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ESRC PhD Funding

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the main source of UK Government funding for research on social and economic issues. ESRC PhD studentships usually cover fees and a maintenance as well as providing high quality research training.

This guide will explain how ESRC funding works for PhD students, including information on the different types of ESRC funding, who is eligible and how to apply.

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What is the ESRC?

The ESRC is one of the seven Research Councils that form part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). Each council manages a budget for training and research, provided by the UK Government, some of which is allocated to PhD students.

As the name suggests, the ESRC is responsible for supporting research on economic and social issues.

Which PhD subjects does the ESRC fund?

The ESRC funds PhDs in areas such as:

Interdisciplinary funding for research in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) may also be available.

What PhD funding does the ESRC provide?

The ESRC provides the national minimum stipend set by UKRI of:

  • Tuition fee payment of £4,407 per year
  • Stipend of £15,285 per year (additional money is available for students in London)

These values increase annually with inflation and you’ll receive the new amount each year.

The tuition payment goes straight to your university and covers the full fees for your PhD (the university won’t charge you anything extra for tuition). The stipend is paid to you to cover accommodation and living costs. You do not need to pay this back.

Students are also able to access a Research Training Support Grant (RTSG) to cover the cost of conference attendance and fieldwork as well as have access to the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA).

How is funding allocated?

You don’t apply directly to the ESRC for PhD funding. Instead, funding for studentships is provided to universities who allocate awards to individual students within either Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTPs) or Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs).

Some ESRC funding is attached to specific advertised projects, but many studentships will also be held in reserve to fund PhDs proposed by students themselves.

UKRI funding for other subjects

The funding opportunities described on this page are for Economic and Social PhDs. Other members of Research and Innovation allocate their own Research Council studentships for different PhD subjects.

ESRC Doctoral Training Partnerships

Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTPs) are the main way the ESRC provide PhD studentships. Each DTP is set up by individual universities or, more commonly, by a group of universities in the same region. DTPs are set up to provide additional training and support.

It is sometimes possible for DTPs to join forces with non-academic partners. This provides students with addition training opportunities as well as internships.

ESRC DTPs for 2020

The current ESRC Doctoral Training Partnerships are:

Studying your PhD at an ESRC DTP

Studying within a DTP will provide you with additional training to help you successfully complete your PhD. This is usually provided as a series of workshops and seminars that are run throughout the course of your doctorate.

You will be studying at the university you applied to, however, you may be studying as part of a cohort of other PhD students within your DTP. This provides you with a supportive experience and the opportunity to attend additional training and team building exercises as well as conferences.

You will also have access to additional DTP benefits, such as the Doctoral Training Grants that provide you with money for additional training and any overseas fieldwork, should you need it.

ESRC DTP studentships can either be offered as a 1+3 programme (which includes an integrated Masters year) or a +3 programme, which provides funding for a three year PhD only.

Some DTPs may offer Collaborative (CASE) studentships for ESRC students. This type of studentship is more common for STEM based research councils (such as the BBSRC, MRC or EPSRC), but they provide similar opportunities. Most notably they promote partnerships with non-academic businesses to enhance training opportunities.

ESRC Centres for Doctoral Training

Centres for Doctoral Training (CDT) are the other way in which the ESRC funds PhD studentships. Whereas DTPs are set up by networks of universities and support research across broad subject areas, CDTs are usually established in association with, or within, one institution, with very specific research objectives.

Like DTPs, CDTs receive funding for a certain number of PhD studentships each year. These usually involve external partners to provide unique interdisciplinary research opportunities.

ESRC CDTs for 2020

There are currently two CDTs:

Studying your PhD at an ESRC CDT

The ESRC CDTs were commissioned in 2016 and are relatively new. They deliver training focused on specific interdisciplinary research areas. CDTs are developed in collaboration with non-academic partners to support innovative training.

The CDTs provide a four year PhD programme (+4), which is an integrated MSc and PhD in specific areas of research and offer the same fee and stipend payments as an ESRC DTP studentship (subject to eligibility). The first two years are spent on the MSc aspect focusing on training and project rotations. The following two years are then spent on your PhD research topic.

Eligibility

The eligibility for ESRC PhD funding follows the same criteria as all the other UKRI research councils.

Residency (and funding amounts)

  • Full studentships – These cover the cost of tuition and provide a stipend. These are awarded to UK and EU students that have been resident in the UK for a least three years.
  • Partial (fee-only) studentships – These exclude the funds for a stipend but cover university fees and are typically awarded to EU students that reside in the EU, EEA or Switzerland.

ESRC funding for international (non-EU) students

Typically, international students are not eligible for ESRC funding. However, some DTPs may have relaxed residential rules in some subject areas such as, Economics or Advanced Quantitative Methods. This may allow some international students, as well as some EU students, (without prior residency in the UK) to be eligible for a full fee and stipend award.

Academic requirements

ESRC studentships are awarded on a competition basis, with the funding being allocated to the best applicants. Typically, the normal requirements for an ESRC PhD is a first or upper second (2.1) class honours degree (or equivalent). If you hold a lower honours grade (2.2), a Masters (or equivalent experience) may help with your application. These are guidelines provided by the ESRC, however, and individual universities may ask for higher degree requirements

It is always a good idea to tailor your application when applying, so make sure you carefully read the advertised criteria.

Working during an ESRC studentship

You cannot work full-time while receiving ESRC funding (this is true for any UKRI funding). It is possible to work part-time, but it is advisable to get your supervisors’ advice on this as studying for a PhD can be time consuming.

Also, while receiving ESRC funding, you cannot apply for a PhD loan. This goes for any UKRI funded studentships.

Applications

The ESRC provides funding to their network of DTPs and CDTs but not directly to students. This means that all applications must be made directly to a university, or to the DTP or CDT it is part of.

Self-proposed projects vs advertised projects

Most ESRC DTP studentships ask potential student to propose their own research topics and submit a research proposal for it. These projects are guided by an expert supervisory team and may involve working with external partners that allow you access to data, equipment or participants for your project.

Other projects are designed by universities and advertised in advance, with pre-defined questions, aims and objectives. These research areas have been developed by the academic supervisors that you will work with during your PhD.

Along with your research proposal, you will usually need to also include a personal statement (detailing your academic background and research interests), CV and covering letter (stating your suitability and interest in the project).

If your application is successful, you will then be invited for a PhD interview, where you will be able to discuss the PhD project application further.

Application deadlines

Individual DTPs and CDTs set their own closing dates for applications, and as such, prospective students should contact the programme you wish to apply to directly. For the majority of the time, they open for applications September / October for projects starting in the following October. However, some DTPs offer studentships throughout the year, each with its own closing date.

Here are the deadlines for the current DTPs starting in October 2020:

  • Cambridge Social Science – 3 December
  • Grand Union – 28 February
  • London Interdisciplinary Social Science – 31 January
  • LSE – 8 January
  • Midlands Graduate School – 22 January
  • Northern Ireland and North East (NINE) – 17 January
  • North West Social Sciences – 3 February
  • Scottish Graduate School of Social Sciences – 8 May
  • The South Coast – 23 January
  • South East Network for Social Sciences (SeNSS) – 2 March
  • South West – 21 January
  • UBEL – 6 January
  • Wales – 3 February
  • White Rose Social Sciences – 29 January

Here are the deadlines for the current CDTs starting in October 2020:

  • Soc-B – 10 February
  • Data Analytics and Society – 14 April

These dates are for 2020 applications only. The exact dates will probably change for 2021, but you can use these to get a general idea for future deadlines.

ESRC funding application tips

ESRC studentships are very competitive. Here are some tips to help you with your application:

  1. Think about what makes your project worth funding – The majority of ESRC studentships are proposed by students, this makes it all the more important for your proposal to have an impact. Explain why your project is important and what makes your research worthwhile.
  2. Give yourself time to prepare – Proposals take time to write. On top of that, you also have to prepare your cover letter and update your CV. Start early so you don’t miss the application deadline.
  3. Think about the studentship you want – The ESRC offers different lengths of studentships so it’s good to know which one you need to apply to first. Whether that be a 1+3 or +3 or maybe the +4. If you already have a Masters degree, or your Masters isn’t relevant, it’s probably best to go for the 1+3. However, if your Masters degree is relevant and provided training for most of the ‘core training requirements’ then apply for the +3.
  4. Contact potential supervisors – Not only will this show your interest in the project, it will also mean supervisors will recognise your name when your application is put in. Plus, they may also help you with your research proposal. Just make sure you contact supervisors that have research interests close to your proposed project, that way they are more likely to take an interest in your ideas and move forward with them.

Search for ESRC PhD funding

ESRC projects can be found on the DTP and CDT websites, or can be easily found here on FindAPhD. Also if you subscribe to our newsletter, you will be the first to hear about new listings and opportunities.

Further information

Check the ESRC and UKRI websites for additional funding details.

Last updated – 26/02/2020

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