The data, published last month in Research Council Impact Reports 2013, do not include studentships awarded by the Medical Research Council.
Some 4,513 students started PhDs in 2012-13, down from 5,723 in 2009-10. The drop in new Engineering and Physical Research Council PhDs plays a “large role” in the overall reduction, says the document published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
The fall in EPSRC and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council PhDs has been driven “in minor part by an increased prioritisation and focus on the best students through Centres for Doctoral Training”, the report states.
The number of new PhD studentships funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council has risen slightly since 2009-10.