational as well as research element, and doctoral programmes offered through distance learning.

It has also decided to extend the research training support grant to part time students, giving them about Pounds 460 a year. But it has decided not to pay part-time students a maintenance grant. Nor will it increase the overall student stipend.

Instead, it recognises that it is no longer feasible to limit the number of hours students spend in paid employment to six per week. In future, there will be no limit on the number of hours worked, but students will be expected to commit themselves to spending at least 1,800 hours a year studying.

The new recommendations follow consultation launched two years ago in an attempt to keep the ESRC ahead of policy development.

It is likely to be two years before all the changes are introduced and another four before the full new funding system is in place.

Jeremy Hoad, general secretary of the National Postgraduate Committee, warned that abandoning the six-hour limit on postgraduate paid work could put more pressure on students already encouraged by universities to take on substantial teaching duties.

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