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BBSRC announces new approach to studentship funding

16 March 2011

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) has today (16 March 2011) announced the details of significant changes in how it will work with Universities and Institutes for the funding of PhD students.

BBSRC is launching 'Doctoral Training Partnerships' - a revision and development of its successful Quota Doctoral Training Grant scheme. The revised approach will retain many elements of the previous Quota PhD funding programme but feature increased engagement between BBSRC and host institutions. BBSRC Doctoral Training Partners will be expected to align their training with BBSRC strategic priorities and demonstrate a commitment to broad-based scientific and professional development for PhD students. The approach will build on the excellent research training offered by UK universities, but foster greater sharing of good practice to ensure the next generation of bioscientists develop the skills that the UK needs.

The Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) programme will fund a smaller number of larger, multi-institutional partnerships, compared to the previous Quota scheme, which primarily awarded training grants at departmental or faculty level. These larger partnerships will enable greater coordination in the provision of specialist training and will benefit from closer working with BBSRC and its Training Awards Committee (now 'Research Committee E').

Funding for BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnerships will still be awarded competitively with training excellence in strategically-important areas of bioscience the fundamental basis of any award. BBSRC will continue to fund all studentships at a full four-year duration and will expect its Doctoral Training Partners to further promote interdisciplinary and interdepartmental training.

In outlining the details of the scheme, which will invest more than £60M in world class PhD training for student intakes in 2012, 2013 and 2014, BBSRC has announced that:

  • The DTP programme is open to bids from any eligible UK institution, but multi-institutional consortium bids are being strongly encouraged
  • In order to ensure the provision of training in the highest quality research environments, each bid must meet a minimum threshold of BBSRC competitive grant funding, which can be made up from the combined total of a multi-institutional bid
  • Partnerships will submit a proposed Portfolio Agreement as part of the competition, outlining the areas of research training it intends to target. The Portfolio Agreement will be considered by BBSRC's Training Awards Committee
  • BBSRC will be seeking to support Partnerships which can align their research training to BBSRC's strategic priority areas. In particular, BBSRC is seeking to ensure the training of bioscientists with the vital expertise needed to address challenges in food security, industrial biotechnology and the bioscience underpinning health
  • DTP bids are also invited to address strategically important niche skills within the BBSRC remit, such as in vivo skills, where partners have the necessary expertise and facilities
  • There will be increased engagement between BBSRC, the BBSRC Training Awards Committee and DTP institutions. BBSRC expects this to result in increased sharing of best practice in PhD training across DTP institutions
  • A total of no more than 15-20 DTPs will be funded as BBSRC believes that greater engagement with new DTPs requires concentration of training funding. A smaller number of larger training partnerships will also facilitate greater coordination of training across institutions and better opportunities for multidisciplinary PhD research
  • The total number of studentships funded through DTP will be reduced compared to the existing Quota scheme, but funding for each student's experimental costs will increase to £5,000 p.a. to better support the research training costs of each studentship
  • Students funded under the DTP programme will be required to participate in a three month professional internship during their PhD in order to widen their experience of the types of careers in which their research training can have an impact

Dr Celia Caulcott, BBSRC Director of Innovation and Skills, said: "Investing in the training of PhD students is one of the most important things that BBSRC does. We have a serious responsibility to ensure that we are supporting training that produces bioscientists with the specific research expertise that industry and academia require, but we also must make sure that students are getting the best broad-based training possible.

"I strongly believe that the Doctoral Training Partnership programme will meet these aims. We recognise that we are making significant changes and that there will be demands on institutions as they work together, and in partnership with BBSRC, to develop consortia to bid for DTPs. However, this will result in real benefits from training that supports BBSRC strategic objectives and a concentrated number of DTPs where we will be able to have deeper engagement."

The change from Quota DTGs to the DTP programme follows detailed discussion by BBSRC's Bioscience Skills and Careers Strategy Panel. The DTP programme draws significantly on the recommendations of an evaluation of the Quota DTG scheme conducted in 2010 and led by Professor Robert Freedman. The evaluation included the views of over 1,100 grantholders, students and other major partners.

Dr Mark Downs, Chief Executive of the Society of Biology, said: "Biology is at the heart of how society is going to meet major challenges in the coming decades. To do this we need the brightest minds receiving the best possible doctoral training. By using its funding to strengthen partnership working between the UK's major research organisations, BBSRC is helping to ensure that the UK remains at the forefront of research training, and that students are provided with the training experience they need to enter the wide range of careers where we need the next generation of bioscientists."

Prof Malcolm McCrae, Chair of the UK Council for Graduate Education, said: "Obtaining a PhD in the 21st Century is about more than just producing a good research thesis. Research activity has to sit alongside broader professional skills development and take place in training environments which encourage both innovation and interdisciplinary thinking. The requirement for departments and institutions to work together in collaborative partnerships is a new challenge that BBSRC is posing to the academic community and provides a route for a wide spectrum of UK HEI's and Research Centres to develop research consortia to engage with the research council. Given the prevailing economic climate, it is an important direction in which the community must move. The significant increase in research support grant for PhD students in the DTP programme and the decision to include professional internships in each studentship both demonstrate BBSRC's commitment to high-quality and innovation in PhD training."

The full text of the call for bids for the DTPs has been published today at: BBSRC has also published a detailed set of questions and answers which will be added to in response to enquiries from institutions.

The application process will be opened to receive bids on 7 June 2011 via the Je-S system and the closing date will be in September 2011.

BBSRC expects to be able to announce the successful DTPs in late 2011 or early 2012.


Notes to editors

Updates on DTPs and other training opportunities will be made available through BBSRC's Training Bulletin, with details of how to sign up at

BBSRC will be holding a workshop, most likely in London, on 23 June 2011 to answer any detailed questions from potential institutions and consortia.

BBSRC currently funds PhD training through 89 Quota Doctoral Training Grants. The Quota DTG scheme was evaluated by a panel led by Prof Robert Freedman in 2010. The evaluation was published earlier this month and is available at:

Doctoral Training Partnerships will be awarded following a competitive judging process by BBSRC's Training Awards Committee (now called 'Research Committee E').

BBSRC also funds CASE studentships through two separate schemes: an annual Industrial CASE studentship competition awarding 90 four-year studentships per year, and the Industrial CASE Partnership scheme which makes 75 four-year studentships available per year to the UK's major life-science industries.


BBSRC is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £470M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life in the UK and beyond and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders, including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

BBSRC provides institute strategic research grants to the following:

  • The Babraham Institute
  • Institute for Animal Health
  • Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (Aberystwyth University)
  • Institute of Food Research
  • John Innes Centre
  • The Genome Analysis Centre
  • The Roslin Institute (University of Edinburgh)
  • Rothamsted Research

The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.