The number of graduates signing up for doctorates in physics and engineering has risen for the first time in three years, probably in response to last year's Pounds 1,000 increase in the value of the PhD stipend, which took minimum pay to Pounds 6,500 a year.
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council has made offers on 92 per cent of its research studentships this year compared with only 85 per cent last year. At the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, uptake is 98 per cent.
John Taylor, research councils' director general, has asked for figures to judge whether the stipend rise has been effective and what further action needs to be taken.
Ian Halliday, chief executive of PPARC, said: "Our students have sent a message."
Richard Brook, chief executive of EPSRC, argues that demography is also a factor in what is a wider European trend. He says that many other countries report recruitment difficulties, which arise from a combination of fewer people of student age and strong industry pull on graduates.
Professor Taylor wants to keep the issue of stipends high on the agenda and has asked the councils to consider other models for funding research students, including the possibility of offering more money to students with better qualifications.
He has told the councils of the broad themes that the Office of Science and Technology will focus on its input to the government's next review of spending. These include: world-class science, people­related output and infrastructure and emerging priorities such as genomics.