A new multi-university doctoral training scheme is set to create one of the UK’s largest cohorts of PhD students.
Thirteen University Alliance universities will each commit funding for two PhD students a year as part of the Doctoral Training Alliance initiative, which will begin in October.
The scheme is likely to be seen as a response by post-92 universities to the increased funding of PhD students in doctoral training centres, which critics say has concentrated opportunities in a small number of research-intensive institutions.
Under the University Alliance scheme, the first fully funded PhD scholarships – each worth about £18,000 a year in total – will be offered to those studying applied biosciences for health.
However, the group will consider setting up other training alliances in coming years, possibly in arts and design and in sports exercise science.
The nationwide doctoral training scheme, launched in London on 24 September, is the largest multi-partner initiative of its kind. Its health sciences cohort is set to have 78 students within three years.
On the programme, which closely follows the doctoral training centre model supported by research councils, PhD students will undertake an autumn induction at Coventry University, followed by further skills training the following summer.
Doctoral supervisors will also attend the events, which are designed to encourage networking and peer-to-peer learning.
Maddalaine Ansell, chief executive of the University Alliance, said she hoped that research councils would be persuaded to contribute towards the initiative if it proves to be effective.
“We hope we can show to the research councils that our institutions have strengths and that, working together, they can create the critical mass required for effective doctoral training,” she said.
“It would not be very good if people could only do doctoral training in research-intensive universities because it may be more convenient for them [to study locally], and it’s known that having students progressing through university to PhD is good for the student experience,” she added.
The new PhD opportunities in applied biosciences for health would also benefit industry, as there is a relative lack of doctoral provision in the area, Ms Ansell continued.
University Alliance institutions were among the strongest in this discipline, according to the results of last year’s research excellence framework, she pointed out.
Paul Harrison, pro vice-chancellor for research and innovation at Sheffield Hallam University and the national director of the Doctoral Training Alliance, said that the training model would encourage PhD students to exchange ideas and support each other.
“The PhD is often seen as a very lonely way to study,” Professor Harrison said. But he added that “every student on the scheme will come together for summer schools and postgraduate conferences to discuss their project plans and discuss how they are going”. The networking opportunities would also benefit PhD supervisors, he said.