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Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) PhD Funding

Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) offer funding for PhD students to study across Europe.

They are part of the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 research funding scheme and replace the joint-PhD funding previously offered within the Erasmus Mundus programme.

The MSCA is now the main EU programme for doctoral training, financing 25,000 PhDs between now and 2020.

MSCA funding for PhD students is offered within university partnerships called Innovative Training Networks (ITN). You can read about the different ways in which the programme supports PhD students below.

So, have you ever considered studying abroad? Do you want to gain experience in the industry associated with your academic field? Do you want to develop your professional outlook and career opportunities? If so, an MSCA fellowship could be perfect for you.

This guide explains what kind of PhD funding is available through MSCA actions, who is eligible, and how to apply.

MSCA funding – a quick introduction

Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions don’t just provide funding for a PhD – they also offer a unique doctoral training experience, with several additional benefits.

Purpose of the scheme

The purpose of the scheme is to bring together organisations such as Universities, SMEs (small/medium enterprises), public and private (non-commercial) research centres, non-profit organisations etc. in order to train early-stage researchers in professional environments.

In doing so, researchers gain the opportunity to develop themselves through a series of individual projects as set out by the partnership (ITN) the student applies to.

Ultimately, the scheme aims to:

  • Encourage researchers to explore multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary avenues in responding to current and future challenges
  • Enhance students’ career prospects and exposure to both academic and non-academic fields, through international and intersectoral mobility
  • Convert knowledge and ideas into products and services for economic and social benefit
  • Provide researchers with a set of transferrable skills for the purpose of innovation and long-term employability. Such skills may include ‘entrepreneurship, commercialisation of results, Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), communications etc.’ (European Commission, 2016: 7)

Through this scheme, students will essentially be better prepared for work in industry and the public and private sectors, effectively moving away from the focus of research as being purely academically centred.

Support for refugees

MSCA are keen to help those whose research careers have been interrupted, to be able to continue their work.

The period of time which you have spent in a country while waiting for refugee status will also not be counted as a period of residence or activity, meaning it will not impede any research time you may wish to spend in that country on any ITN.

More information on applying for MSCA funding as a refugee is available from the European Commission.

Participating countries

Although the nationality of each student researcher that applies to an ITN is not restricted, there are only a select number of countries involved in MSCA within which your placement will be undertaken.

Alongside the European Union Member States, there are many Associated Countries which are also involved in the scheme.

Associated countries are those which are not a part of the EU, but which share agreements with the EU.

The full list can be viewed here.

PhD funding within Innovative Training Networks (ITN)

At PhD-level, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions fund specific projects within groups called ‘Innovative Training Networks’.

These are groups of universities and other partners that have come together to offer unique doctoral training and research opportunities in a specific area.

There are three types of ITN available for doctoral students. Though they differ slightly, all offer unique opportunities to work with academic and non-academic partners in an international setting.

There are two types of organisation involved in an ITN. These are your Host institution and Partner Organisations:

  • Host institutions are the universities or training providers within which your PhD will take place. They will implement and host your research activities, contributing to your training (organising external training where necessary), and supervise your progress. They are in charge of funding the network as a ‘beneficiary’ of the MSCA. Host institutions are located in EU Member States only.
  • Partner Organisations contribute to the implementation of the research, and will oversee some of your research activity. Partner organisations can also be jointly responsible for your supervision on a given programme. Partner organisations may be SMEs, charitable organisations, research centres, and so on. Partner Organisations may be in either the EU or in one of the Associated Countries listed above.

Each network has slightly different participation requirements, so you should be able to choose one suited to your needs.

European Training Networks (ETN)

As their name suggests, these placements are based in Europe (though short periods of training may take place at centres in other parts of the world).

The objectives of this network type are to encourage creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

The beneficiaries that employ you are likely to be from different sectors. Projects focus on interdisciplinary training and a combination of academic and industry expertise.

Supervision between beneficiaries and/or partner organisations is usually shared equally, allowing for a well-rounded training experience.

European Industrial Doctorates (EID)

These networks combine training from academic and non-academic partners. This allows them to offer specific training that addresses the needs of business and industry.

As a result, you’ll spend at least 50% of your time on an EID undertaking training in the non-academic sector. This is likely to involve placements with specific organisations that have partnered with your university.

You’ll normally have two supervisors – one each from the academic and non-academic sectors.

European Joint Doctorates (EJD)

These are similar to the previous Erasmus Mundus Joint PhD programmes.

The objective of the EJD is to promote international training and non-academic partnerships, through multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary collaborations.

They award either joint, double, or multiple doctorate degrees.

A joint degree is a single PhD issued by two higher education institutions offering an integrated programme. The PhD will be recognised officially in at least the countries where the degree-awarding institutions are located.

Double or multiple degrees are two or more separate national PhD diplomas, issued by two or more higher education institutions. These will be officially recognised in the countries where these degree-awarding institutions are based.

Time spent in different sectors varies, and supervision will be tailored to this.

Typical MSCA activities

Although the remit of each network differs, there are general activities that all student researchers will undertake on their given programme.

This is because the MSCA programme is not just a source of funding, but a means to undertake research in a controlled, professional, and measurable way.

Career Development Plan

In conjunction with your supervisors, you will establish a Career Development Plan, which will set out the research objectives between yourself and your beneficiaries, as well as planning training to cater to your career needs. Alongside this, the CDP will plan for the production of publications, and participation in conferences.

Networking

As well as attending conferences, there are many other forms of networking activities which you can expect to undergo during your ITN. These may include:

  • Attending network meetings
  • Visiting participating organisations in order to exchange knowledge
  • Meeting with external experts to gain specialist input
  • Attending workshops
  • Collaborating with other ITNs or research groups

Each ITN should also organise a final network conference to discuss its outcomes and establish ongoing relationships.

Public Engagement

Public engagement is all about promoting research to the general public in order to create awareness of the work being performed, and stimulate understanding in its implications for society.

Conferences, presentation evenings, talks at schools and Universities, partaking in research festivals etc. are some of many available outreach activities which may be undertaken on the programme.

One such event is European Researchers’ Night (NIGHT) which is coordinated under MSCA to stimulate young people’s interest in research careers. The annual event was held in September this year, with activities in cities all across Europe. For more information, visit the website.

Funding amounts and eligibility

MSCA funding is open to PhD students of all disciplines, irrespective of nationality, for up to four years. It covers full costs of accommodation and travel, as well as providing a monthly living allowance.

All student researchers are financed throughout the period of the ITN they apply to.

Depending on your circumstances, you may also be eligible for a Mobility Allowance and the Family Allowance.

Living allowance

A monthly allowance is paid to you in monthly instalments by your beneficiary. The amount paid to you varies depending on the country in which you will work and study. The average payment for the year 2016-2017 is €3,110 per month.

Mobility allowance

The Mobility Allowance contributes costs related to travel, accommodation, and related expenses while undertaking projects through an ITN. The allowance for the year 2016-2017 has been set at €600 per month.

Family allowance

A Family Allowance of €500 per month is available to you if you are classed as having family, regardless of whether your family will move with you or not.

Family is defined as those linked to you by one of the following:

  • Marriage
  • A relationship with the equivalent status to marriage as is recognised by the country (or region of a country) where your relationship was formalised
  • Dependent children that are being maintained by you

Applying for MSCA funding

Applying for an MSCA position is very much like applying for a job role.

Projects have already been set by the Beneficiaries and Partner Organisations involved in a given ITN - all you have to do is apply to one that interests you.

For most positions, this will mean providing:

  • Proof that you are qualified to undertake a PhD. You will usually need to have obtained a relevant Masters Degree or equivalent qualification;
  • A transcript of your grades
  • A CV detailing prior experiences of projects, and any publications
  • A personal statement detailing why you are suitable for the project
  • Contact details for two or more individuals that can provide a reference/ letter of recommendation
  • Certificate of language proficiency (if required)

Eligibility for the different ITNs varies. However, all available ITNs are advertised on the EURAXESS Jobs website.

Further information

Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) and Innovative Training Networks are the main source of PhD funding within the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme.

However, other forms of support are also available as part of the Erasmus programme:

Erasmus+ Studentships and Traineeships

Do you want to spend a shorter amount of time abroad?

Erasmus+ positions are also available to PhD students wishing to undertake work or study abroad placements.

While they do not cover the whole duration of your PhD, you can still gain excellent experience which you may not otherwise receive in your home country.

One benefit of the scheme is that you are eligible to take up several short placements throughout your PhD, as long as the total period abroad does not amount to more than 12 months.

The scheme is completely free, and many students are eligible for a grant to contribute towards living expenses.

For more information, read our guide to Erasmus+ PhD funding.

Erasmus Mundus Joint Doctorates

Though Erasmus Mundus is being phased out, a select number of programmes are still available for the year 2017-2018.

A full list of available doctorates can be found here.

For more information on Erasmus Mundus Doctorates, read our guide.

Funding at Masters level

Erasmus also provides various forms of support for postgraduate students on Masters degrees. For more information see the guides to Erasmus Mundus Joint Masters and Erasmus Loans on FindAMasters.com.

Britain leaving the EU

Britain voted to leave the EU in June 2016 and will begin doing so in March 2017. The full ‘Brexit’ process is expected to last up to two years.

In the meantime, the UK will remain a European Union Member State and will continue to be involved in all ongoing funding schemes – including Horizon 2020.

It is not yet known precisely how the UK with be involved in Horizon 2020 once its exit from the EU is finalised.

However, as nationality for student researchers is irrelevant in the application process, it may not directly affect students from the UK wanting to apply to the scheme.

Last updated - 19/10/2016

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