Rethink mooted on PhD funding

July 28, 2006

Universities stand to gain greater autonomy over studentships under radical plans being drawn up by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, writes Anthea Lipsett.

The AHRC wants to change the way it awards money to students for doctoral research, from an open competition model to one where universities are given a block of funding, possibly over three years, and are free to decide who gets studentships.

Rachel Cooper, director of the Institute for the Contemporary Arts at Lancaster University and chair of the AHRC group looking into studentships, said: "It would give universities a better understanding of what funding they've got. With open competition they don't know until August whether students will get an award."

Block grants would let universities bid for funding for postgraduate support against their strategic objectives, she said.

"Universities know where they want to go and how they can develop excellent students, so the aim is to produce a system that supports institutions in developing their postgraduate system, courses and PhD students," she said.

"It would allow them to determine how they would like to move forward."

The AHRC also wants to be more strategic with its funding, Professor Cooper said. The group will produce a draft consultation in September, ahead of concrete recommendations in November. It wants to canvass the sector's views before then.

"There will still be an element of competition. We are still looking at that," she said. "People are worried about students losing out on funding.

We've got to make sure that doesn't happen."

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