The Leverhulme Trust is to launch a training scheme for new PhD students worth more than £10 million.
The programme, which opens for applications in early March, will award 10 universities around £1 million each to fund 15 full-time three-year doctoral scholarships.
It is the first time the organisation has offered scholarships that directly target doctoral students. Some PhD studentships are funded as part of the trust’s activities each year, but these are part of larger research project grants.
Gordon Marshall, director of the Leverhulme Trust, said that the announcement comes amid concerns over the possible effects of rising undergraduate tuition fees on the supply of graduate students.
“If undergraduate debt, or perceived debt, is discouraging, putting off or disincentivising new graduates from going on to do doctoral work, then we are cutting off the pipeline of talented researchers and that was a concern of the trust,” he said.
He explained that the trust could only go on funding good research if there was a “steady supply of talented researchers coming into the academy”. Doctorates were the basic platform that gave students research skills and experience, he said. Professor Marshall said he hoped the move would send a signal to other agencies that this type of support was important.
Successful bids to the Leverhulme Doctoral Scholarship scheme will win £70,000 for each PhD student. This will cover fees, full maintenance costs and some money for fieldwork and training for the duration of the scholarship.
The 15 studentships at each institution will begin in waves. The first five are expected to start in autumn 2015, followed by another five in each of the subsequent two years.
Bids will be awarded competitively and subjected to peer review.
Universities are being invited to bid in research areas that are important to them, including to advance a particular field or to make a step change in understanding in a specific area. “We do not just want universities to bid in areas that replicate the government’s or the research council’s strategic priorities,” said Professor Marshall.